As the general election rapidly approaches, Rich Stearns, president of World Vision U.S., poses a challenge to both presidential candidates: Make the poor a priority.
As the general election rapidly approaches, Rich Stearns, president of World Vision U.S., poses a challenge to both presidential candidates: Make the poor a priority.
In the news business, there's a saying that goes, “One dead fireman in Brooklyn is worth five English bobbies, who are worth fifty Arabs, who are worth five hundred Africans.” I quoted this in my first book, The Hole in Our Gospel.
It’s understandable that we identify and sympathize with the people closest to us. We have a harder time empathizing with people who are somehow removed -- whether geographically, culturally, religiously, or nationally. It’s normal.
But it’s not okay.
We don’t always appreciate the miracle of a plain and ordinary but good life. Too often, we fail to value the dad who is simply present. He helps out with schoolwork, shows up at Little League, and brings his paycheck home.
It’s easy to assume that human lives are meaningful when something special happens to make us pay attention. We celebrate the Olympic heroes, those who make great leaps in advancing science, or the industrial tycoons who create the products for which we are willing to stand hours in line. It’s the people we read about, the people we see on television, the decision-makers who really matter. The ordinary, faithful dad doesn’t rank.
It’s popular in the press to judge a charity by its efficiency. Donors want to know whether their money is being used effectively, and journalists play a valuable part in keeping organizations accountable.
Without downplaying the important role the media play in this respect, I believe the public’s concerns about effective aid would be better served if the press also paid attention to slow-building disasters early on -- before they begin claiming lives. Inefficient responses to disasters can cost as much as 80 times more than a well-planned early response.
An evil force was threatening planet Earth. Thousands were dying every day. Millions more were threatened by hunger and starvation. Mothers and children fled the onslaught, but could not escape it.
But there was hope. A small group, invested with superhuman abilities, could change everything. If they chose to overcome their personal priorities, this small group could do amazing things. They could save the day.
I got back from watching “The Avengers” last weekend. Since that day in 1963 when I bought the first issue of the comic for 12 cents, I’ve been a fan of those superhero tales.
But I might just as easily have been talking about this week’s G8 Summit, where world leaders have the power to dramatically change the lives of nearly a billion people who suffer from hunger. Millions right now are facing acute food shortages. The prospect of famine looms in West Africa.
I always enjoy Easter for its atmosphere of wonderful, joyous celebration.
While Christmas might be described as special, Easter is triumphant. We celebrate the astounding miracle of a man, the Son of God, risen from the grave. But like a parade after any victory, Easter’s celebration is more than the festivity following an unexpected triumph.
We also celebrate what Jesus’ victory over death has freed us to do: to work for the kingdom of God.
Rich Stearns, president of World Vision U.S., shares a story from his recent visit to Cambodia that highlights the numerous interventions required to fight poverty, injustice, and oppression -- those that are dramatic and highly-publicized, as well as those that are less conspicuous but equally critical.
Churches and pastors are often eager to respond to the problems of global poverty and injustice. Yet before they take steps to address these problems, pastors -- like anyone else -- want to know how they can make a difference. Because there are so many hurting people whose communities face complex obstacles, I’m frequently asked what one person or one church can do.
If you’re a fellow church or ministry leader, you know that God doesn’t promise that the odds will always be in our favor when accomplishing the work He has set before us.
When church leaders look today at the scale of global poverty, it’s easy to feel like the numbers are stacked against them.
- 1 billion people suffer from a lack of adequate nutrition.
- Half of the children in developing countries are born into poverty.
- 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 per day.
Compared to those staggering figures, the size of the average church in America is just 186 regular attenders. Sounds a bit like Gideon facing thousands of Midianites, “thick as locusts,” with just 300 men.
What can a typical church in Michigan or Oklahoma do when poverty and justice issues are so big, global, and daunting? When pastors ask me what their church can do to help meet the needs of hurting people around the world, I give them four ideas.
I am continually astounded by the power of individual people to make a difference.
After The Hole in Our Gospel was published, readers started sending me letters, telling me how God has used them to do remarkable things. Sometimes they took in foster children or became adoptive parents. Others changed careers or sold vacation property so they could be more useful to the kingdom of God. All of them are changing lives, spreading hope, and making the Gospel tangible to people in need.
The power of individuals to change the world has been a theme in our culture over the last year. It was a single person who launched what became the Arab Spring. Protesting corruption and inequality, a street vendor set himself on fire, galvanizing demonstrations that toppled the Tunisian regime, and setting off a protest movement across North Africa that continues even now.
When USA Today asked me about my favorite Christmas gifts given and received, I couldn’t help but reflect on the gifts I have received through World Vision. As a donor to World Vision U.S. for 25 years -- and as its president for 13 years -- I've found that the best gifts I’ve received come as a result of generous giving.
As the president of World Vision U.S. and the former CEO of two for-profit corporations, I have spent all of my professional life trying to manage organizations to achieve success. Every organization, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, must have a successful financial model to succeed, but long-term success doesn’t come from just managing numbers. The most successful organizations are mission-driven.
In Christian organizations, this truth may be even more compelling.
At its core, this is the question of the means versus the ends. In a secular corporation, the goal is to create profits for the owners or shareholders; the means to that end might be selling automobiles, or books, or delivering a service like air travel or lodging. At the end of the day, the bottom line is profit.
But in a Christian business or non-profit, the role is reversed. The activity, selling books or providing a service, is the end; it’s the missional impact. Profits are simply a means to that end. We are called to put “mission above mammon.”
Two regions in the world are experiencing severe drought, and yet the outcomes in terms of human suffering are dramatically different. Do you know where these droughts are taking place? And can you tell what distinguishes one from the other?
Drought 1: It began in the fall of 2010, yet it persists one year later. Forecasters say there is a 50-percent chance that weather patterns will not change for the next 12 months. In the last century, this region of the world has experienced its driest 12 months ever recorded. Extreme and exceptional drought covers more than 90 percent of the land. Combined with record-high temperatures, the drought is having an unprecedented impact on the region’s economy and the livelihood of its residents. Economists estimate that $5 billion has been lost as crops and cattle are lost to the hot and arid conditions. To top it off, wildfires have destroyed another 3 million acres of land.
Drought 2: Another drought elsewhere in the world looks similar. For roughly two years, rainfall has been minimal. The rains that typically provide water for crops were just 30 percent of the average rainfall in recent years. Cattle and crop losses are roughly $300 million and have been devastating for the region’s families. Recognizing the conditions, farmers shifted away from their traditional cash crops and toward less profitable but quick-maturing food. But many are still unable to provide an income or even food for themselves or their families.
Both droughts are linked to variations in ocean temperature caused by La Niña. Both regions are agricultural, raising cattle and a variety of crops. Both groups of people have made rational choices in response to weather conditions completely out of their control.
Christianity Today asked me, as an evangelical leader, to reflect on how I've changed since 9/11. It was an appropriate question and one worth considering, as we approach the 10-year anniversary of that fateful day in which many lives were lost and many more were changed forever.
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The September 11 attacks jolted Americans into realizing that our nation was no longer, and never again would be, an "island" protected from the senseless brutality of terrorism. The world became smaller that day, and the person who could not find Afghanistan and Pakistan on a map suddenly wanted to learn more about those and other Muslim countries.
From the standpoint of international development, the attacks were a catalyst for renewed interest in and commitment to helping address the underlying problems that prompted 19 men to hijack and crash four jetliners, killing themselves and nearly 3,000 others.
It was 48 years ago this week that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered one of his most famous speeches on the Mall in Washington D.C. His declaration, “I have a dream” remains one of the most stirring addresses in American history as well as a prophetic discourse opposing injustice and the continued oppression of grandchildren and great grandchildren of slaves.
If Dr. King were to deliver his address again this year, I’m sure he would continue to see the need to speak out against the injustices that continue to oppress many black and other minority communities in the U.S. But I believe that Dr. King might also speak out against the injustices, oppression, and poverty that cause suffering in communities around the world, including the suffering caused by the drought and famine now occurring in East Africa.
In The Hole in Our Gospel, I pieced together a letter that God might write to the church today. In remembrance of Dr. King’s magnificent speech, I’ve taken the liberty to imagine how Dr. King might dream again today and challenge the church to “preach good news to the poor.”
Imagine for a moment that you woke up tomorrow and discovered you were on a different planet in a different part of the universe without any idea of how you got there. Imagine what you would feel and the questions that would rush into your mind.
Well, I have news for you – that exact thing has happened to every one of us. Sometime in the past 100 years, we were all born on the third planet from the sun in a solar system within the Milky Way galaxy, in a universe that is incomprehensibly vast. We had no idea how we got here, all we know is that we were born into the middle of a story that started long before we arrived and will continue long after we are gone.
It’s our own mystery story -- one that began millions of years ago and one that will continue into the future.
It was one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had. The location was a hilltop west of Bethlehem about a month ago, and my fellow dinner guests were 30 pastors and church leaders from the United States. That night, our bus parked at a cement-and-barbed-wire barricade, and we hiked about half a mile over two such barricades to have dinner at the top of the hill -- in a cave!
The prominent sign at the end of our hike proclaimed the slogan: “We refuse to be enemies.”
The parcel of land west of Bethlehem is only about 100 acres. It is owned by the Nassar family, a Palestinian Christian family who have lived on and farmed the land since 1916. It is squarely in the West Bank, and according to international law, belongs to the Nassar family and is not part of Israel. But today, it is surrounded by 50,000 Israeli settlers, living on similar land confiscated from other Palestinian families.
Just a few weeks ago, I walked in those places where Jesus walked in the Holy Land. It dawned on me yet again that Jesus did almost everything differently than conventional wisdom would have dictated. I visited Capernaum and Galilee, where most of His three-year ministry took place -- a "hick town" ten days' journey from Jerusalem. Not the best location to start a movement that would change the world.
I also walked in the Garden of Gethsemane, where He prayed in agony that night -- and then on to Jerusalem, where He appeared before Caiaphas and Pilate, and where He was beaten and spit upon. Jesus was no conquering hero in the manner of Caesar or Alexander the Great. And then I followed His footsteps along the Via De la Rosa to Calvary, where He was brutally crucified. Not the best strategy to overthrow Rome and declare your new kingdom.
As a marketer, Jesus didn't seem to understand "ratings" and size of audience. As a political figure, Jesus had a penchant for telling people what they didn't want to hear -- take up your cross, lay down your life, the first will be last. And as a leader of the Jewish people itching to be freed from Rome's occupation and oppression, He commanded no army, brandished no weapons, and wielded no force.
Everything He stood for seemed to be lost that Good Friday afternoon as His disciples watched Him suffer and die. Peter denied Him, and the rest scattered. The lofty ideals had been crushed. The movement had failed. End of story.
But then came Easter Sunday...He is risen!
I sometimes feel the work World Vision does around the world is met by human suffering that never ends. Twenty-two thousand kids still die every day, 1 billion go to bed hungry, and more than a third of the planet lives on less than $2 a day.
I had a fascinating discussion this week in New York. I was with my CEO counterparts from leading humanitarian aid organizations such as Save the Children, Mercy Corps, and Oxfam. We meet twice a year to discuss various issues related to aid. The topic of greatest concern to us this week is the cuts to the State Department and USAID budgets.
This is an important issue because it directly affects the amount of funding available to help children and families in the poorest and, often, most unstable regions of the world. But, as I’ll argue in a moment, this is about more than saving innocent lives—it’s also about preventing political unrest and violence.
First, a summary of what is being cut:
But the truly devastating news is that for 2012, the House is considering 40% cuts to the International Affairs Budget. This would be tragic. I know that times are tough right here in our own country, but these funds build schools, tackle hunger with agricultural programs, prevent AIDS and malaria, provide health services to pregnant women and children, and bring water to the thirsty. These programs demonstrate the compassionate values of the American people to the world.
The average American is confused about what the International Affairs Budget does. A January survey of Americans by the Program for Public Consultation indicates that most Americans believe that foreign aid accounts for 21% of the total U.S. budget. It's actually less than 1% and the humanitarian, poverty-focused money is less than one half of one percent! And it includes all of the State Department, all of our ambassadors and embassies and the lion's share of our programs to assist the poorest of the poor around the world.
I was greatly concerned several weeks ago by the results of a February survey of Americans regarding their budget priorities. Conducted by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, the survey showed that Evangelical Christians listed help for the poor around the world as their number one priority for cutting from the federal budget. I was shocked because I know that these programs save the lives of literally millions of people each year.
Good development assistance has been proven to diminish violence and instability that lead to military action later. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was blunt about this in recent remarks to the United States Global Leadership Coalition, “Economic development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.” Good development assistance also builds friendships and allies with foreign countries.
If the Japan earthquake and tsunami had happened 100 years ago, most of us would not even be aware that it had happened. Perhaps a telegram would have been sent to the U.S. and perhaps a small story might have appeared in major newspapers, but other than that, it would have had little effect on our consciousness...
I mentioned last week in our chapel service at World Vision's U.S. headquarters about a recent Christianity Today article I read that I can't seem to get off my mind.
In the article, a recent survey (pdf) by the Pew Research Center showed that American evangelicals were more in favor of cutting federal spending to "aid the world's poor" than any other area. Second and third to cutting foreign aid were "government assistance for the unemployed" and "environmental protection."
As World Vision urges Congress right now to reconsider its possible budget cut that will greatly affect foreign disaster assistance by more than two-thirds, I wonder how Christians in Jesus' day would poll in a survey of this same sort.
From Polling Evangelicals: Cut Aid to World's Poor, Unemployed on Christianity Today:
The top choices among evangelicals for the chopping block are economic assistance to needy people around the world (56 percent), government assistance for the unemployed (40 percent), and environmental protection (38 percent).
In each of these categories, evangelicals were more supportive of decreasing spending than are other Americans. In fact, evangelicals were more supportive of funding cuts in every area except military defense, terrorism defense, aid to veterans, and energy.
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