Working in the faith-based, nonprofit sector, I often encounter an adequate amount of uncertainty when it comes to the Church’s role in eradicating extreme poverty. Here’s what I mean: Many Christians, although sympathetic and generous towards efforts to end extreme poverty, are still cynical about the actual progress being made toward alleviating the plight of the poor.
After all, with the barrage of complexities that aid and abet the existence of poverty, how can it ever be gone for good? If anything, isn’t poverty just getting worse? This is a legitimate question that is currently the crux of many recent discussions among Christ followers, do-gooders, and activists alike. Can extreme poverty be eliminated? And what about that verse in Matthew where Jesus says, “. . . the poor will always be with you”?
Dr. Scott Todd, author of Fast Living: How the Church Will End Extreme Poverty, has made it his mission to encourage optimism in the Church when it comes to eradicating extreme poverty. Optimism, may I add, that is founded on compelling new evidence, coupled with the boldness and transcendence of the Gospel. Todd even addresses in detail the poor-will-always-be-with-you question.
The real truth about our progress in ending extreme poverty is actually quite astonishing:
Poverty rates are slowing.
In 1981, 52% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. Today, only 26% do.
Child mortality is dropping.
In the past thirty years, the number of children dying from preventable causes has dropped from over 40,000 per day to 21,000 per day.
The Water Crisis is waning.
Over 600 million people gained access to safe drinking water since 1990.
Malaria rates are falling.
Using insecticide-treated nets and better medicines has cut malaria rates in half in six years in over 20 countries.
Economies are growing.
In the 1960’s, only 60 percent of the world’s nations were able to produce enough food for their people. By the 1990’s, this number rose to 90 percent.
—Scott Todd, Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Given these trends, extreme poverty can realistically and quantifiably be put to an end in just a few decades. Can you even imagine? Todd’s challenge still resonates in my mind:
What if millions of us woke up to the facts of progress and lifted our expectations for the future of the poor? What if we believed that we will end extreme global poverty? We could shift our engagement from an anemic, guilt-laden duty into an energized, hope-fueled opportunity.
I guess there’s not really much room for cynics when it comes to changing the world, is there?
I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle having faith in the possibility of ending extreme poverty in any foreseeable time frame. After all, the faces of poverty—from disease, to trafficking, to hunger—are, to say the least, heartbreaking, complex, and virtually overwhelming. Even so, I can’t help but be reminded that the entire premise of the Gospel: Christ’s scandalous grace and the redemptive plan for humanity is, in essence, a completely improbable (dare I say naïve) formula for saving the world. The Scriptures are packed with stories of men and women who were the most unlikely carriers of His message. Social class, gender, economic status, and ethnicity did not intimidate or deter God in the slightest. In fact, in most cases, God uses unexpected people in unexpected places to accomplish His will—fools to confound the wise and the unqualified and underprivileged to trounce the wisdom of the elite.
Those of us who have been redeemed to live in grace, freedom, and joy were once entrenched in a different, much darker kind of poverty—the poverty of spiritual darkness. If we believe Christ has the power to overcome the bondage of sin and death, then we should expect him to also have the strength to eliminate extreme poverty from the globe.
His heart is for the lonely . . . the desperate . . . the helpless . . . the hungry. I truly believe that if we strive to spend our lives finding the poor, sowing dignity, seeking the invisible, and loving our neighbors, we will surely find Him there.
What are your thoughts on the issue of the Church eradicating extreme poverty? Please leave your constructive comments below.