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Ending Extreme Poverty

God has given us resources—and hope

By Mark Harrison
This article originally appeared in the June 2010 Newsletter.

After completing college I had an opportunity to visit Africa in 1973. I spent a month in Ghana and then traveled to Togo, Benin (then called Dahomey), and Nigeria. The people were friendly and hospitable. However, the one thing that really shook me up was the poverty.

It was extreme. I had never seen anything like it. I had worked in poor communities in the United States, but this level of poverty was unsettling. I could also see its impact in the faces of the students traveling with me. This was culture shock!

Those images have pulled at me ever since. I ask God how I can make a difference. I rely on the biblical mandate, “Let justice roll like a mighty stream.”

What is extreme poverty? How do I explain this to United Methodists and other U.S. Christians? After all, poverty exists here. How do I help people understand that so many people live in extreme poverty?

Many of us have never traveled to places where such poverty exists. Or if we have, the poverty was out of sight. I have returned to Africa many times since that first exposure to extreme poverty. I lived there, too. I have also traveled to parts of Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia. Extreme poverty exists there, too.

When given the opportunity to speak about extreme poverty, I talk about not having: not having clean water; not having or never having a job; not having enough food to eat; not having health care, doctors, clinics, and hospitals; not having a school to attend or not being able to afford to send your children to school; not having running water, electricity, or a bathroom in your house; and not having paved streets. In extreme poverty, your house is made of mud or wood with an iron roof—just four walls and one room. And the unpaved street that runs by it is a dirt road that turns to mud when it rains.

But our God has done many great things. God created heaven and earth. God has made so many, many species of animals, fish, and plant life. If God has done so much for the world we live in, we should work to make God’s creation better.

God has given us the ability to end extreme poverty. Yes, we have poverty in the United States. But we also have the resources to address poverty at home and abroad.

Just as we donate money to organizations and causes to overcome poverty, we must advocate for the U.S. government to do the same. Our government must reform foreign aid to make poverty alleviation a top priority. Poverty alleviation must become a pillar of our trade policies and agreements. Debt cancellation to impoverished countries is a good place to begin.

Let’s make poverty history in God’s world.

Mark Harrison is director of the Peace with Justice Program of the United Methodist Church.

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