Christians can eliminate widespread hunger, advocates insist
By Marv Knox & Ken Camp on May 26, 2011
© The Baptist Standard
Christians can end extreme global poverty and widespread child hunger in this generation, leaders of organizations focused on world hunger told a national conference at Dallas Baptist University.
Scott Todd, senior ministry adviser for Compassion International , and David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World , spoke at an event called “An Evangelical Advocacy Response to Global Childhood Hunger.” Conference sponsors included Bread for the World, the National Association of Evangelicals, Micah Challenge and the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission.
“I believe it is possible to bring an end to extreme global poverty in our generation. And it is possible for the church to make that happen,” Todd said.
Christians must cast off fatalistic expectations that presume the inevitability of widespread poverty and hunger in a sinful and fallen world. Instead, they should embrace a prophetic vision that points to an alternative vision for the future, he said.
Within the last generation, the number of children who died of preventable causes before their fifth birthday was cut in half, he noted. The number of children who die from measles declined 78 percent in just eight years, and 22 countries cut their malaria rate in half in only six years.
The same kind of progress has occurred in global poverty reduction, he insisted.
“In 1981, 52 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. Today, that number is 26 percent,” Todd reported.
“We have the opportunity to do something unprecedented in human history—to push extreme poverty into the history books.”
Beckmann likewise pointed to the progress Christians have made in poverty reduction by becoming advocates for the vulnerable.
“This is a hopeful time,” he said, pointing to the specific example of a village in Bangladesh where he witnessed transformation within a couple of decades.
“It’s the same story in hundreds of thousands of communities around the world. We are making tremendous progress against poverty and disease. And I think this is God at work,” said Beckmann, an economist and ordained Lutheran minister.
“There is a great exodus in our day. God is moving to liberate people from poverty, hunger and disease. And God is calling us to get with the program.”
Just as Christians have an advocate in Jesus, they must become advocates for the poor and hungry, insisted Suzii Paynter, executive director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission .
“Advocacy is different than issue-mania, … and there’s plenty of that in the Christian community,” Paynter said.
Advocacy grows out of a desire to transform the world on behalf of Jesus Christ, not promote an organization, she added, citing three principles for advocacy:
• “Know yourself and your self-interest—and be humble,” she said.
That means avoiding temptations to take on causes to advance self or because it feels rewarding, she added. It also means working within a system that demands accountability for actions.
• “Know yourself and your own conviction,” she urged.
“It is a mustard-seed endeavor. God is going to use your conviction,” she said. “But your conviction can be your best friend or your worst enemy.”
So, advocacy must be centered in prayer in order to keep it transparent and honest and not geared toward personal passion.
• “Know your stuff,” she warned. “Know your data; know your issue.
“You do Jesus Christ no favors if all you’ve got is flaming convictions and you usher that in with a holy wheelbarrow with no facts.”
Learning the issues of advocacy involves discipleship—committing oneself to master the facts before trying to convince others of the cause, she said.
Christians could be effective advocates for the world’s poor and hungry if they would tithe their time to the cause, Paynter said. Advocacy for the poor and hungry also should be integrated into congregational life, through reading, talking, prayer and worship.
“I want to be able to say my church is changing hunger in the world,” she noted.
“And you know what keeps me up at night?” she asked. “That some secular so-and-so is going to say he ended hunger and I sat by and didn’t step in line to do something about it—not for the feeding, but for the gospel.”
The church must obey its calling to become both agent and advocate for the poor and hungry, insisted JoAnne Lyon, general superintendent of the Wesleyan Church .
“The kind of holiness that reflects God’s holiness is practical,” she said. “There is no point for statistics on the number of people dying without Christ if they do not count how many people die of hunger.”
Historically, Christians have taken on the twin tasks of acting as agent of ministry to and advocacy on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised, Lyon said. She noted Catherine Booth, who helped launch the Salvation Army, castigated the wealthy for their abdication of the rights of the poor, U.S. Wesleyans combined passions for church planting and abolition, and the holiness movement “immediately saw its responsibility for the poor.”
Even though U.S. Christians sometimes forget it, “advocacy is God’s work,” she said, calling for particular advocacy to eliminate hunger.
“Food around the world is a transaction,” she said, explaining hunger is one of the underlying evils that supports sex trafficking, for example. “When we get an exodus from hunger, we will see an exodus from a lot of other evil,” she promised.