Sometimes people surprise me.
Last year, I led a Compassion workshop in a secondary school. The theme of the day was hardship, and we began the session by working to define poverty. These kids were brilliant. I’d expected some off pat answers, quick clichés about having no money. I’d even prepared a PowerPoint slide to be able to reveal to them that it was about more than not having the latest iPhone or Xbox game. That being poor doesn’t just mean you can’t go abroad on holiday. But these great kids beat me to it. They instinctively knew that poverty was about a lack of options, a lack of security, a lack of hope.
But as I explained a little about the work of Compassion, one boy raised his arm and said, “My mum says nothing works.”
He had my full attention.
“She says,” He continued, “That when she was a kid, there were pictures of starving African children on TV and that nothing has changed in 30 years. She says they raised millions of pounds during Live Aid, but it doesn’t seem to have made a difference.”
I hadn’t expected that; I didn’t have a neat PowerPoint answer ready to give. I didn’t expect the answer we got either, when as an organisation we recently asked a thousand church goers the question, “Do you think progress has been made in the fight against poverty?” We discovered that 42 per cent think progress has been made and 42 per cent think it hasn’t.
I find it astonishing that people don’t know the amazing progress that has been made. But when I stopped to think, I realised that the only real reason that I know is because I have been in the right place at the right time, asking the right questions. I’ve been teaching and talking about development issues for years, attending conferences and actively looking for the answers.
The reality is that the tremendous need in our world is highlighted in the media day after day after day. Organisations like Compassion continually advocate for the least and the last and rightfully so. There are 1 billion people living in extreme poverty, on less than $1.25 a day, 47 per cent of those are children. Their needs should be highlighted, they should be talked about, they deserve to have people speak out for them.
But here’s the thing, the number of people living in extreme poverty has halved since the Millennium Development Goals were set in 1990. That is good news. Child mortality rates have halved, so has chronic malnutrition. More children are going to school and in many regions, girls are getting the same opportunities as boys. That is not just good news; that is amazing.
There is still so much work to done, but I truly believe that if we only look at the need, we can so easily become like that boy’s mum. Disillusioned, discouraged and demotivated. It is good sometimes, to stop and take stock of all that has been achieved, to see the great progress that has been made and let that inspire us and motivate us to dream of what we can do next.
At Compassion UK, we know that what we do works. It’s what gives us the motivation to come into work every day, to keep speaking up for the children we work with. We know that by partnering with the church in the developing world we enable them to be not just God’s hands and feet, but his voice too – speaking loud to those living in poverty that they are known and loved.
We know that when you choose to sponsor a child you change their life forever. In the instant that it takes to make the decision, that child’s life is put on a new path. A path lit by hope; a path of promise, a path without fear for the future, a path of potential. A path which more often that not leads them to change not just their lives, but that of their family, friends and the whole community.
But it starts with one. One person’s decision to sponsor one child. If you change a child’s life you change their family’s life. There are 2 billion Christians worldwide, 6 million in the UK. Imagine what we could achieve if we work together.
There is great poverty in our world, but there is light in the darkness and the light is getting stronger by the minute, it’s the Light of the World. As Jesus followers, we carry that light so let’s take that light to the dark places and banish the darkness. Let’s join together and let our lights grow in strength in the confidence that in Jesus, we have the victory.