July 05, 2011

A Christian Group Seeks to End Extreme Poverty

Some 138 million Christians live in the United States—and they collectively earn $2.4-trillion per year. If each one of those people just slightly increased the amount he or she gives each year, they could eradicate extreme poverty by 2035, says the leader of a Christian organization that is looking to fight poverty.

This is the thinking behind “58,” a new effort backed by 10 major nonprofits. The project will be led by Scott Todd, a senior adviser at Compassion International, one of the organizations sponsoring the project.

According to the World Bank, 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty, which means they are living on less than $1.25 per day.

His antipoverty organization—which includes the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, HOPE International, and Living Water International—wants to call attention to the causes of extreme poverty and the organizations that are working to help eradicate it.

The group has built a Web site that will highlight hundreds of organizations that are working to fight poverty. And it is trying to mobilize Christians through a social-media campaign that it hopes will drive people to the Web site—with the goal of turning some of those Web visitors into donors.

Mr. Todd says his effort is sort of a Giving Pledge for the Christian masses. However, instead of asking a handful of billionaires to pledge half of their money, “58” is asking millions of people to give only a small percentage of their income.

“We don’t have to give away half of our wealth,” Mr. Todd said. “We could give an additional 1 percent away, and the annual flow would exceed [the total given by those on] the billionaires list.”

The project is rooted in the biblical passage of Isaiah: 58, from which it takes its name.
In that passage, the prophet Isaiah tells the Jews that their fasts are meaningless because they are rooted in greed and desire for personal gain. If they really want the world around them to improve, the prophet tells them, they need to fast for the right reasons–to help those around them and to cleanse themselves of wickedness.

“This is the message we need to hear again today,” Mr. Todd says. “We need to live out what Isaiah writes. It begins with a new hunger—a felt, compelling force within us that desires that kids will not die of preventable causes, that sees the pain and feels it and is almost angry about it and wants it to stop. There is an apathy we see among our own Christian brothers and sisters.”

Mr. Todd says that 58 will try to show its beneficiaries that it is Christian people who have provided help to them.

“We come from a Christian faith. We believe that we have the answer,” he says. “We don’t think it is manipulative in any way. But if that makes some people uncomfortable, that is just the way it is.”