What do you think the greatest challenge of the new millennium is? Some might say it is oil or conflicts in the Middle East. Others might say nuclear weapons, while others might say health care.
When President Carter was asked this question in 2002, he gave a surprising response:
"At the beginning of this new millennium I was asked to discuss, here in Olso, greatest challenge that the world faces. Among all the possible choices, I decided that the most serious and universal problem is the growing chasm between the richest and poorest people on earth. Citizens of the ten wealthiest countries are now seventy-five times richer than those who live in th ten poorest ones, and the separation is increasing every year, not only between nations but also within them. The results of this disparity are root causes of most of the world's unresolved problems, including starvation, illiteracy, environmental degradation, violent conflict, and unnecessary illness that range from Guinea worm to HIV/AIDS." (emphasis added)
Does this shock you? The former president of the United States, winner of a Nobel Peace Price, said the gap between the rich and the poor is a big problem. Not poverty itself, but the fact that some of the world is poor and some of the world is rich.
I am currently reading Richard Stern's book, The Hole in Our Gospel. Sterns is the current president of the international non-profit organization, World Vision. He speaks in this book of his transformation after becoming president of this organization. He also challenges the reader to make poverty personal.
His passion is refreshing. You see World Vision ads everywhere- on TV, online, and at some concerts. I know the drill: send $30 a month of your money to help a child in poverty. In fact, at a FFH concert, my sister and I begged my parents to adopt a World Vision child. Her name is Sunitha and she is from India.
With such information overload, it is easy to become "compassion fatigue", a term used by Sterns and coined by journalist Susan Moeller. On top of becoming apathetic to these humanitarian messages, it is also easy to become jaded wondering if the money your spending is being put to effective use.
Hearing the direct heart of Sterns passion for the poor gives me a stronger trust in an organization trying to make a global impact.
I agree with President Carter. The increasing chasm between those who have it all and those who have nothing is a challenge we cannot turn away from.
I urge to take President Carter, Richard Sterns, and Bono's challenge:
"We can be the generation that no longer accepts that an accident of latitude determines whether a child lives or dies-but will we be that generation? Will we in the West realize our potential or will we sleep in the comfort of our affluence with apathy and indifference murmuring softly in of ears. Fifteen thousand people dying needlessly every day from AIDS, TB, and malaria. Mothers, fathers, teachers, farmers, nurses, mechanices, children. This is Africa's crisis. That it's not on the nightly news, that we do not treat this as an emergency- that's our crisis.
Future generations flipping through these pages will know whether we answered the key question. The evidence will be the world around them. History will be our judge, but what's written is up to us. We can't say our generation didn't know how to do it. We can't say our generation couldn't afford to do it. And we can't say our generation didn't have a reason to do it.
It is up to us." (Bono)
It is time to make poverty a personal priority. Let's take on the greatest challenge of the new millennium TOGETHER.
References: Sterns, Richard. The Hole in Our Gospel. Quotes from President Carter and Bono.