Editor's note: February's cover package, "The Best Ways to Fight Poverty—Really" (part one, part two), received remarkable numbers of pageviews, praises, and protests. It also provoked responses from many organizations devoted to fighting poverty. Today, leaders of those ministries respond, including World Vision US president Richard Stearns, Samaritan's Purse president Franklin Graham, Habitat for Humanity International CEO Jonathan Reckford, HOPE International president and CEO Peter Greer, World Relief president and CEO Stephan Bauman, Food for the Hungry workers Greg Forney and Lucas Koach, and TEAR Australia national young adults coordinator Matt Anslow. Also today, Christianity Today senior managing editor Mark Galli, whose article "A Most Personal Touch" led off the February cover package, replies to the ministry leaders.
This week I have been eyewitness to the inadequacy of governments alone to solve the problems of poverty. Mark Galli argues that governments are the best institutions to raise the poor's standard of living. Yet over the past week I have visited the poor in Cambodia, and I can attest that while economic growth in Asia has been tremendous, government efforts are not enough to change the lives of the poor. The church and private nonprofits, on the other hand, can do exactly that.
Galli says the church is insignificant compared to the resources of government. But he seems oblivious to the scale and significance of American Christianity. Its power to reduce global poverty is massive—and could be even greater.
World Vision—just a portion of the American church's effort to alleviate poverty—spends roughly $2.8 billion annually to care for the poor. That would rank World Vision about 12th within the G20 nations in terms of overseas development assistance. In the U.S., private giving to international causes exceeds government humanitarian and development programs.
Yet poverty is extensive. Despite the progress toward the Millennium Development Goals, roughly 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 per day. Should we simply wait for the effects of government policies to work their way toward the poor? The answer should be obvious to anyone in our own country, where the latest census figures show that nearly half of Americans are either poor or low income.
Government policies that bring about economic growth are powerful factors in lifting people out of poverty. But as beneficial as growing income is, cultural and personal values are often a root cause of poverty and injustice. Relative to churches and faith based organizations, governments don't do so well at addressing community values, beliefs about right and wrong, and personal behavior.
A few days ago I met a girl who had been trapped in a brothel, forced to have sex with men. Ruse (not her real name) escaped only because of the work of International Justice Mission, who raided her brothel and took Ruse and others to World Vision's recovery center for victims of the sex trade. World Hope provided her with job training, and today she works as a nanny. Ruse is caring for her two younger brothers, taking them on Sundays to her Baptist church. This was a veritable "bucket brigade" of faith-based institutions.
The government's efforts to stop the sex trade have been ineffective because it cannot change core community values. But that's exactly what Christians do. Solving the causes of poverty requires both large-scale, top-down action and the compassion and social activism of the church.