The news today is filled with terrible stories of violence and suffering. Violence against Christians, racial strife, airplanes crashed or missing, ongoing conflict in Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and several African countries—it’s no wonder we’re in need of hope. Amid all the fear and anxiety, where can we find some good news?
After a steady diet of cable news, you may be surprised to learn the following:
- Abortions in the US are at their lowest rate since 1976.
- Violent crime has hit a 20-year low, with overall crime falling for 15 straight years.
- Globally, absolute poverty (what’s necessary to afford minimal standards of food, clothing, health care and shelter) has reached the lowest level in recorded history.
- Deaths from wars in this century are fewer than at any comparable period in the twentieth century.
- Life expectancy continues to rise, reaching 78 in the US and 71 worldwide (up from 59 in 1970).
- Child mortality rates have dropped dramatically in the last 40 years while education and literacy rates have soared.
Statistics don’t always dispel doubt, I realize. Yet, I’ve also witnessed the good news firsthand, through my own travels and ministry.
Signs of God’s Kingdom Advancing
At a conference of Prison Fellowship International (PFI), which ministers to prisoners in more than 125 countries, I met African Christians who bring soup and bread to prisoners and establish schools for children incarcerated with their mothers. In places like Brazil and Belize the government has turned over the administration of entire prisons to PFI with remarkable results.
The most prestigious medical college in the India, Christian Medical College Vellore, honored last year the legacy of Dr. Paul Brand, who revolutionized the understanding and treatment of leprosy, and his wife Margaret, who performed thousands of cataract surgeries in mobile eye camps. Although Christians constitute a small minority in India, they provide health care for almost 20 percent of the country. In much of Africa, Christian clinics and hospitals provide the majority of care.
In the US, I spoke before a thousand Hispanic pastors who run outreach programs for the growing Hispanic population. I participated in a gathering of BioLogos, an organization founded by Dr. Francis Collins, who directed the Human Genome Project and now heads the National Institutes of Health. To help bridge the perceived gap between science and religion, BioLogos brings together pastors, scientists, theologians, and ministry leaders to shed light on the most divisive issues.
At the end 2014, I went on a book tour to introduce Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News? Organizers arranged for a musician to round out the program: Anthony Evans, talent scout for The Voice. As we got acquainted, a holy irony sank in. Fifty years ago a young student at Carver Bible College was denied membership in the church I attended as a child, solely because of his race. That student, Tony Evans, went on to become the first African American to earn a doctorate of theology from Dallas Theological Seminary and now leads a 10,000-member church in Dallas. The church later held a service of repentance, and Tony Evans’ son and I were appearing together on stage. Not all grace has vanished. “When I hear about the kinds of things my father went through, it almost seems like another world,” Anthony said.
Slow, Steady, and Small
Each of these experiences gave a different glimpse of how God’s kingdom advances: slowly, steadily, and mostly out of the limelight. Perhaps the most moving moment of the past year came during a visit to South Korea, when I toured the Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery, built to honor 145 missionaries, mostly British and American, who died while serving God in their adopted country.