Generous Christians are changing the world. Habitat for Humanity will soon be the largest private house builder in the world. They have already built 60,000 houses for the poor around the globe. World Relief Corporation has resettled over 125,000 refugees. Christian microloan organizations have made hundreds of thousands of small loans to very poor people.
Opportunity International alone will make loans to one million families in the next five years. On average, each loan costs about $500, which includes training costs, and these loans are repaid with interest. Often a loan lifts the standard of living for a family of five by 50 percent within one year.
Christians today have a total annual income of over $10 trillion. Let's suppose the Christians of the world gave just 1 percent of their income for microloans of $500, the average loan needed to help a poor family of five. Assuming the efficiency ratio of Opportunity International, it would take just one year to improve dramatically the lot of the poorest one billion, often by 50 percent.
I'll never forget Mrs. Kumar's joyous, confident smile. She lives in a tiny one-room house in a poor village in South India near Bangalore. A couple of years ago the Bridge Foundation (a Christian microloan organization funded by Opportunity International) gave her and her husband, Vijay, a small loan of $219. They purchased a small, inexpensive sound system and a bicycle. With this equipment, the Kumars are able to provide the sound system for weddings, funerals, and other celebrations for poor villages in several surrounding communities. They now own three sound systems and hire a couple of employees.
Mrs. Kumar proudly showed me the new lighting equipment and the bicycle loaded down with their third sound system. Their little one-room cement house with a thatched roof has no indoor plumbing, but I could see many improvements. Family income had grown significantly. Most important, the Kumars had new dignity, hope, and confidence.
Most of the poor want to earn their own way. They have enormous social capital: intact families, a desire to work, pride, and integrity. But, like the Kumars, they need some help.
Globally, we are making progress. In 1970, 35 percent of all people in developing countries were chronically malnourished. Today that figure has dropped to 20 percent. In 1980, only 20 percent of the children in developing nations received immunization for typical childhood diseases; today—thanks in part to Bread for the World's advocacy work to set in place a U.S.-funded Child Survival Fund—80 percent do.
There is still a lot to do. About 34,000 children die every day of hunger and preventable diseases; almost one person out of four in our world—1.3 billion people—lives in grinding poverty, struggling to survive, the World Bank says, on a dollar a day; 1.45 billion have no access to health services; and 1.33 billion lack safe water.
According to the United Nations, it would cost only $30-$40 billion a year to provide all people in developing countries with basic education, health care, and clean water—the same amount spent on golf every year.
I think many more American Christians would find a way to give $500 this year to help a poor family with a small loan if they could look into the eyes of Mrs. Kumar and see her joy and gratitude. I believe many more Christians want to be generous—if they can discover successful programs that really work. And if they can take concrete, doable steps without the feeling they must solve all the problems of 1.3 billion poor people.
Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something, and together we can change the world. That is why World Vision, Bread for the World, Opportunity International, Compassion International, Christian Community Development Association, World Relief Corporation, The Evangelical Environmental Network, MAP International, and Habitat for Humanity have joined Evangelicals for Social Action in the Generous Christians Campaign.
At the center is this simple pledge: the Generous Christians Pledge.
I pledge to open my heart to God's call to care as much about the poor as the Bible does.
Daily, to pray for the poor, beginning with the Generous Christians Prayer: Lord Jesus, teach my heart to share your love for the poor.
Weekly, to minister, at least one hour, to a poor person: helping, serving, sharing with, and, mostly, getting to know, someone in need.
Monthly, to study, at least one story, book, article, or film about the plight of the poor and hungry and discuss it with others.
Yearly, to retreat, for a few hours before the Scriptures, to meditate on this one question: Is caring for the poor as important in my life as it is in the Bible?—and to examine my budget and priorities in light of it, asking God what changes he would like me to make in the use of my time, money, and influence.
Some of us can make more microloans or support a needy child. Others can volunteer more time in the inner city or make sure everybody has a share in the fish ponds. Together we can do all the different things needed. United we can become a mighty movement that future historians will call the Generous Christians Generation.
I dream of a Generous Christians Campaign that sweeps through the Western church. Missions agencies, prayer networks, Christian social ministries, and others could all implement what the Bible says about the poor. Rallies, conferences, retreats, small groups, contemporary music, and creative art could be used as part of the Generous Christians strategy.
The Generous Christians Pledge is not intended as a legalistic straitjacket. When appropriate, for example, the weekly hour for sharing with a needy person could be done less often in larger blocks of time. Those who take the pledge should stay centered on their love for Christ and his kingdom, not their own deeds, however noble. Gratitude for God's astounding love, not guilt, should energize our generosity.
This Generous Christians Pledge is not complicated. Every Christian could make it—and keep it. Let's not kid ourselves, however. Conceptually, the pledge is simple, straightforward, doable. But actually implementing it would involve intense spiritual warfare. As Rodney Clapp reminded us recently, the Devil takes Visa, and he would not be amused (CT, Oct. 7, 1996, p. 18). The global forces promoting consumerism are enormously powerful.
Each one of us must engage in a personal struggle with materialism. Each individual must look into the face of our Lord and answer his question: "Do you love me more than these things?" Faithful discipleship in an age of cascading materialism will be difficult and costly.
But it will also be joyful and successful. The ironic truth is that Jesus was right —it is better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Mother Teresa knew more joy than Donald Trump. We cannot gain happiness by seeking it directly; it follows as a by-product when we give ourselves to others. Generous Christians will live what they speak. They will joyfully follow the biblical call to love God and the poor more than possessions. And their generosity will glorify God and transform the world.
Ronald J. Sider is president of Evangelicals for Social Action. For information on the Generous Christians Pledge, contact: Generous Christians Campaign, 10 E. Lancaster Avenue, Wynnewood, PA 19096.
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