All posts tagged “58:

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Christianity Today tackles poverty and development

This month Christianity Today‘s cover story is focused on international development. CT’s editor-in-chief David Neff introduces the issue by mentioning the unique historical moment in which we find ourselves, exemplified by the 58: campaign, a collaboration of Christian relief and development organizations making the bold claim that we as Christians can end extreme poverty. I praised and critiqued the campaign’s book here.

The 58: campaign raises some important questions, and so does CT’s two-part cover story. For instance, What sorts of development initiatives really work? And as Christians, how do we understand the proper roles of governments and individuals in alleviating poverty? Those are good questions to consider.

First, the roles. Mark Galli, CT’s senior managing editor and author of several books, writes in “The Best Ways to Fight Poverty — Really” that while good macroeconomic policies have lifted millions out of poverty in places like India and China, as Christians we shouldn’t underestimate the significance of small, relational acts of neighborliness toward those in need wherever we are. This, of course, is something the state is too clumsy to do, though he suggests governments do have a role to play in creating good economic environments, and I’d agree. The government getting out of the way is essential for economic growth in many ways, but the state also has a responsibility to uphold justice, particularly for the vulnerable, and this has definite economic implications. Finding that balance is a source of contention for many on both sides of the aisle, but it’s essential that we try. While I wouldn’t consider Galli a development expert (and I don’t think he’d claim to be one), I do think he gives all of us some good food for thought nonetheless.

Second, the practicalities. Bruce Wydick, an economist at the University of San Francisco, writes “Cost-Effective Compassion.” Wydick is a development expert, and a Christian too. He surveyed a number of fellow development economists at places like Duke, Yale, Stanford and the World Bank, asking them to rank in terms of cost-effectiveness and impact ten approaches to poverty intervention that ordinary donors are commonly asked to support. The findings may surprise you: providing clean water, funding de-worming programs for children, and providing mosquito nets ranked as the three most effective approaches, with child sponsorship coming in at number four. Buying fair trade coffee and providing laptops for children were the two that came in with the lowest rankings.

At the end of the piece, Wydick offers some good take-aways — things that all of us should keep in mind when seeking to do the most good with the money we give. Most important, I think, is his point that great marketing doesn’t necessarily mean any given anti-poverty strategy is a good one; so it’s always good to do your research before giving. Additionally, judging organizations merely on the basis of the percentage of donor money spent on programs (as opposed to funds used for marketing and other overhead costs) isn’t enough; we need rigorous, independent scrutiny of programs to show whether those programs actually do any good, and whether they might also do some harm.

I’m grateful that a magazine like CT would give this topic such prominence, and I do hope you’ll read both parts of the cover story in full. As Wydick emphasizes, it’s good to be educated about which initiatives and campaigns work and which ones aren’t as good of an “investment.” But it’s also important to be reminded that an over-emphasis on pragmatism — an obsession with “what works” — can paradoxically be dehumanizing. People shouldn’t be viewed as projects, after all.

What are your reactions to these two perspectives on development from CT? Does any of it change how you’ll engage with issues of poverty? Does it change which projects or organizations you’ll support? Do you think it’s possible for NGOs to pursue “what works” while also keeping front and center the need to honor the dignity of those they serve?

[Photo credit: Blood Water Mission via permissiontoperuse.com]

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Why ‘Fast Living’ matters and how it could be better

I’ve written on a couple of occasions about the 58: campaign, back when it launched and then again last week coinciding with the premiere of the film. Here now are some thoughts on Fast Living: How the Church Will End Extreme Poverty, written by Dr. Scott Todd, who works for Compassion International and serves as chairman of the board for the Accord Network.

The theme of the campaign, and of the book, comes from Isaiah 58, a passage of Scripture that has meant a lot to me and to many. In it, the prophet rails against the dangers of empty religion, calling the people of God instead to a “true fast”—a life of worship characterized by loosing the chains of injustice, letting the oppressed go free, sharing bread with the hungry, and clothing the naked. It’s a radical passage of Scripture. And Fast Living is a radical book; the subtitle alone is audacious.

As I’ve said before, the campaign really excites and encourages me. Made up of ten Christian relief and development organizations, it seeks to mobilize the Church—North American churches and Christians, in particular—to get serious about ending extreme poverty in our lifetime. Scott Todd highlights the successes we’ve seen already,  and points to the untapped potential for the Church to lead the way going forward. I work for a Christian relief and development organization (though it’s not a member of the campaign), and I’m passionate about mobilizing churches and Christians first of all to care about this stuff, but second, and more importantly, to actually get to work as instruments of shalom in our world. And because of those shared passions, I’m so grateful for the energy this campaign is generating and for the many lives that will be saved and transformed because of it.

But… I do have a three (relatively minor?) qualms with the book.

First, its reading of Isaiah 58 under-emphasizes the core of Isaiah’s main plea. Yes, the prophet Isaiah calls the people of God out of their lives of affluent materialism and overly private piety, and into merciful, just, sacrificial lives—and yes, the application for us today is clear. But this transformation is not simply a matter of the will, or a matter of getting excited about being part of something big and world-changing. It’s a matter of sin and repentance and new life. After repenting of our selfishness, our pride and our greed, and then, having experienced the lavish grace of God, we are freed to go and love others as Christ has loved us. I wish that the book would have emphasized this need for repentance and the promise of new life at least as much as it sought to inspire. People who have experienced God’s grace are in a unique position to love their neighbors, because they know that no one is below them, unworthy of love. Inspiration and guilt, meanwhile, only go so far—especially in a matter like fighting extreme poverty. As Christians, I don’t know what will sustain us in this work if it’s not the grateful recognition that we’re undeserving recipients of God’s love and that we’re invited in turn to share that love with others.

Second, its suggested remedy for the complex problem of extreme poverty strikes me as a bit simplistic. “Simple generosity can, and probably will, end extreme global poverty if we channel it effectively,” Scott Todd writes. Now, that’s a very big if. But even so, I’m not convinced that simple generosity has what it takes. Simple generosity is obviously what relief and development organizations need from us to do their very important work. But ending extreme poverty will require not just the social sector, but bold leadership from government and business as well. He touches on this in a later section of the book, emphasizing that all three sectors have a role to play in the fight against poverty. It’s understandable, given his audience and his own work, that his focus is on the social sector—and especially on the Church and parachurch organizations within that sector—but simple generosity can’t account for businesses that create jobs that help give the poor dignity and lift them out of cycles of poverty, and simple generosity can’t account for laws and policies that are just and that defend the rights of the marginalized.

Third, and finally, the book’s positing of the Church as a victim of “the media” seems to miss the mark. Todd is right that Christians are often portrayed in the mainstream media as “shallow, anti-intellectual, judgmental, disengaged, and uncool hypocrites.” He wonders why the media focus more on our scandals than on our humble service to the world’s poor. I’m just not convinced that this is because of some sinister conspiracy by “The Lords of Media” who are out to get us. Rather, I’d point to the fact that the mainstream media are big businesses, and they are concerned, first and foremost, with what sort of reporting and programming is most lucrative. Media coverage, in other words, is based on supply and demand, and as they say, “if it bleeds, it leads.” There are reporters who care about telling good stories and doing good journalism both within the mainstream and at the fringes, but the media system is driven mostly by a bottom line. This is why the media focus more on political sex scandals than they do on the many politicians who lead quiet, faithful lives with their families. It is why we hear more about Muslims being terrorists than about the vast majority who simply want peace. It’s why we hear about murder and rape in our cities rather than about those who walk old ladies across the street or volunteer at soup kitchens. If consumers of media rewarded newspapers and TV outlets for focusing on the good things that are happening in the world, we’d automatically see a lot more of it. Maybe I’m making a big deal out of nothing, but it seems to me that playing the victim is a dangerous posture. It becomes too easy to then disregard the many ways in which Christians all too often do reinforce the stereotypes others hold about us. Plus, it disregards the matchlessly influential role the media can play in getting the word out about urgent needs in times of emergency or otherwise. Christians aren’t always portrayed well in the media, it’s true; but if we want to change that, I’m not sure that playing the victim will help.

Again, the first and the last thing I have to say about the 58: campaign, film and book is that I find them exciting, encouraging, and worthwhile, and I know that many feel the same way. I offer these thoughts, I hope, merely as three ways to make 58: even better.

Have you read the book or watched the film? What are your thoughts? What did you appreciate the most about them? What would you change?

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Repaso: Haiti 18 months later, poverty/dignity, humanitarian journalists, Latin America’s game, and more

1. Paul Farmer on post-quake Haiti
NPR’s Fresh Air had a half-hour interview this week with Dr. Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health, in which he talks about Haiti a year and a half after the devastating quake in January 2010. It’s tied in with his new book, which is one I’ll definitely plan to read and possibly review for the blog or a magazine. Farmer has been working in Haiti for a very long time, and his perspective is sobering but worth listening to. In the interview he says:

Some people talk about Haiti as being the graveyard of development projects. Our own experience has been very positive working in Haiti — building health facilities and working with the public sector and creating jobs — but [we are now thinking about] how we can now make these other, more ambitious projects also effective on the implementation front.

2. Haiti: 18 months later
Roseann Dennery, a good friend of Katie’s, has a new piece in Relevant Magazine on Haiti as well, focusing on the country’s tragic orphan crisis. She has been living there for the past year, working with Samaritan’s Purse along with Justin, her husband. Her first-hand experience of the crisis has led her to a unique perspective:

It is one thing to read statistics about Haiti’s expanding orphan crisis, but it is quite another to witness it; to walk down a squalid dirt road and visit several overrun orphanages within a few minutes of one another, each with greater need than the last. Wide eyed, hungry, soiled. Each humble face tells a different variation of the same story. It is unsettling and overwhelming. And it feels harshly unjust. What does it mean, then, to be a Christian in the midst of a swelling sea of abandoned children, a trend that shows no sign of slowing?

3. Snapshots of Suffering
My friend Chris Horst, who works for HOPE International, has a great personal reflection on dignity and suffering, based on experiences in the Dominican Republic. He concludes:

I’m thrilled to serve a God who truly knows me. A God who does not define me by my weaknesses. A Creator who made me in his image. A Father who “exults” over me, his child. These truths convince me that If God and I sojourned across the Dominican together, his pictures would look strikingly different than mine.

4. Are humanitarian groups doing the media’s job overseas?
This was an interesting one for me, since I’m a communications specialist for a large NGO not unlike the one featured in this post. It is an interesting observation Tom Paulson makes about this trend of NGO communicators doing something very similar to journalism and what this means for mainstream media.

5. Is baseball becoming Latin America’s game?
NBC Sports has an interesting piece on the rise of Latino players in the MLB:

Much like the recent influx of immigrants from Latin America into the general U.S. population, MLB has seen a remarkable shift in it’s demographic over the last 20 years. Ozzie Guillen, the outspoken manager of the Chicago White Sox, said last year that within 10 years “American people are going to need a visa to play this game because we’re going to take over.” And while Guillen’s comments can be taken as a humorous exaggeration, there is an element of truth to what he says. Baseball might be America’s pastime, but the sport is becoming increasingly Latino at heart.

6. Trailer for :58 film
I highlighted the new :58 campaign here on the blog a month ago today. Now here is the trailer for the campaign’s feature length film, due for release this fall.

58: THE FILM Trailer July, 11 2011 from LIVE58NOW on Vimeo.

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Repaso: Social justice, culture wars, a Colombian circus and more

Can social justice tame our culture wars?
This is USA Today’s coverage of the recently launched “:58” campaign (which I blogged about here) and “the new evangelicals” movement, represented at the recent Q conference in Portland:

As the generational tides nudge this demographic closer to the front and center of American evangelicalism, it’s time for a refiguring of the equations by the many non-evangelicals nursing grudges about those pushy Jesus nuts — especially the progressive secularists who share these new evangelicals’ social justice commitments. Divided by religious belief, these groups are easily stereotyped as culture war enemies. They needn’t be. If anything, they’re common-good allies simply in need of an introduction.

Two reading lists on poverty and development
It’s not every day conservative Christian outlets provide suggested reading lists on economic development and holistic social action, so I want to share them here. One is from The Gospel Coalition and compiled by theologian Wayne Grudem. I added a comment on the post with a couple of thoughts. The second list is in WORLD Magazine and compiled by Amy Sherman, who I read in grad school. I’ve read some books on both lists, and while the lists are somewhat ideologically narrow and therefore incomplete, I’m glad these folks are encouraging Christians to begin understanding development and justice at a deeper level.

Colombian circus troupe
This fascinating audio slideshow from the BBC features Circocolombia, a circus troupe from Cali, a city notorious for its eponymous drug cartel. The troupe is touring Europe with a production called Urban, which combines music, dance and storytelling. I hope it makes its way to the US.

Latinos and the 2011 MLB All Star Game
The New York Times has an interesting piece on the upcoming baseball All Star Game to be held in Phoenix, and some of the concerns of Latino players in light of Arizona’s controversial immigration law:

Selig is putting his Latino players in the impossible position of having to choose between showing solidarity to their people or to the game that has enriched them even as they have enriched it.

Guatemala debuts women-only buses
I’ve known for a while that Cairo offers gender-specific mass transit options; now Guatemala City does too. They’ve been established because so many Guatemalans in the capital rely on mass transit, while there are a disturbingly high number of armed robberies and assaults of women on the normal buses.

Ex-Brazil president Lula on ending hunger
This op-ed in the Guardian from Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is more or less a pitch for the candidate he nominated to head up the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, but is noteworthy because Brazil really has made some impressive strides towards ending hunger, both at home and abroad. Lula writes:

Brazil has been working internationally for a more balanced and socially equitable global order. Our approach is based on the construction of equal partnerships with developing countries worldwide.

Christians issue handbook on evangelism
I didn’t see this one coming, but on second thought, it’s probably long overdue. Leaders representing the global mainline Protestant, evangelical and Catholic churches got together and released a rule book on the dos and don’ts of mission and evangelism called Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct (pdf). The document asserts churches’ rights to evangelize, while denouncing “resorting to deception and coercive means.”

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The poor will not always be with us

A few months ago my friend Chris told me about a new campaign being put together by several Christian relief and development organizations to mobilize the US church to take poverty alleviation seriously. The 58: campaign finally launched on Monday, and I think it’s worth sharing.

This isn’t the first initiative making the bold claim that alleviation of extreme poverty can be achieved in our lifetime, but it’s the first unified effort I know of made up exclusively of Christians, claiming that the church has the resources and the mandate to make it happen. The campaign video and online materials cite statistics showing how much progress has been made in recent decades in the fight against extreme poverty, and its conclusions are hopeful. It takes its cue from the prophet Isaiah‘s famous words about true and false fasting:

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps go free,of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

The campaign website is really interactive and would have never been possible a few years ago without the rapid rise and evolution of social media. How they describe it:

If the prophet Isaiah had the technology he would have built this. A way to “shout it aloud”. A way to “choose your fast.” What you see now is just the beginning. live58.org is for you and your friends. An engaging new way to take credible action. Together. It’s all about THE SHOUT (telling others) and THE FAST (sacrificial action). We need both, if we are going to end extreme poverty.

The ten member organizations are Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, Compassion International, ECHO, Food for the Hungry, HOPE International, International Justice Mission, Living Water International, Micah Challenge, Plant With Purpose and World Relief.