Thursday, September 29, 2005

I Have 3 Pairs of Shoes!

Kaba is not bragging, he is amazed at the love of Christ. As I drove him home last night from church he said with great excitement, "This is the first time I've had three pairs of shoes since the war started!" The light of God was shining brightly in his face.

I wrote in early July about Samuel, my new Liberian friend who just moved to Tulsa from a Ghana refugee camp. Three more of his family members arrived three weeks ago. Samuel, his father Kaba and Samuel's siblings Abraham (11) and Isatta (8) have been living in refugee camps for most of the past decade. Their home country of Liberia has been mired in a civil war for that time and their lives have been completely unsettled since then. During this process of being unsettled they turned to God who provides eternal settledness (I'm making up words now). Today the other four siblings and Kaba's wife are still unsettled in various places across West Africa but they have great hope of all reuniting someday. I am amazed at their faith.

I've also been amazed at the outpouring of love from our church, the Memorial Drive Church of Christ. I introduced Samuel, who by the way is now working 2 jobs and has moved his family into a 1 bedroom apartment, and his family to our church and they have welcomed them "home". One family went to their storage unit and gave a bed and a couch. Another family gave a nice set of dishes and took Kaba garage saling for a dinner table. Another family who are doctors took them to Wal-Mart on a shopping spree, gave them all clothes, and rides across town. Another family helped Kaba type up his resume as he is now starting to look for a job. Another man is using his connections with Accounting placement firms to look for employment opportunities. The same man gave Kaba a Bible since he didn't have one. The list goes on and on. I feel like I'm living in the middle of Acts where the church was "one" and they all shared as they had needs. What a great experience!

All of this has caused me to think of the many more African refugees living in and moving to the States. I know many of us at church have more things in storage. I know many of the former refugees have empty apartments.

Hmmm, I sense a ministry opportunity!

Friday, September 16, 2005

What's the Difference?

I've seen the horrible and dramatic news stories from the areas and people affected by Hurricane Katrina. I've listened to several NPR news accounts of what's happening to so many lives affected and how polls suggest that Americans are "depressed" by these events. Last night I watched President Bush give a great and needed speech about the government's role to those affected. This is truly one of the worst national disasters we've experienced and I am proud of how we are now responding. Yet, through all of this coverage and now a big effort to rebuild there are questions that keep haunting me.

What's the difference between those affected by Katrina and the 2.8 billion people (those in the world that live on less than $2 a day) that struggle in poverty every day?

Are we saying that Americans are more important than Africans?

To me, most Africans are living like those New Orleans residents stranded on their roofs with no water or food and no one to come help them. But instead of just a couple of days, they stay there for years, decades, even centuries. What's the difference here? Can anyone tell me?

I love the fact that we as a country are responding so well to Katrina victims. I hate the fact that we just ignore Africans who are needlessly dying every day just because of their poverty, who they are and where they live. I hate the fact that for some reason we believe Americans are created better than Africans and so many poor in the developing world.

Below is an article by the president of World Vision who is taking the words right out of my mouth.

Katrina and the uncomfortable truth
by Richard E. Stearns

Perhaps the most disturbing comment I have heard over the pastfew weeks, as I have been glued to the 24/7 Katrina mediacoverage, came from a man who lost his home in New Orleans and was living in a shelter.

It came in response to the controversial use of the word "refugee" to describe the thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. He said:"'Refugee?' I'm not some poor African with flies on his face -we are not refugees, we're American citizens!"There is a profound and uncomfortable truth captured in this man's angry statement. The truth that all men are not created equal; that the 2.8 billion poor who live on less than $2 a dayare not valued with equal importance; that their suffering is less important; that their pain can be tolerated; that their lives are somehow less significant; and that they don't have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the same way the rest of us do.

Hurricane Katrina exposed this uncomfortable double standard to us. It is a double standard that suggests that we don't have a moral responsibility to respond to human suffering if it occurs in a different hemisphere and it is a double standard that showed us that the poor - even in America - are the most vulnerable of our citizens. Now our hearts have gone out to our fellow citizens these past two weeks. Their pain and suffering are real and as a nation we have come together in countless ways to respond to our neighbors in need. World Vision is responding to those needs just as we did after9/11.

I am here today in New York to urge the world leaders meeting at the United Nations this week to not forget the world's 2.8 billion poor people. They are asking us to look upon them with the same concern and sense of moral responsibility that we have demonstrated toward our own citizens. While in the past two weeks we have been critical of the slow response to aid all the victims of Hurricane Katrina, for the poorest of the poor, there is often no response. While we have pointed to the failure of FEMA - for the poorest of the poor,there is no FEMA to fail them. And while $62 billion has been set aside for relief and rebuilding along the Gulf Coast - the money needed to help the poorest of the poor cannot be found.

Dear friends, let us pray this week that 2005 will be the year when the world opened its eyes to the poor; that 2005 will be the year of their emancipation proclamation - because the world finally decided to eliminate extreme poverty in this generation. And let us pray that God will continue to bless our great nation because we have chosen to be a blessing to the word's poor.

Richard E. Stearns is the president of World Vision UnitedStates. This article is adapted from a speech made as part of an interfaith delegation of nearly 20 American religious leaders calling on the Bush Administration to join other nations in committing to end global poverty and fully embrace theMillennium Development Goals (MDGs). Organized in part by Sojourners, a memorial service, press conference, and afternoon of prophetic preaching on the MDGs marked the first day of athree-day vigil of prayer and fasting in Dag Hammarskjöld Plazain New York City this week.+ Read more about the vigil at the World Summit:

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

UN and Millenium Development Goals

Today leaders from all over the world will convene at a meeting in New York at the World Summit which coincides with the opening of the 60th UN General Assembly. They will hopefully build on the commitments that the G8 leaders made earlier this summer. It marks the continued drive to unprecedented commitments at alleviating global poverty. Specific goals have been set for the next 10 years. As a Christian community, we need to be in prayer this week for these meetings. We then need to find ways to participate in meeting these goals as we spread the love of God alongside development efforts.

Here is a great statement from General Kofi Annan.....

"We will have time to reach the Millennium Development Goals –
worldwide and in most, or even all, individual countries – but only if we break with business as usual. We cannot win overnight. Success will require sustained action across the entire decade between now and the deadline. It takes time to train the teachers, nurses and engineers; to build the roads, schools and hospitals; to grow the small and large businesses able to create the jobs and income needed. So we must start now. And we must more than double global development assistance over the next few years. Nothing less will help to achieve the Goals."

Below is more info on the Millenium Development Goals - a statement directly from the UN website.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the world's time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions-income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter, and exclusion-while promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability. They are also basic human rights-the rights of each person on the planet to health, education, shelter, and security.

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality

Goal 5: Improve maternal health

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability

Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

Monday, September 12, 2005

Katrina thoughts

I hate the pain and suffering that has occurred in the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina dealt her blow. But I'm thankful that it has awakened our country to better understand and know that there is a lost society out there. There is a mass of people struggling in poverty in our inner cities and poorest regions of our own country that we are now much more aware of and I hope our actions will change towards.

What will it take now for us to wake up to global poverty? Another Rwanda? No, that doesn't affect our own pocketbooks like Katrina did. (Did you know that there were approximately 800,000 more deaths in Rwanda than from Katrina? Can we even get our minds around that number?) By the way, I'm noticing similar complaints about how the government failed to respond to New Orleans as how the government failed to respond to Rwanda's genocide. Let's stop blaming specific people and acknowledge that our big government doesn't lend itself to quick response to major crises. Let's instead ask our leaders to get creative in how we can overcome the big government effect when we need rapid response.

Back to my point, I think it is going to continue to take a stronger will and more intentional actions to wake up to and deal with global poverty. What we have seen in New Orleans happens hundreds of times worse EACH DAY in AFRICA through HUNGER and PREVENTABLE DISEASES. As Bono has said many times, we in the developed countries have the capacity and the resources to do something about that, but do we have the will? We got excited during Live 8 this past summer. Have we already forgotten and lost that excitement?

I'm thrilled that we have the will to respond to Katrina victims like we now are responding. We should continue on serving those affected in a passionate way. Let's also carry that passion and help through to the rest of God's creation - and not rest until there is much more justice in this world.