If you’re a Christian and the war against poverty isn’t on your radar, maybe it’s time to dust off your Bible. (Here’s a hint: Start with the words in red.)
But even Jesus understood that the war against poverty is an uphill battle. “The poor you will always have with you,” he said in the gospel of Matthew. However, there’s new evidence that we’re actually winning the war against extreme global poverty.
Here’s what we know — and what needs to happen next.
How We’re Winning the War Against Poverty (Sort Of)
According to projections recently released by the World Bank, the percentage of people living in extreme poverty around the world is forecasted to dip below 10 percent in 2015. The World Bank defines extreme poverty as people who are forced to live below the international poverty line, which is currently set at $1.90 per day.
One in 10 people on this planet lives in extreme poverty.
That sounds like a lot (because it is). But consider this: In 1999, the extreme poor represented 29 percent of the global population; in 1990, 37.1 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty.
Over the past 25 years, extreme global poverty has been reduced by a full 25 percentage points.
That’s a big deal and it’s definitely something worth celebrating. In the U.S., it’s easy to rationalize extreme global poverty based on the misguided idea that it’s cheaper to live in the developing world.
But I’ve seen what living on less than $2 a day looks like and take my word for it: Extreme poverty is just as dire and dehumanizing as it sounds — no matter where you live.
There are a lot of factors driving the reduction in extreme poverty. The rise of the Asian middle class, a growing awareness of the global poor, even social media — these and other factors (including the work of socially ethical Christians and other people of faith) have all contributed to the decline in extreme poverty.
And we’re not done yet. In the words of World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, “This is the best story in the world today — these projections show us that we are the first generation in human history that can end extreme poverty.’’
Eliminating Extreme Poverty in Our Lifetime
The possibility of eradicating extreme poverty over the next two decades is good news for all of us. But it won’t happen on its own. In fact, experts are quick to point out that economic slowdowns, high youth unemployment rates, market volatility and other variables still make eliminating extreme poverty by 2030 a lofty goal.
But ending extreme poverty is possible.
The Church represents one of the most prolific and pervasive organisms on the planet. By standing in solidarity with the poor and making the obliteration of the most extreme forms of poverty a priority, we can follow Jesus’ example and make a significant difference in the war against poverty.
Pray for the Poor
Change begins with prayer. When we intercede for those trapped in extreme poverty, we bring spiritual resources to bear on the problems they face. But just as importantly, we align ourselves with Jesus’ heart for the poor and practice spiritual solidarity with the less fortunate around the world.
Advocate on the Behalf of the Global Poor
In addition to prayer, it’s important to advocate for the poor and for the elimination of extreme global poverty. From speaking up for the poor around the office water cooler to contacting legislators about anti-poverty initiatives, those of us to whom much has been given will ultimately be judged by our willingness to advocate for the global poor.
Examine Your Personal Lifestyle
In many cases, overconsumption and materialism in the West contribute to extreme poverty in developing nations. In God’s world, there’s enough for everyone — but only when the haves live up to their responsibility to live in moderation rather than exploiting the have-nots so they can revel in excess.
The takeaway from the World Bank’s forecast is that the war against poverty is winnable, but it won’t be easy. The poor matter to Jesus. And that should be reason enough for Christians to make the elimination of extreme global poverty a priority.