Baptists Struggle to Move Beyond Words to Actions to Halve Global Poverty

Les Fussell (left) and Victor Rembreth lead presentations on Micah Challenge.
Global Baptists heard both success stories about national Micah Challenge campaigns and that some union/conventions have accomplished almost nothing meaningful to reduce global poverty by half by 2015.

Speaking at the Baptist World Alliance Freedom and Justice Study Commission meeting in Mexico City, Australian and Indonesian Baptists disclosed different levels of activity and accomplishments. The silence of American Baptists suggested the movement has little traction in the United States, beyond resolutions and talk about justice.


Paul Montacute, director of Baptist World Aid, a British citizen who lives in northern Virginia, said Baptists in U.S. "don't seem to get involved much with things that are going on."


With British understatement, he said that the Micah Challenge work in the U.S. is "a little to slow for me."


Les Fussell, chair of the national steering committee of Micah Challenge Australia, said, "The Micah Challenge is a global Christian campaign that seeks to raise a prophetic and powerful voice for and with the poor."


"The Micah Challenge has two basic goals," said Fussell, a driving force behind the movement. "It looks both inward, to deepening Christian commitment to work for and with the economically poor communities, and outward, urging leaders of rich and poor nations to fulfill their public promise to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and so halve absolute global poverty by 2015."


"We want Baptists to get more behind it," he said.


As the national director of Baptist World Aid-Australia, Fussell told delegates that BWAA helped people with AIDS, sank wells in poor countries and a lot of things that are part of the millennium development goals.


However, he sees the Micah Challenge as a chance to advance advocacy for the poor through governmental structures.


"In the Micah Challenge, I saw the opportunity to influence the church, to get the church to understand our call through the gospel to support the poor and then to put legs on our call to advocate to our national leaders," he said.


He said Micah Challenge Australia has distributed 10,000 educational DVDs, obtained more than 27,000 signatory supporters, sold 360,000 white wristbands and visited with over 80 members of Parliament, encouraging their public policy support.


Australia's Micah Challenge advocates disseminated 200,000 postcards in six months called "Keep Your Promise." The Australian prime minister received 10,000 postcards a week, Fussell said.


Through Micah Challenge's aggressive advocacy, the Australian government promised in September 2005 an additional $1.5 billion in aid over the next five years. 


The prime minister "didn't just do that because he had a good idea," said Fussell. "A lot of people down in Canberra, our national capital where the government is … they are feeling for the direction of the wind."


Fussell said the prime minister "felt the direction of the wind in the campaigning … and decided he had better increase the aid budget, because there's a will in the population."


Fussell said Australian Baptists "have to make sure our politicians deliver on their promises all the time."


Victor Rembreth, a Baptist pastor teaching at a university and working with the Convention of Indonesian Baptist Churches, reported on the early beginnings of a Micah Challenge campaign in his country, where many Indonesians live in poverty and face injustice.


He also criticized some large relief organizations for their involvement in Banda Aceh, where the 2004 tsunami caused extensive damage.


"Some large relief organizations … make big money out of the aid industry in Aceh. And so many of them corrupt the money," he said. "Baptist World aid does the best job in Aceh."


Rembreth said the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank take a "cut and paste" approach to aid that benefits the rich and strong. He said their approach makes things "worse and worse, and [creates an] even poorer and poorer" situation in Indonesia."


Since November 2005, the Indonesian government doubled the price of oil to pay its international debt owed to IMF and World Bank, not giving those revenues to the poor who live on less that $1 per day, he said.


"Wealthy Christians must use their wealth in the service of others," said Rembreth.


In his report to the General Council on Friday, David Coffey, BWA's president, reminded delegates that they passed a resolution in 2004 supporting the Micah Challenge.


"Micah Challenge can be rolled out in the local church," he said. "It's a wonderful opportunity…for Baptists to deepen our Christian commitment to work with and for the poor."


Coffey urged BWA attendees, "If you haven't already signed the Micah Challenge, visit the Web site and become involved."


Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.


Previous related stories:

Baptists Discuss AIDS, a New American Voice and Religious Liberty in Mexico

Nicaragua Baptist To Receive Human Rights Award

Global Baptists Need 'Big Ears' to Hear God's Voice

BWA Meets in Mexico City, Lotz Looks for SBC Reform

Australian Baptists Are Chief Advocates for Micah Challenge

Halving Global Poverty Receives Scant Baptist Action








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