The halving of extreme poverty over the past two decades is one of the biggest success stories in recent human history but, chances are, you haven’t even heard about it.
Ninety per cent of Australians believe global poverty is about as bad as it’s ever been – and even getting worse. A recent global study found that worldwide, only one in 100 people correctly identified that global poverty has actually halved.
Why are we so oblivious to such changes to global poverty?
At the same time, Christianity is still the largest religion in the world, with the church in parts of Africa, and especially China, exploding with growth. Last year alone, more than 400,000 Christians were baptised in China, where personal faith turns lives upside down and motivates people to build a different society in the name of Christ.
So, why are we so oblivious to such changes to global poverty? What’s behind the pessimism? Is it social media, an echo-chamber of bad news in a big world where we’re constantly bombarded by cries for help?
Probably. It’s hard to distinguish the wins from the losses when children still scavenge on mountains of refuse and people are blown apart by extremists. But travel with me for a moment, sweat-soaked and wide-eyed, to a north Bengali village where freedom from poverty is far more than a statistic. Kneel in a packed auditorium of thousands, where new believers have walked hours through an eastern Chinese dawn to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Meet the children in school uniforms with smiles so wide their faces crack. Stand beside mothers cradling babies who’ll live beyond five, fathers proud to show irrigation schemes they plotted themselves and young men maintaining wells. This is the hard-won reality of more than one billion people rising from extreme poverty and those who speak of life made new.
These are the voices of whole communities telling the greatest stories you’ve never heard.
So how did it all happen? There’s no doubt that part of the spread of Christianity and a lot of poverty reduction is about economic growth, especially in Asia and across Africa. Trade and the more equal distribution of wealth has put food in the bellies and clean water in the communities of millions of people around the world. With this growth has come access to traditions of the West, including the church. But the economy isn’t everything, and trade won’t reach those who have little to give. For another billion people holding out against changing climate, gender injustice and disability – life is wickedly difficult. And in places where poverty and war robs the church of its leadership, who remains to shepherd those who hunger for spiritual growth? For forgiveness, reconciliation and peace?
This is where you and I join the story. We’re part of a tradition transformed by a child born in the dirt of an animal shelter, to a father with splinters in his palms. Alongside him, we go to the places others have forgotten. We’re actively part of life wrought from death. And especially at Christmas, we’re invigorated by this reality and invite you to honour the birth of the child through whom new life and dignity is possible.
Following in the footsteps of the early believers who shared all they had, so that no one would be in need (Acts 4:22).
We are UnitingWorld, the international partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia. We work alongside church partners in Asia, Africa and the Pacific – communities of faith who know and love the families battered by cyclones, the women fleeing violence, the fathers desperate to feed their children, the tribal groups caught in endless cycles of conflict. We pray for their leaders as they pray for ours; we provide theological resources to train their clergy and learn from their insights; our people become part of their lives as they share their skills as teachers, agricultural specialists and accountants.
At Christmas, we invite you to join us in giving gifts through ’Everything in Common’, following in the footsteps of the early believers who shared all they had so that no one would be in need (Acts 4:22). As you think of family and friends this Christmas, your gifts of goats, chickens and school supplies are sent to kick-start projects that give people the tools they need to live with dignity. If you’re a visionary, give gifts that address complex issues of women’s equality, leadership for a changing climate and equipping ministers for the growing global church.
The birth of Christ, for us, is not a one-off event, heralded by angels whose voices fade with the first flush of dawn. Christ is born and continues to be born all over the world as people grasp hope, break free of death and disease, and embrace life to the full. This is the story we’ll continue to tell as our communities of faith grow strong.
Please join us and give a gift this year through Everything in Common.