An activist’s promise for 2013

At the start of 2013, I find myself looking back at the opportunities I’ve had over the years in my vocation. I remember the first time that I traveled to a foreign country. As a young photojournalist, I was nervous and excited all at once. I knew that my trip to a developing nation would be eye-opening, and I tried to prepare myself for the worst. But what I didn’t expect was to see the best in humanity.

kids joe mason

I stepped into an orphanage, operated by a faith-based NGO called Children of Promise International, that was full of happy, playful, healthy young boys and girls. They had been given a second chance at life, thanks to a group of believers who decided that they would invest in the future of these kids, even when everyone else had given them up and counted them as worthless. My eyes were opened, but in a totally different way than I had expected.

Japan Tsunami Relief and Rebuild
Samaritan’s Purse in Japan for the Tsunami Relief and Rebuild project. Photo credit: Samaritan’s Purse.

Hurricane Sandy Relief - Long Island, NY
Samaritan’s Purse in Long Island helping with Hurricane Sandy relief. Photo credit: Samaritan’s Purse.

Sixteen countries later, I still experience the same eye-opening wonder when I walk through a tsunami-torn neighborhood in Sendai, Japan, where a group of volunteers from Samaritan’s Purse is rebuilding houses all throughout the region. My heart quickens when I see teachers in a school in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and the harsh slums of Mathare Valley, Kenya that are taking children from the streets and are educating, feeding and loving them as though they are their own.

collectingwater
Sustainable irrigation practices in Mathare, Kenya

I see the compassion of Christ in Nairobi, Kenya, where Convoy of Hope, a faith-based NGO, is providing grain to a drought-stricken area of that country, but also working with local leaders to create agricultural training programs and water catchment systems. The list goes on and on. Groups like Samaritan’s Purse and Convoy of Hope depend on faithful donors in order to provide relief and development assistance, but they also partner with government entities like USAID to deliver much-needed aid to people who would certainly die without it. Incidentally, both of these NGOs were and still are vital in the post-Hurricane Sandy rescue and reconstruction in parts of New York and New Jersey.

I remember visiting Port Au Prince, Haiti, just after a massive earthquake leveled most of the city in 2010. As I drove around with aid workers assessing the situation, I recall seeing a line of large trucks, one after the other, hauling away debris. On the side of the trucks I saw a familiar logo, one that represents the American people and a foreign policy that doesn’t always include missiles and bombs. The logo read, “USAID – From the American People.” I cannot express the sense of national pride that I felt that day, to know that my country was reaching out a helping hand to people who were helpless victims of a natural disaster that had left so many Haitians in so much pain.

We are all too familiar with the global financial struggles of the past few years. The headlines reveal our woes and our fears of what’s next, and our hope for recovery. But I’ve spoken to members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, who realize that in even the toughest financial circumstances, we must not withhold vital resources that save the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people. I’m thankful for our leaders who understand that we cannot balance our budget on the backs of the world’s poor.

We must continue to fund programs like Feed The Future, which help struggling nations through smart development programs that work. These programs are designed to eventually eliminate the need for foreign assistance altogether. It’s the same idea of that all-too-familiar story about teaching a man to fish. When we invest in these types of programs, developing countries gain independence and become sustainable in the future. These aren’t band-aid programs. They are investments in the future of the world.

As we start a new year, let’s get behind the world’s poorest people. Let’s put an end to extreme poverty and preventable disease by supporting faith-based NGO’s and government programs that are making a big difference to the “least of these.” It is our duty as believers, and it’s our obligation as human beings.

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Joe Mason is a volunteer ONE Regional Faith Organizer and freelance photographer/videographer who travels the world in order to document faith-based aid and development organizations. In this essay, he reflects back on some of his past trips and experiences.