Young girl in Tanzania. Photo credit: Morgana Wingard/ ONE.
Duane Miller is a ONE member and Interim Senior Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, Mason City. Read an excerpt of a recent sermon he gave on debt relief in Africa, through the lens of Scripture.
“You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” – John 12:8
From time to time, people have read this Gospel lesson and have interpreted it to mean that worship of God and Christ somehow trumps service to the poor. … But Jesus is by no means dismissive of the need to care for the poor.
This becomes even clearer when we learn that “You always have the poor with you” has its origins in Deuteronomy 15:11, which says, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you: ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’”
And there is something even more remarkable going on in this Gospel lesson. Mary is expressing her gratitude to Jesus for what he has done earlier in the Gospel of John … [when] Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead “to show God’s glory.”
So Mary is grateful to Jesus for restoring her brother’s life. And she is probably grateful to Jesus that her family has been made whole again, in a social and in an economic sense. And so, in the words of Pastor Daniel Rift, director of ELCA World Hunger, “Her profound gratitude leads to outrageous generosity.”
And profound gratitude to God in Christ has led to outrageous generosity on the part of people of faith and their faith communities as they seek ways to live out their calling to serve the poor and the neighbor in need, not only around the corner, not only around the street, but also halfway around the globe.
In the late 1990s, it was becoming apparent that several nations, including Tanzania, were so burdened by debts to the World Bank and countries including the United States that they could not even make their interest payments. The debts had been incurred in many cases by not-so-responsible governments, but by the 1990s the leaders of those countries were seeking ways to build their nations.
So the World Bank, the United States and other wealthy nations, because people of faith and others were advocating for it, began a process by which these massive debts would be forgiven, with the understanding that the money that would have paid for debt service would be invested in education and health care in the developing countries.
So travel with me now to Tanzania in January 2006. The streets are made of dirt, and there is little in the way of plumbing in most of the buildings and houses. [As] we walk through the streets, we begin to see children that Saturday morning, wearing uniforms, carrying books on their backs on their way to school. The leader of our group said to us, “You can thank unilateral debt relief for that.”
Tanzania was now able to provide primary education for an additional million Tanzanian children, thanks to what some would call [the] outrageous generosity of other nations who forgave the massive debts of poor countries.
Ministry to the hungry includes direct relief. It includes development projects. It includes education, and it includes advocacy. It includes food banks and community kitchens and homeless shelters and economic development agencies. It includes health care and refugee resettlement and water projects. It includes learning more about hunger and poverty. And yes it includes sound public policy at all levels.
And all of this becomes possible when people of faith demonstrate outrageous generosity that stems from profound gratitude and thanks to God.
Inspired to connect your faith to the fight to end global poverty? Sign up to join Faith at ONE by emailing Travis Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org.