Jonathan Barnes and his wife, Michelle, live in Oneida, Kentucky, with their three kids: Joshua, Joseph, and Melea. The Appalachian couple are high-school sweethearts — they’ve been married for almost 17 years.
“The fact that I get to hang out with my best friend every day of my life is pretty awesome,” says Michelle. “And he’s kinda cute, so that just adds to it.”
In addition to being teachers at local schools, as well as parents — “the best job in the world,” according to Jonathan — the Barnes’ are active in their local church, Manchester Gospel Mission.
“Our church is a loving church,” says Jonathan, who often serves as part of the worship band during Sunday services. “They care about people. We care about people that live in poverty right here; we care about people that live in poverty halfway around the world. We want to do what we can to help.”
That’s why Jonathan and Michelle are also active in the fight to defend foreign aid, a fact might sound unusual when you consider their surroundings. Oneida is in Kentucky’s 5th congressional district — one of the most impoverished in the nation. It’s an area where coal mining was once a way of life for a lot of residents.
“There’s struggles,” says Jonathan. “Obviously there are some problems, drug problems, problems with poverty and things like that… but really good-hearted people are here.”
“They know what it’s like to struggle; they know other people are struggling. They care enough that they wanna do what they can to help. They wanna have a better life — but they also wanna help others.”
Jonathan’s Christian faith and that of the people in his community inspire him to advocate for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations. He describes the struggle to end extreme poverty — particularly in parts of the world like sub-Saharan Africa — as the difference between life and death.
“If you love God then loving others is a byproduct of it,” he says. “God cares about people that live in extreme poverty just like he cares about people that are middle class, upper class. All of those things are immaterial to God. God cares because it’s a person. And if God cares about it, then I care about it.”
Echoing 1 John 3:17, Jonathan says, “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother and sister in need but shows no compassion, how can God’s love be in the person? Let’s not merely say that we love each other; let’s show the truth in our actions. It’s not about the issue. It’s about the people — the humanity.”
For Jonathan, showing that truth in his actions looks like educating people in his community on the value of foreign aid, as well as signing petitions and making calls to his elected officials. And as a ONE volunteer, Jonathan wants to take his message straight to the top: He hopes to talk about foreign aid in person with Rep. Hal Rogers, the Republican representative for Kentucky’s fifth congressional district.
“I’ve been blessed in a lot of ways,” he says. “I can use that to bless someone who may be struggling with something. And I’m called to do it so I’m happy to do it.”
Jonathan says that attitude should be one that Americans everywhere can understand.
“I think most people agree that America is a blessed nation,” he says. “It should also be a blessing to the nations. I don’t think it’s America’s job to fix all the problems in the world, but I think it’s America’s job to do America’s part.”
Right now, foreign aid is currently less than 1% of all U.S. spending. And it’s been very effective for people living in extreme poverty: In 20 years, the numbers of people in the world living in extreme poverty and the number of people who are chronically malnourished have both been cut in half. And because of the bipartisan commitment to PEPFAR and the Global Fund, we are close to turning the tide against the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
“I think there’s a misconception that we’re spending a lot more than we are,” says Jonathan, “so that’s the thing I want people to know about foreign aid: It’s a little bitty piece of a big government pie.”
“Yes, we do have to make cuts somewhere,” adds Michelle, “but you have to prioritize where you’re gonna make ‘em. There’s no reason when we have all these resources, that we can’t help kids that are literally dying because they can’t get a 10 cent vaccine or their mom can’t afford rice for them and things like that that are so simple for us.”
“I don’t want my children to think that the world is about them,” she says. “I want my children to understand that the world is a much bigger place. And that we serve a purpose in this world to serve others and to help others who need help.”