The following is the edited transcript of a speech given by Dr Tony Campolo at an Opportunity International Australia fundraising dinner in Sydney in June.

I’m just thrilled to be here and to support the work of Opportunity International for a variety of reasons but the most important is that I’m a faith-oriented guy. My whole life is organised around the faith commitment. Now, some of you may not be into that commitment, but for me, that’s my rationale.

TonyCampolo

"This is a God who is not simply interested in an eternity beyon this sky, but interested in invading this world. 'For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son'. This world, is a world that God loves. Do you understand that?"

Christianity took a whole new turn for me when I took seriously the Lord’s Prayer. I mean, you wouldn’t think that that was a great theological statement, but it really is. “Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name…” And the next line is crucial for Opportunity International: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth…” On earth! I mean, for a long time I thought Christianity was about pie in the sky when you die by and by. But as I began to read scripture, I began to realize that in no uncertain terms, that the Jesus that I loved had come into the world to change this world into the kind of world that he wants for it to be. He came to change this world into the Kingdom of God. And where is this kingdom supposed to be? It’s supposed to be “on earth…. As it is in heaven".

The good news is that we’ve got a God that wants to transform the world. But one of the passages I would always bring to my students’ attention comes from the sixty-fifth chapter of Isaiah. And here’s what it says: “I am going to create the world anew.” I love that phrase. “No longer will children die in infancy…” That’s the first statement. The new world that God wants to create is a world where kids don’t die in infancy, where poverty does not wipe out children.

I was in Africa this year. There are 13 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa. There are 180 million people, 13 million of them are orphans. They are orphans because of the AIDS crisis. Forty-four million are HIV positive. It’s horrendous to see children dying in infancy. I talked to one lady. I asked her if there’s anything I ought to be praying about. 

She said, “Yes. Pray that my children die before I do”. She didn’t do anything wrong. Her husband brought home the disease, infected her… she in turn had two children. They had the HIV virus. They were all in the process of dying, the husband was already gone and she wanted the children to die before she did. You know why she prayed that prayer? Because if she died first, her children would be out on the streets. Her children, covered with sores already, who already showed all the effects of AIDS in its advanced stages would be left to beg for food on the streets.

Here it is, the next line. “The elderly live out life with fullness of health and the man who dies at a hundred is considered unfortunate”. I like that. I mean, I am at that age where my idea of a happy hour is a nap. I mean, you know you’re old if your wife says, “Let’s go upstairs and have sex” and you say “I can’t do both”. Be this as it may, the old people live out life in perfect health… Oh that’s a beautiful image. 

Then it goes on to say this… “People have vineyards in which to work”, they have jobs. Everybody has a job. And people have decent housing. They build houses and get to live in them. And then it ends that passage, that sixty-fifth chapter of Isaiah ends with these words: “And neither shall they hurt the earth any more…” It’s environmentally sound, it’s environmentally secure. We’ve got a God that wants people to have jobs, to have decent houses, that doesn’t want children to die in infancy, that wants older people like me to live out their lives in health and wellbeing. This is a God who is not simply interested in an eternity beyond this sky, but interested in invading this world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son”. This world, is a world that God loves. Do you understand that?

The eighth chapter of Romans says this, “The whole of creation is groaning and is in travail”, is suffering, waiting for people like us to rescue it. The call of God is not heaven, it’s to be invested with the Spirit, the Holy Spirit that will drive you out to change the world that is, into the world that ought to be. And that’s what I’m here to talk about.

I think that Opportunity International is an incredible Christian organization. By the year 2020, this organisation will have cut into the poverty in the world by ten per cent. Did you hear that? Ten per cent. Jesus came “with good news for the poor”. Is getting rid of poverty by ten per cent good news for the poor? Indeed it is! That’s the good news. And it’s getting rid of poverty in the best possible way.

"Now you’ve got to understand that delivering people from poverty is at the core of the biblical message. There are obviously 2000 verses of scripture that call upon people to respond to the needs of the poor. More than any other subject. "

In the Talmud, which is the Hebrew commentary on the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, it says there are four ways of helping the poor. First and foremost is to create jobs for poor people. Second, is to pretend to create jobs for poor people. You know it’s better than giving them money, trying to figure out if there is something for them to do. Next is to give the poor what they need, but never tell them where it came from. That’s why I get a little upset with church groups at Christmas time who bring toys and food to poor families. You say, “Well, shouldn’t they do that? Isn’t it Christmas? Isn’t that the right thing to do to take toys and food to poor families?” Yes it is. But if you do it, you ought to sneak it up on the back steps, run away, call them on the telephone and say, “There’s stuff on the back steps. It’s for you. This is God!” And hang up. Now that’s what the bible says to do doesn’t it? It says when you do your giving, “your left hand is not supposed to know what your right hand is doing”. And “the God who sees what you do in secret, shall reward you openly”.

The least effective way of helping the poor, says the Talmud, is to give the poor what they need, but the poor know that you are the giver. When you just give to people who are in need… they appreciate it, they need it, they have to take it, but you know and I know that so much of charity diminishes the dignity of the receiver, does it not? I mean, who wants to be a charity case, who wants to lose dignity by taking a hand out? That’s why what Opportunity does is close to where Jesus wants us to be. We’re going to deliver people from poverty not by giving them stuff but by inviting them, empowering them to resolve the problem of poverty through job creation, to create businesses.

The whole idea of delivering people from despair and hopelessness through job creation. That’s what Opportunity International is all about, delivering people from poverty. Now you’ve got to understand that delivering people from poverty is at the core of the biblical message. There are obviously 2000 verses of scripture that call upon people to respond to the needs of the poor. More than any other subject. The only description that Jesus ever gives of judgment day is how we responded to the poor. It’s in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew. This is the way he does it on judgment day, He asks these questions: “I was hungry did you feed me, naked, did you clothe me, sick, did you care for me, a stranger, did you take me in?” Namely, the Jesus I believe in, always comes to us, presents himself to us through the poor and the needy in the world.

I’m walking down Chestnut Street in Philadelphia and this derelict, this homeless man, is walking towards me. Somewhat schizophrenic to be sure, staggering down the street, holding in his hand a cup of McDonalds coffee. The thing that was most impressive about him was his beard. He had this gigantic beard that went out in all directions and there was rotted food stuck in it. And he was filthy, and he was dirty and he had this cup of McDonalds coffee and the thing was already smudged from the filth off his beard. He spots me, and he says,  “Hey mister! You want some of my coffee?” 

I looked at him and I looked at the smudged cup and I really didn’t want any of his coffee, but I knew that the right thing to do was to affirm his generosity. So I took the cup, and I took a sip and I gave it back to him, and I said:“Hey, you’re getting generous. Giving away your coffee to people you don’t even know. You don’t know me. Giving away your coffee to strangers? What’s gotten into you today mister?” 
And he said, “Well, the coffee today was especially delicious, and I figure if God gives you something that’s good, you ought to share it with people”.

I thought, “Oh no, this sucker has set me up. It’s gonna cost me ten dollars.” I said, “You want something from me, don’t you”. And he said, “Yeah… I wanna hug”. I was hoping for the ten dollars. He put his arms around me, I put my arms around him and then I realised something, he wasn’t going to let me go. He was holding into my jacket from behind. I was trying to get loose, he was holding on tight. People are passing on the street, they’re staring at me. Here I am, hugging this dirty, filthy bum and I’m embarrassed. And then little, by little the embarrassment turned to awe and reverence and I could hear the voice echoing down the corridors of time saying, “I was hungry, did you feed me, I was naked, did you clothe me, I was sick, did you care for me, I was the bum you met on Chestnut Street, did you hug me? For whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me”.

That’s why you can’t pass away the poor, you can’t push them aside, you can’t reject them, you can’t move on about your business and say, “Well if they work harder they wouldn’t be in the mess that they’re in”, you can’t do that because all that is sacred is waiting to be encountered in the poor and the oppressed and the hurting people of this world. They’re waiting there. And I am really into responding to the poor.

Jesus came, and he starts off his ministry in the fourth chapter of Luke by saying, “I have come with good news for the poor…”, for the poor. I can’t overstate the significance of responding to poor people because that is the thing that the scripture talks most about when it talks about meeting people’s needs. I can’t press on it long enough and hard enough. I can’t say it strongly enough. That’s where we have to be. That’s where we have to go. That’s what we have to do.

I mean the work that David Bussau got started with Opportunity International, and it’s not too long ago, has had incredible results. Millions of people have had their lives changed because of this and millions more will if we move forward and make the steps we need to make. 

"People, I could tell you all that you could do for poor people. But I am not going to do that. I’m going to tell you what poor people can do for you. They can make your life significant. To spend your life for the poor… You know what the book of Proverbs says? “Those who give to the poor are lending money to God”, and he will repay, he will repay." "

People, I could tell you all that you could do for poor people. But I am not going to do that. I’m going to tell you what poor people can do for you. They can make your life significant. To spend your life for the poor… You know what the book of Proverbs says? “Those who give to the poor are lending money to God”, and he will repay, he will repay. You think that Opportunity International has a good payback record? With ninety-eight per cent pay back? I’m talking about a God that pays back a thousand-fold. To give to those who are in need will bring joy to your life. I guarantee it. I know people who have responded and given to the poor and man, the joy that they get out of that is better than anything else they ever do. And there isn’t much joy in this world, there really isn’t.

There was a little plaque that was on my wall when I was a kid in our kitchen and it read, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be passed, All that was done, in Jesus will last.” I mean, here’s a chance to do something that will last. You know when you make a gift to Opportunity International, it’s not just that you help some people… It’s that it’s a gift that keeps on giving. Because the money that you do give not only creates jobs that… say, if you gave 10,000 dollars tonight, that would create scores and scores and scores of jobs. But all of the people who borrowed that money to start those businesses will pay back! And that money will be paid back with interest and there will be even more money to lend out. In short, it will grow and grow and grow and fifty years from now it’ll still be creating jobs! Do you know anything else that you can invest in that will do that much good for the Kingdom of God? If there is please, (in economic terms, in spiritual terms there are many things), but in economic terms, is there anything that you can do for poor people that will have a return like that? I can’t think of any.

So I come here and I ask you to give. I come over here and… it’s no easy thing to hump across that ocean, you know that’s a tiring trip, but I come, and I tell Opportunity, I’ll come and I’ll do the thing – no honorarium, because I believe in this organization, I believe in what this organization is about, because I believe that God’s hand is on this organization and that’s why we got you here tonight.

My friend Harold Kuschner says that in the Jewish tradition, on judgment day, you will not so much be condemned for the things that you did that you shouldn’t have done, you must be ready to face up to the things that you might have done and didn’t do. Think about it tonight. You can make a gift that will change thousands of lives, you can make a gift that will change thousands of lives. Don’t pass up that opportunity.

This speech was published with the permission of Opportunity International Australia. To find out more about the work of the organisation, see www.opportunity.org.au