Jamie Edgerton believes passionately that this is a crucial time for churches around the world to speak up and challenge the world’s political leaders to tackle the issue of global poverty.

“Fundamentally this is a spiritual battle against the powers that be which tolerate the massive and pervasive inequities and injustices that cause and perpetuate global poverty,” the 56-year-old from the Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne tells Sight.

Ghetto

A ghetto in South Africa. PICTURE: Andreas Richter (iStockphoto.com)

 

"I believe that as God's people we have to speak up for those who can't speak for themselves. If we don't hold our government accountable, then who will? God obviously cares for the poor and we need to be vocal about that."
- Carlyn Chen, Sydney.

“Our church believes that we have been blessed to be a blessing and that we exist for the benefit of non members, not only in our community, but beyond. People are suffering in many parts of the world due to circumstances totally beyond their control, how could we just thank Jesus for what he's done for us and sit back and enjoy it?” 
- Magda Lane, Melbourne.


“Fundamentally this is a spiritual battle against the powers that be which tolerate the massive and pervasive inequities and injustices that cause and perpetuate global poverty. The Micah Challenge provides a vehicle for Christians worldwide to prepare ourselves as disciples of Jesus, to respond to the Biblical call for justice, and to co-operate with Him in the extension of His Kingdom.”
- Jamie Edgerton, Melbourne.

Edgerton is just one of many Australians who have signed up to the Micah Challenge, a global campaign aimed not only at bringing greater attention to the problem of global poverty but at sparking action among individuals and governments to do something about it.

“The Micah Challenge provides a vehicle for Christians worldwide to prepare ourselves as disciples of Jesus, to respond to the Biblical call for justice, and to co-operate with Him in the extension of His Kingdom,” he says.

To be launched globally on October 15th in conjunction with a United Nations ceremony to mark International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the Micah Challenge hopes - through public awareness and a concerted campaign of government lobbying - to ensure the world honours its promise to halving global poverty by 2015.

The promise is contained in nine “Millennium Development Goals” agreed to by members of the United Nations in the year 2000 which address such issues as hunger, disease, primary education, child mortality, gender equality and sustaining the environment and provide specific targets for countries to meet.

“(T)here's a danger the goals won't be reached,” says Amanda Jackson, national co-ordinator of Micah Challenge Australia. “Not because it is not possible to reach them but because nations may lack the will to make them happen. We are actually only looking to halve world poverty levels and halve hunger. All the goals are achievable.”

Asked what it means if the goals aren’t met, Jackson answers: “It means continuing lack of opportunity and hope for millions of kids around the world. It means continuing glaring inequality and frustration and resentment by the poor because they see the rich 20 per cent of the world living a life of excess. In a global world we have the chance to act and the means to achieve the goals like never before. If the poor ask for bread and we give them a stone, we will be held accountable.”

Australia was the first country to launch a national campaign under the umbrella of the Micah Challenge. Other countries which have since formed national groups include Canada, India, Peru and the United Kingdom with countries such as France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Bangladesh and Brazil in the process of doing so.

In Australia, those behind the Micah Challenge are asking Christians and churches to speak out for the poor on Anti-Poverty Sunday (October 17th) by getting involved in a range of activities from praying for the poor and governments both in Australia and overseas to writing letters to politicians and holding such things as a blue and yellow fashion day.

“We want to start gearing churches up about Micah Challenge, about development goals and about what we want Christians to do - for a start, about how they should respond to injustice and poverty in the world, and secondly, what we can do ourselves and ask our government to do,” says Jackson, who was appointed co-ordinator about three months ago.

At the Mornington Baptist Church, for example, Edgerton - who is a member of the Micah Challenge National Steering Committee - will be preaching on the issue of poverty. There will also be personal testimonies on “doing justice” and a short skit looking the issue poverty from God’s perspective. After church, there will be stands in the lobby where people can sign up to the Micah Challenge, the church’s own “community caring” ministry or Christian development agency TEAR Australia.

Initially set to run for three years, the Micah Challenge is hoping to collect the names of 50,000 Australians to support its campaign and provide it with ammunition to be able to go to the Government and raise its concerns with legitimate public backing.

WHO WAS MICAH?

An Old Testament prophet, Micah’s career probably began around 725 BC in the southern kingdom of Judah at a time when the Assyrians were conquering the northern kingdom of Israel.

While he declared God’s judgement would come upon the land because of unjust social practices, false teachers and corrupt leaders, Micah did also provide hope that a remnant of the people would be saved by God.

“Micah spoke out against mistreatment of the poor and the hypocrisy of religious leaders and called on the country's leaders to act with justice and mercy,” says Amanda Jackson, national co-ordinator of Micah Challenge Australia. “His message is just as relevant today.”

She says one verse in particular - Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” - stands out as exemplifying with what the Micah Challenge is all about.

“Micah Challenge aims firstly to deepen the commitment of Christians to the idea of an integrated gospel of good news – to proclaim and demonstrate the love of Jesus to a world in need,” Jackson explains.

“We want Christians from all backgrounds to show God’s kindness and justice, as a response to Micah’s words ‘to walk humbly with God’.

“Secondly, Micah Challenge aims to be a prophetic voice calling upon and influencing leaders around the world to maintain the ‘rights’ of the poor and oppressed. The campaign will urge decision makers to fulfil their promise to achieve the Millennium Development Goals on global poverty by 2015.”

They are also asking individuals to write to their local MP after the election congratulating them on their win and asking them about the issue of global poverty and how Australia is a nation is helping to address the problem.

“I guess politicians always say ‘I won’t act on an issue unless I think my electorate is concerned about it’” notes Jackson. “If they do have people knocking on their door - and it actually can be a small number of people - if they have four or five or ten letters or emails...they might start to think ‘Maybe I should be paying some attention to this issue’.”

The concept of the Micah Challenge was developed several years ago as a joint project by the Micah Network - a network of more than 250 Christian-based community development agencies which currently chaired by Stephen Bradbury, national director TEAR Australia - and the World Evangelical Alliance - which represents around two million evangelical Christians worldwide - following a groundswell of support among Christian evangelical churches to contribute in a greater way to helping combat poverty and addressing issues of justice in poor communities.

In September 2001, the Micah Network issued a declaration stating that evangelism and social involvement both needed to be an integrated part of the mission of the church.

“If we ignore the world we betray the word of God which sends us out to serve the world,” it said. “If we ignore the word of God we have nothing to bring to the world. Justice and justification by faith, worship and political action, the spiritual and the material, personal change and structural change belong together. As in the life of Jesus, being, doing and saying are at the heart of our integral task.”

Jackson says that while there have always been Christians of all denominations on the ground working to alleviate poverty around the world, the last century had seen some church groups move away from this.

“While in the last century, the Catholic Church and the Uniting Church and lots of branches of Christianity have still been very much involved in social justice, some groups got the idea that it was the Word and that was the most important part of faith and maybe let the other part of the Gospel - doing justice, showing mercy and acts of kindness - slip a little bit. Maybe with the other which (was concentrating on social justice) sometimes they forgot about the Word. 

“So I guess Micah is a chance to galvanise (the churches) saying that it’s all integrated - you don’t have to be one or the other or you don’t have to forget one bit of the Gospel to do another bit. You can do it all together...It’s all about that balance.”

For more information:
• Micah Challenge: www.micahchallenge.org.au
• For a list of the Millennium Deveiopment Goals, see www.un.org/millenniumgoals/