I must write about Brian McLaren, who came to speak at our church yesterday. I confess I have never read one of his books, nor did I really know very much about him until yesterday. I found the discussion very interesting, but maybe not complete just yet. Of course, he is working on a book about the topic and I know sometimes that means you are still fleshing out the particulars in speeches and appearances.
I don't mean to water down the speech, but basically he presented a list of global crises as presented by various organizations, such as the U.N. He then took these global crises and summarized them into four crises which made up the bulk of his speech. I think the call to action was to begin looking at these crises through the lens of Jesus and give them the proper focus. But sometimes a speech like this can make it difficult to move forward.
I find that people quite often feel overwhelmed by crises of this magnitude and sometimes feel as though their little part doesn't make any difference. This is what leads to things like voter apathy, and lack of charitable donations, and a general inability to face the hard truths outside of one's own existence. People need to feel that their efforts will make a difference and they need to be encouraged to keep up the faith. This is where I felt his speech was lacking somewhat, even though he briefly touched on some of the more positive progress that has been made in the last 30 years or so.
So let's take a look at that a little more. Let's talk about Africa for a moment. At the end of the Cold War, there were just 5 democratic countries and now more than half the countries of Africa are democratic. 15 years ago there were thirteen civil wars raging, and now there are just three. And Africa is building on the growth rates that have been achieved as a result of better macroeconomic management. They are taking these resources and increasing their health and education expenditures, which means the number of people living in poverty has leveled off and sub-Saharan Africa's poverty rate has declined by almost 6% since 2000.
On the HIV/AIDS front, a report from the United Nations Population Division titled "2008 Revision of the U.N.'s World Population Prospects" indicated from census findings that there have been successes in reducing child mortality, which in turn could play a role in increasing projected life expectancy. According to Hania Ziotnik, director of the U.N. population, the good news is that new data indicate that the "HIV/AIDS epidemic is not as bad as had been expected." This was particularly true in Haiti.
What about children? UNICEF reports that in 2006, for the first time, the number of children dying before their fifth birthday fell below 10 million, to 9.7 million – an important milestone in child survival. More than four times as many children received the recommended two doses of vitamin A in 2005 as in 1999. All countries with trend data in sub-Saharan Africa made progress in expanding coverage of insecticide-treated nets, a fundamental tool in halting malaria, with 16 of these 20 countries at least tripling coverage since 2000. In the 47 countries where 95 per cent of measles deaths occur, measles immunization coverage increased from 57 per cent in 1990 to 68 per cent in 2006. Rates of exclusive breastfeeding of infants have significantly improved in 16 countries of sub-Saharan Africa over the past decade, with 7 of these countries making gains of 20 percentage points or more.
The point is we cannot give up hope working towards ending these crises. Progress is being made and our efforts do make a difference. We must keep our eyes on the positives and continue to work for the poor, hungry, disenfranchised populations of the world. Please check out some of the following links to find out how you might help.
Christian Foundation for Children and Aging
International Medical Corps
Elton John AIDS Foundation