It's bigger than Lincoln, Illinois, and it's bigger than the United States of America.
And these statistics rock my world:
- In 2005, more than 2.8 million people died from AIDS in Africa. That's equal to the entire population of Chicago.
- In Africa, 15 million children have lost one or more parents to AIDS. That's the same as the total number of high school students in America. Every 14 seconds a child loses a parent to AIDS.
- Universal primary education could prevent 700,000 HIV cases per year.
- Every 60 seconds, 5 people in Africa die of AIDS and 10 more are infected with HIV.
- Education is critical...some cases of HIV are spread because some tribes believe they will be cured by having sex with someone else which only further spreads the disease. Young girls will drop out of school to try and support their families by exchanging sex for money or favors, and thus they are likely to contract HIV if they haven't already. This is why it's an epidemic.
- More than half of all Zambian children are chronically malnourished, and 3/4 of them live below the poverty line. Nearly 1/4 of them are orphans.
- It would cost $7 billion a year over the next decade to obtain access to clean water and basic sanitation for the world's poor. Sound like a lot of $$? Guess how much Americans spend on elective cosmetic surgery in a year? $8 billion.
- $4 billion is needed to finance basic health interventions that could prevent the deaths of 3 million infants a year. Between the U.S. and Europe, we spend $17 billion a year on pet food.
- Americans spend $20 billion/year on ice cream.
- $1 = clean water for 1 person for 1 year in Africa. Check out either Blood:Water Mission to join their 1000 Wells project or The Mocha Club to find out how you can give up $7/month (2 mochas/month) to go toward a number of causes. (you can join my team if you'd like!)
- 35,000 people die every day from preventable water diseases. Many die by dehydration, set on by diarrhea from unclean water.
Need I provide more facts concerning poverty in Africa and around the world? This is enough for me. I am sick to my stomach and brought to tears when I see statistics on how much money Americans spend on things like bottled water, cosmetic surgery, iPods, and eating out daily compared to how 1 billion people in the world live on less than $1/day.
In writing these things myself, it's wrecking me. And I hope it's wrecking you too. The obvious result from reading or hearing statistics like these is the feeling of overwhelming guilt, but guilt is not the end product. It seems these days it takes guilt to make us move and act. And if we have to be shocked by staggering statistics in order for us to begin to take action, then okay. But what we're striving for here is to see the world as Christ sees it.
I find myself becoming numb to some statistics after reading them so many times. A year ago I walked through the One Life Revolution Experience at a Youth Specialties convention in California, and I was torn up about it. But it has taken a year for God to plant little seeds in my heart with that experience, watching the Invisible Children film, taking part in the Global Night Commute, seeing the Hope in the Dark book, being a part of the Mocha Club, and other little things that have shaken me from my little selfish world. These little seeds have been planted, and lately God has been watering them. I can't sit here numb any longer, and I can't just keep taking in facts. I have to do something. If you've ever seen the One Life Revolution videos, you hear the little boy at the end yelling "You only have ONE LIFE!!! Do something..." It's ringing in my ears.
But my fears here are twofold: 1) I fear that anyone's action in this epidemic is just brought upon by guilt, and I pray it's not. I hope we act because we see a need and because Christ's love compels us to act. 2) I fear that some take action to jump on the bandwagon of Bono's fame with the ONE campaign and his and Oprah's RED Campaign. I'm thankful for what they do, but I fear that Americans might become more obsessed with the people than the action, need, or cause.
Scripture compels us to move. Christ calls us to act. Bono noted at the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast that "It's not a coincidence that in the Scriptures poverty is mentioned more than 2100 times. It's not an accident. That's a lot of air time, 2100 mentions." Clearly, we need to do something.
Right now I'm trying to figure out what it is I can do with the little money I have. Fortunately, money isn't all that helps. It's time. It's energy and passion. It's influence. It's impact. Prayer. I'd like to find a way that my passions and my gifts intersect with all of this and with God's heart for the world. I'm still searching.
Meanwhile, I'll start by doing what I can and by remembering that the world is huge. I just found an old document I wrote exactly 3 months ago today that I called "Telescope Eyes" after finding several tragedies on MSN that were unfortunately not headlines. There had been a flood in India, a flood in Ethiopia, and a typhoon in China within a matter of days that left hundreds dead and millions homeless. I journaled my frustration that night that MSN failed to leave us with important headlines and that we're left instead with news of Keith Urban's recent drug addictions and Britney & K-Fed's upcoming divorce.
It's unfortunate that we too often look through the wrong set of eyes. I'm just as guilty as the next person, but it's time our perspectives change. When we look through God's eyes at the rest of the world we find that people and places are closer than we once thought. India is just around the corner. China is next door. Africa is across the street. These people are our neighbors.
Until we begin to see through different eyes, we will go about life like John Mayer. As he and his friends are "Waiting on the World to Change" I don't really want to sit around and do the same. Part of that song says "It's hard to beat the system when we're standin at a distance..." and it's true. (Don't get me wrong, I love the song, just not the idea.) So get rid of the distance. Don't wait. If we change our perspective and begin to see these people as real humans with real needs, maybe...just maybe we might begin to change the world.
(*If you or anyone else you know may want to do a study on this with high school students, there is a great curriculum available at Fuller Theological Seminary's Center for Youth and Family Ministry online for free. It looks like a really great study.)