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While participants at the New Baptist Covenant enjoyed rare fellowship with brothers and sisters from different traditions, On Thursday morning they were sharply reminded of needs throughout the world and of Christ’s call to minister to the poor.

Tony Campolo’s sermon was composed mainly of recycled stories, as usual, but still made an impact as he challenged participants to take Jesus seriously and to spend time with the poor rather than just throwing a few dollars their way.

Campolo gets respect, not just because he tells it like it is in a powerful way, but he lives it like it is in his own life and ministries.

Campolo was followed by someone with far less flash, but even closer experience with those who are truly poor and oppressed. Naw Blooming Night Zan spoke in rather subdued tones as she talked about her work among the Karen (pronounced “ka-RINN”) people of Burma, whose current leaders call the nation Myanmar.

Zan is a native of Burma who spent the first four and a half years of her life in the jungle as her family sought refuge from the soldiers of the military regimes that have kept Burma in turmoil for half a century. She knows poverty and oppression from the ground up.

Ultimately, Zan escaped and gained an education, including a theological degree. She talked about her work with the Karen Women’s Organization, which provides relief and development services to refugees. The poverty she described, and the lack of freedom and opportunity, was eye-opening.

“Praying is not sufficient,” Zan said. People need to go and see the needs, bring them back, and “be a voice to your brothers and sisters.”

Zan was followed by Marian Wright Edelman, who founded the Children’s Defense Fund and works in behalf of poor, minority, and handicapped children — as a start.

Edelman said America fails its children every day, describing a bleak picture in which many children die from gun violence, where cities could be populated with the children of unwed teenagers, and where educational performance is 20th or worse compared to other developed nations. “Would we be satisfied with 20th place in the Olympics?” she asked.

Edelman condemned the “excessive materialism” of “affluenza.” An unequal playing field has created a “cradle to prison pipeline” for poor children, she said, citing a parade of alarming statistics.

“We need to come to our senses,” she said, to stop arresting children, and to get involved on the community level in making life better for children.

We have to begin by confronting and ending our adult hypocrisy, she said. “We are our children’s problem.”

Noting America’s wide economic disparities and the number of children who are uninsured, she said “We don’t have a money problem in America, we have a values and priority problem.”

Americans need to rediscover Martin Luther King, she said, not just remembering him as a dreamer, but following his example as an activist.

Otherwise, she said, the church risks being little more than an irrelevant social club.

Altogether, it was a morning for introspection about our concern for needs of the people in this world.

Next on the agenda: a luncheon with Al Gore to learn more about needs of the world itself.

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