Our church has long sought to preach the gospel and put it into practice locally and around the world. Putting it into practice, which is the core of Christian ethics, has always been the harder part.
We were looking for an overarching umbrella—or missional backbone—to drive our efforts at making the gospel live when we learned in mid-2004 about the Micah Challenge.
After some research and talking with Robert Parham and others, we presented to our church in January of this year the idea of signing on to the Micah Challenge, a Christianization of the Millennium Development goals adopted by the U.N. in October 2004.
The movement gets its name from the prophet Micah, who reminded God’s people what was to concern them: doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God.
As many know, the Millennium Development goals are ambitious and wide-ranging. They include reducing radical poverty by 50 percent by 2015, working for better women’s health care, creating educational opportunities for the world’s children, reducing debt of impoverished nations and the like. All are intimidating but truly achievable goals reflecting the spirit of Jesus, if people will band together to meet them.
When recommending the Micah Challenge to our church, I truly expected some debate. After all, reducing world debt is also a political issue for some, but the motion sailed right through and was approved unanimously.
The Millennium Development goals are hard to debate ethically. They hit so many of Jesus’ targets–like bringing the children to him, feeding the hungry, healing the sick and doing these things for “the least of these.” Who else are the “least of these” but the world’s poor?
Immediately, people in the church began to think and work. Sunday school classes came up with projects. Women’s mission circles had ideas. The church council found a new focus in seeking to help the poor.
Within a couple of months we had initiated a new ministry with Heifer International and collected funds for two full Arks of animals. We had a food drive for the local food bank. We adopted a family of nine from Uzbekistan who came to the United States with nothing. We started a ministry with inner city children to try to lift them and their families out of their poverty cycle. And the Micah Challenge was our backbone for adopting a family of 10 from New Orleans after Katrina’s wrath.
The Micah Challenge is quite a challenge, but one filled with joy. It’s not a “how to” organization, but provides inspiration and direction to live out many of our Christian principles and ideals.
For the Millennium Development Goals to be achieved, however, it’s going to take more than our local churches or the many denominational groups who have already signed up. It will also require the empathy, sympathy and cooperation of world governments, including that of the United States of America.
The U.S., long a world leader in human rights, remains the richest nation in the world and can do much for the world’s poor if we will. And that’s the hardest part, getting to our “national will.”
I have communicated in the past with my state’s representatives in Congress, U.S. Senators Jim Talent and Kit Bond and U.S. Representative Kenny Hulshof. All three are “born again” Christians. I have generally heard back quickly from them after writing about issues of concern.
Using their own Web sites I wrote all three of them personal notes in late October endorsing the Micah Challenge and appealing for their support to guide the U.S. to step up and take a leadership role in meeting the U.N. goals. It’s now four days before Christmas, when we’re about to celebrate the coming of the caring, feeding, visiting, compassionate Jesus, and I’ve had no response.
The roots of the Micah Challenge are in the Hebrew prophets, the teachings of Jesus and the practices of the early church. I recommend your church signing on to the Micah Challenge, as we have. It will bring new life to your congregation.
We can all work for the poor locally. That work will raise consciousness about the poor of the larger world. As Christians we can and must be active in helping heal God’s hurting world. The hurt will continue as long as there remains extreme inequity, injustice and apathy.
John Baker is pastor of First Baptist Church of Columbia, Mo.