In 2000 a small miracle occurred. Some 189 nations agreed to halve extreme poverty by the year 2015.
It was the dawn of a new millennium with fresh hope for ‘a more peaceful, prosperous and just world’. The UN declared: ‘We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected.’1 An inspiring promise!
From this declaration they formulated eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to achieve this audacious plan, each one with measurable targets.2
Micah Challenge, birthed by the World Evangelical Alliance and Micah Network, encapsulated this hope, recognizing that this was a moment in history of unique potential, when the stated intentions of world leaders echoed something of the mind of the biblical prophets and the teachings of Jesus concerning the poor. We also recognised that we had the means and capacity to reduce poverty dramatically.
When we stepped into the United Nations building to launch the campaign on 15 October 2004, it was like walking into a dream. Between 2001 and 2003, a small group had imagined a Christian movement that mobilized people behind these eight promises to reduce poverty which the UN initiated at the dawn of the Third Millennium.
The event, which took place in the Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium, featured key spokespersons from the two founding bodies, Micah Network and the World Evangelical Alliance, along with representatives from Africa and Latin America, directors of the Millennium Campaign and a Manhattan Gospel choir.
The Rt Revd Njongonkulu Ndungane, Archbishop of Cape Town, who presented the main address, reminded us that: ‘The Micah Challenge presents a significant new movement in global civil society to address the evils of poverty. It is God’s challenge to us to be his agents of hope in this hurting world.’
In the words of the Micah Call, we committed ourselves, ‘as followers of Jesus, to work together for the holistic transformation of our communities.’
New beginnings in evangelical advocacy
What was really new about the Micah experiment was the emphasis on engaging with political powers—doing advocacy. We called international and national decision-makers–whether they were rich nations or poor or somewhere in-between—to account, to fulfil their promise to achieve the MDGs. We wanted to be agents of God’s hope and to put justice at the heart of the church.
Historically, the primary work by evangelicals among the poor was in building schools, hospitals, and agricultural and feeding programmes. Micah Challenge helped more evangelical Christians understand that bad policies or corruption negatively impact every day the grassroots work of many of our churches and agencies. Today, many more evangelicals believe that if we are to help raise the poor out of poverty we must do both types of work.
Justice, mercy, and humility in action
From the very outset, Micah Challenge (like Micah Network) built its identity on Micah 6:8 with its emphasis on justice, mercy, and humility. Its mission was to prompt evangelical communities around the world to respond to the challenges set by the goals, in order to reduce extreme poverty. As a global evangelical movement, we were clear from the outset that, while the focus of our work was political advocacy, our mandate was entirely biblical. We presented biblical concerns which demanded political responses.
In the earliest stages many people assumed that within a few years both the aspirations and commitments of the MDGs would have been forgotten. However, this has been far from the case:
In more recent years, NGOs like World Vision have developed advocacy around MDG 4—child survival.
Charismatic individuals have galvanized support. Nicta Lubaale from the Organisation of African Instituted Churches (which covers over 1,000 denominations) has led the work on MDG 1—fighting poverty across eastern Africa.
Paz y Esperanza’s Alfonso Wieland has led work with hundreds of churches in Latin America to show how advocacy against gender inequality—MDG 3—can work.
Christian Aid in the UK has published valuable reports on poverty’s structural causes.
Compassion International launched its Live 58 video in 2012, reminding us about the progress the world has made in fighting extreme poverty, and in December 2014, Bread for the World published an extensive response to hunger in the USA.3
Tearfund and TEAR Australia have linked their advocacy to Micah Challenge priorities and encouraged their supporters to speak to the government about the level of overseas aid and corruption’s corrosive impact.
Christians of all shapes have partnered with Micah—Baptist World Alliance, Salvation Army, World Pentecostal Fellowship, World Council of Churches, Hillsong—and developed initiatives to focus attention on fighting extreme poverty.
In addition, a growing number of evangelical business leaders as well as TV, film, and other media professionals are using their vocation not only to bring attention to the calamity of extreme poverty but also to create enterprises that bring hope and help to millions of people.
Together we are also discovering that advocacy works.
Over the past ten years, Micah Challenge campaigns in places as diverse as Nepal, Germany, Australia, Portugal, Malaysia, Philippines, Zimbabwe, Benin, Zambia, India, Haiti, France, Peru, and Malawi have all embarked on advocating to power, going from the holy ground of church to ‘worldly’ seats of power.
In addition to action on the ground, the small international team has provided the catalyst for advocacy through capacity building and resource provision, telling stories, and cajoling and encouraging evangelical communities to have an impact on extreme poverty.
Moments in the movements
The result has been a range of activities, partnerships, and events with global movements in our campaign drawing together high-profile partnerships across the Christian communities and civil society.
In 2007, for example, Blow the Half-time Whistle on Poverty saw the first of three global campaigns and woke us up to the fact that we had already reached the halfway mark in fulfilling our promises to the poor. Micah Challenge and WEA hosted a prestigious gathering in 2008 with the UN Secretary General in Washington. In the same year, an amazing Walk of Witness hosted by Micah Challenge UK took place in London in conjunction with the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops. The walk from Whitehall to Lambeth Palace ended with addresses by then Archbishop Rowan Williams and Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Our second global campaign, 10. 10. 10., involved 60 million people in 70 nations in global prayer and messy painted handprints and saw 410 politicians in 17 nations lobbied by ‘ordinary’ prophets.
In November 2014, EXPOSED completed the first-ever global Christian response to corruption. This historic campaign ended its journey at the G20 meeting in Brisbane, delivering 147,700 signatures from 188 nations, and an Open Letter from 95 global Christian leaders representing a community of a billion people, calling for reforms to the financial system to make tax dodging and multinational secrecy much harder. Even more amazingly, all of the policy demands we identified at the outset of the campaign were firmly on the table when world leaders met in Brisbane in November.
Crucially, the focus on corruption and good governance was all underpinned by fresh theological reflection4 and prayer with 1,000 vigils taking place in 100 nations.
Celebration and sorrow
The brief story of Micah Challenge suggests that there is a lot to celebrate. If nothing else, extreme poverty has been halved in the last 25 years, millions have been lifted from poverty, and child mortality and primary education have improved considerably. However, in seeing the kind of justice, mercy, and love the Bible describes, we still have a long way to go.
A society which has the power to place a rocket on a shooting star 600 billion miles from earth, yet still has over 1 billion people going to bed hungry each day and a billion without a proper toilet, still has a lot to answer for. Forty million babies are born each year without any skilled help and 300,000 women die in pregnancy and childbirth.
In December 2014, the Micah Summit rallied 150 friends, supporters, and field coordinators to evaluate our response as civil society and religious groups in order to celebrate progress, lament for our failures, and re-commit ourselves for the world God wants.
The challenge to us
Micah Challenge exists to challenge governments to deliver our promises to the poor. However, we also lament, recognizing that we have so much more to do. We are painfully aware that the church—with all its amazing work—still has a long way to go to shape the world God wants, a world in which Jesus Christ is lifted to full view and where justice is at home with politics and our economic systems.
Such a world sounds utopian, but such a world is possible. Christians who live in that reality between the now and the not-yet are called to yearn for a world which brings future shalom into the present.
In our last act of worship, the final words of commissioning came from Mercy Justice Hildebrand, a 14-year-old member of Millennium Kids:
‘On behalf of your sons, daughters, and grandchildren around the world, I want to sincerely thank you for your tenacity and determination to work steadily and whole-heartedly at the Millennium Development Goals for 14 years. We believe you can accomplish what you set out to do. The world we will inherit depends on your efforts now. Please, refuse to give up. For nothing will be impossible with God.’
The Micah Summit marked the close of an important chapter in this new expression of evangelical ministry on the world stage.5 However, this experiment in advocacy has merely been a prelude in our long-term commitment to the poorest of the poor. In 2015, Micah Global6 will take up the challenge to work across our churches and NGOs to promote justice, mercy, and humility.
1 The Millennium Declaration, September 2000.
2 The 8 Millennium Development Goals are as follows: Goal 1: eradicate extreme poverty; Goal 2: achieve universal primary education; Goal 3: promote gender equality and empower women; Goal 4: reduce child mortality; Goal 5: improve maternal health; Goal 6: combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; Goal 7: ensure environmental sustainability; Goal 8: develop a global partnership for development.
3 Editor’s Note: For another example, see the article entitled ‘Food Security and Its Role in Transformational Development’ by Ravi Jayakaran in the May 2014 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis.
4 See Paula Gooder, ‘Thirty Pieces of Silver: An exploration of corruption, bribery, transparency & justice in the Christian Scriptures’, Bible Society, http://www.biblesociety.org.uk/uploads/content/news/files/Thirty_pieces_of_silver.pdf.
5 For more information on our work see: http://www.micahchallenge.org/blogs, http://www.micahchallenge.org/resources/14, bit.ly/useby2015, and Marijke Hoek and Justin Thacker, ed, Micah’s Challenge (Colorado Springs and Milton Keynes: Paternoster Press, 2008).