Back in Black on the Backs of the Poor

Two things happened in last night’s budget speech. The first was that the Morrison Government made their pitch for re-election. In projecting a solid budget suprlus, the Coalition promised to put the economy back on track. This budget gushed with tax cuts, major infrastructure projects, small business incentives, energy assistance payments, much needed assistance to the States for health spending, and so on. Man, the plate was running over, and the Treasurer was beaming!

Frydenberg obviously relished his pumping refrain “…and we did all this without raising taxes”. I mean, it does look good, doesn’t it? Heading back to surplus, a reinvigorated Government, a better chance of success in the polls?

It was a good look, except for the world’s poorest.

Frydenberg’s refrain could easily have been “…and we’ve done all this without thinking about the world’s poorest.”

Last night’s budget would have done better to leave the foreign aid at its current levels. But it didn’t even do that. It cut another $121m out of our aid programs. Reduced it.

While we get tax cuts, a healthy surplus, and relief on our energy bills, we decided to do less for the world’s poorest.

“…and we’ve done all this without thinking about the world’s poorest.”

What we need to realise is that we could have increased our foreign aid contributions and still have done everything else last night.

We can relate to Micah’s Tim Costello lamenting, How much do we need to have before we can again be more compassionate? Our Aid budget is now the least generous we have ever been.

Read Micah’s full press release here

Last November, as 200 Micah volunteers met with Australian parliamentarians, we were told that the argument for a modest rise to Foreign Aid was compelling. That’s what Tony Abbott told us. And Josh Frydenberg. And numerous others in the coalition.  Today, those commitments count for nothing.

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There are many people who will believe last night’s Budget got it right. They’ll talk about how we have to look after our own first. Who hasn’t heard someone say the farmers need it more than someone overseas?

The reality is it’s not a matter of choosing whether to help the farmers or  an aid project. We have enough in the kitty now to help both. Even so, last night Australia said, “we’ll take more, and give the world’s poorest less.” Even though we are the richest nation per capita on the face of the earth. The richest. Giving less to the poor.

For those who follow Jesus this is unconscionable. Unthinking. Uncaring. UnChristian.

Jesus reminds us that we’re blessed when we love anyone in need. That it’s better to give than receive. That the heart of God is close to the poor, and those who better themselves at their expense will be held to account:

“Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.” (Exodus 22:22–23, NIV)

It is hard to contemplate a family continuing to eat their roast dinner while they know people 10 houses down are at risk of their life. Shouldn’t they step in? Wouldn’t they want to? Wouldn’t you? Of course, any good neighbour would. Last night our leaders said that didn’t matter too much.

True: maybe we’re becoming less of what we really want to be. And Tim Costello is right: “This is not who we are as a nation.”

Yours are the hands

Christ has

No body now on earth but yours;

No hands but yours;

Yours are the eyes

Through which is to look out

Christ’s compassion to the world;

Yours are the feet

With which he is to go about

Doing good;

Yours are the hands

With which he is to bless now.

– St. Teresa of Avila

What is it about God, anyway?

Ever wonder why people believe in God? Or what it means to follow him?

Everybody seems to have a different opinion on this – so how do you answer the question? My suggestion is: listen to what God says about himself.

There’s a story in the book of Exodus about how God had a discussion with Moses. Or maybe it was Moses had an encounter with God. And Moses, who seemed to be able to put the point across when it suited him, is feeling narky because the Lord had called him to lead the people of Israel, and yet he had not shown Moses his glory. How Moses said this with a pillar of cloud guarding the camp, and having been led through the Red Sea on dry ground, I don’t know. I know it probably wouldn’t happen today, but maybe Moses just had a short memory when it came to God’s goodness.

Anyway, God decides to show Moses his glory. He does that by proclaiming his name. As with most ancient near east cultures, a name revealed one’s character.

And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” (Exodus 33:19, NIV)

Lots of good things can be said about God, but what he says about himself tells us volumes. The core of God’s character is mercy and compassion. Deep seated care, grace and love for his people and for his world. That’s it, right there.

It’s no surprise, then, to see such mercy and compassion revealed in Jesus, who loved people who were his enemies and who befriended outcasts. He gave his life on the Cross to bring us back to this merciful and compassionate God.

And God’s plan is for his character, and the character of Jesus, to come to expression in his people. Christians, more than anyone, have the privilege to live mercifully, compassionately and humbly.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12–14, NIV)

Think of the people God has placed around you: who needs your compassion? Who needs your mercy? Who needs to see who God really is and what he is really like? Go. Do.

Our Eyes Need To Be Opened

How many of us have made the connection between the various forms of violence and the seemingly intractable poverty of the developing world?

I didn’t have a clue     ….until I read The Locust Effect.

Michael Choi’s comment on my last post reminded me that like many people, I just did not think about the causes of poverty, or the forces that were actually keeping people poor in the developing world. And yet:

  • My family sponsors a number of children through Compassion Australia. This wonderful program creates connections between supporters like us and the kids we sponsor. Right now, there are a few letters on our kitchen bench we can respond to. But here’s the thing: I had never seriously pondered the situation of the communities these children live in (Haiti and India), or that predatory coercive violence could be so pervasive in communities like these. I just didn’t think about it

I just didn’t think about it …

  • Our church family, the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia, have special appeals for humanitarian aid. I had never considered that in several of these countries there are factors at work, evil things really, that are responsible for perpetuating poverty and oppression. What our church and others do is wonderful work, and I am not suggesting anything other. But what will all our aid and good will do if we do not address the plague that lies at the heart of many of these communities? Seriously, I had never considered that question. But hardly a day goes by now when it does settle uncomfortably somewhere in my consciousness
  • On my office desk, I have the smiling photograph of a young woman who was conned with the promise of a better life. The train she was placed on went to a different city than the one she thought she was travelling to. When she arrived, her traffickers snatched her away and threw her into a brothel. She is smiling now because IJM rescued her and then prosecuted those who so violently abused her. Even here, I knew the story, but I was not aware how pervasive violent acts like these were. I thought it was a near one off case. I was a universe away from reality. Fact: There are millions of young girls and women in similar situations every day all over the world. In the video below there is a story of yet another young girl: watch and consider the fear that must weigh on developing world communities.

There’s also an eye opening fact sheet to draw you into what ‘everyday’ means for the poor of the developing world. Read 5 Stunning Facts About Violence on The Locust Effect’s excellent website

We are not in their world. We don’t know. And most of the time, we don’t even know how to begin to know, or feel, or act. When the questions don’t occur to us, how will we ever want to seek answers?

So the global poor have no one to advocate for them because we’re so blindingly ignorant of their desperate plight.

This is why we need to know. This is why our eyes need to be opened.

So, watch the video. Read the facts.

Then consider:

  • How does this impact me? What does it get me thinking about?
  • What could I be doing differently in response?
  • Do you think church communities in more wealthy nations need to change they way they do overseas mission and aid in response to these issues?

So, what’s with all the locust stuff?

In the 1870s a huge plague of locusts descended upon the American Midwest. Back then, the midwest was just being opened up, and the people who first settled there were living very remotely. Their very survive depended n their capacity to develop working farms and grow good crops. This was the tender existence upon which the biggest locust plague ever recorded in modern times descended.

It is estimated there were over 27 million tons of them. I don’t know how anyone weighs a locust plague, but the destructive power of this plague is well documented. No matter how people tried to protect themselves, the locusts continued on their destructive march. There are even accounts of people trying to cover at least some of their crops with blankets, but the locusts even ate the blankets! The plague was unimaginably powerful and totally unstoppable!

In his book, The Locust Effect, Gary Haugen makes the point that when the locusts descended, you can be sure the farmers weren’t thinking about whether to buy a new horse, or how to plough more effectively, or where to place the next fence. All that mattered was for the locusts to stop. Back in 1875 the locusts did not stop. Not only did farmers and their families loose livelihoods they had worked so hard for, some lost their lives, simply starving to death from the plague’s aftermath.

Sometimes I wonder how we have been so slow to see what has really been happening

In The Locust Effect, we learn that there is a plague on the world’s poor. Like locusts, it just keeps happening, and it needs to stop. In many developing countries the poor are subject to daily violence. They live outside of police protection. Justice systems are broken or dysfunctional. Corrupt forces within society do what they can to ensure the system stays broken, and they stay beyond the reach of the law.

Violence comes in many forms: sexual violence (primarily against women); forced land seizures (also primarily with female victims); forced labour and slavery. It also comes with the gut wrenching realisation that the police forces who are supposed to protect and serve society are in many developing world contexts perpetrators of violence against the poor. Watch this clip to get a sense of it all.

Wealthier countries have turned a blind eye to this plague, and many people – like me – who live in those countries have been ignorant of these malicious forces that are destroying so many lives on a daily basis. While we see such great work being done in the developing world, this plague is undermining everything that is being done, and preventing the world poor from thriving. The disturbing reality is this: unless we address the plague of violence everything else we do is only gong to have limited value.

There are no words to describe this evil

I must say, I have only understood this sobering reality after having been on the pre release review team for The Locust Effect. Sometimes I wonder how we have been so slow to see what has really been happening. I read the stories of lives broken or snuffed out, and more often than not I am just stunned. There are no words to describe this evil.

Here are a few things you can do to see how deep the problem is:

You can visit The Locust Effect page to learn more about the modern plague of violence at. You can also read a gripping section of The Locust Effect here.

You can also buy a copy of Haugen’s ground breaking book. These next few days any US sales will result in a $20 donation going straight to International Justice Mission. So buying the book is a great way to help the poor, and not just become informed about the issue.

Watch Gary Haugen talk about his purpose in writing The Locust Effect

PS. before you ask, the authors of The Locust Effect receive no royalties for the book, which is currently sitting around no.30 on the Amazon Best Seller list. All proceeds form the sale go toward ending violence against the world’s most vulnerable people.

Grief and Hatred

1 John 2:9 (NIV)
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.

Hate is a strong word. I hate what I see going on in Syria. I hate the deception that breaks relationships. I hate gossip, and malicious whispering. I hate whatever is in warfare with God and his gospel in Jesus.

Sometimes, though, I find myself wondering whether we should hate as much as we do. I wonder whether many of the things we hate are things that we should really be grieving over.

Hate, you see, keeps it all out there. You can hate stuff on the other side of the world, and not be particularly affected by it. But if you grieve over something, it’s like you have to let it have you a little, let it enter your life. When you grieve you feel something of the heaviness, the brokenness, and the grit of it between your teeth.

We all know God hates sin and wrongdoing. But I wonder whether sometimes God grieves more than he hates.

What do you think? Does God grieve about us and our world more than he hates what he sees going on?

An Appeal re: Asylum Seekers

Last night I tossed and turned, and woke way too early. My mind was occupied with the current debate on Asylum Seekers, and how both major parties were about to reinvent the harsh policy of indefinitely detaining asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

I know this subject is incredibly complex, and that there is a wide spectrum of views. Even so, I rose early and wrote this letter to my local MP, Melissa Parke. I should also say that I sent it to a few other MPs as well 😉

I wanted to share it with you, and encourage you to prayerfully remember those who for no fault of their own are fleeing for their lives. Please also remember that around 90% of people who come on ‘the boats’ are eventually recognised as genuine refugees. Further, many of them are unable to follow the standard channels of seeking a refugee visa through an Australian Embassy in their country. As the letter implies, in some places, Australian Embassies are in secret locations.

Anyway, here’s my email to Melissa Parke, MP:

August 15, 2012 06:48

Dear Melissa,

Having spent a near sleepless night thinking through the current discussion in federal parliament re: asylum seekers , I wanted to write to you as my parliamentary representative and appeal to you to seek a solution on this matter that does not include indefinite detention on Nauru or Manus Island.

I must acknowledge that I do not have an exhaustive understanding of all the relevant polices, nor do I grasp all the complexities that face those seeking asylum or those government representatives and officials who are seeking to deal with their arrival and subsequent request for asylum. Even so, I am deeply disturbed by the option currently being discussed in Parliament.

My question: Given that our goal seems to be to stop the boats and stop the deaths at sea, why can’t the Australian Government develop a strategic partnership with Indonesia to process requests for asylum on Indonesian soil?

The typical track for most refugees arriving by boat is via Indonesia. It appears that most ‘people smugglers’ operate out of Indonesia, or have key staging operations there. If a collaborative Australian/Indonesian approach would establish processing facilities or camps in Indonesia, it would therefore stop the boats from leaving and immediately end the market for people smugglers. Asylum seekers would see this as a preferred option to risking their lives at sea.

These processing facilities could be staffed by Australian Immigration officials with a clear brief to expeditiously assess the bona fides of asylum claims. There should be clear time limits for each person’s claim so that people are not detained indefinitely.

It seems most people currently coming through Indonesian channels are people to whom the ‘normal’ paths of asylum request (seek visa via an Australian Embassy) are not open, for example an Afgan Hazara fleeing the Taliban cannot go to the Australian Embassy in Kabul because according to DFAT its location is secret. As the normal channels are not open to such people, we cannot expect them to use those channels. We must provide some other means for them to seek a life of freedom and peace.

Please consider my appeal, and act compassionately in the interests of those who have no voice, and who have no means to come to Australia via the proper channels.

Grace and peace,

Dave Groenenboom