By James Addis, Senior Editor
Growing up in Britain and New Zealand in the 1970s and ’80s, I regret to say global problems of poverty, injustice, and disease seldom made much of a blip on my personal radar screen.
Not that I was uncompassionate, disinterested, or unwilling. It’s just that at the time, those concerns seemed vague and remote. I did fundraise for various causes—a better gym for my school, an effort to secure improved training opportunities for Britain’s Olympic athletes, and, somewhat more creditably, a fund that provided money to secure better care for impoverished elderly people.
But some of the world’s bigger issues—hunger, child-killing diseases, human trafficking, or the fact that millions lack access to clean water—hardly registered.
If I or my peers ever did think about such things, I suspect we might have said something like, “the government really ought to do something about that.” The sense of personal responsibility, the feeling that one could do something oneself to change the world, was almost entirely lacking.
How times have changed. These days I stumble across a young person just about every week who is on some kind of mission. I try to cover as many of them as I can in the Frontlines section of World Vision magazine.
The last one I met was Josias Hansen, 23, who spoke in chapel at World Vision this week. A recent college grad, Josias is leading a team of 14 bicyclists who are cycling about 3,500 miles from Seattle to New York as part of the Just+Hope campaign—an effort to combat human trafficking. Along the way they will be speaking at schools and churches, posting daily blogs, and aiming to raise $100,000 for anti-trafficking initiatives.
Why is he doing it? Because rather than seeing trafficked children as beings remote from himself, he feels an intimate personal connection. “They just happen to be in a different location—a location where they are enslaved, mistreated, and beaten,” he says. “But I can’t think of them as a different kind of person. They are the same sort of person as my brother or my little nephew.”
Quite right, of course, but what interests me is why there seems to be this cultural shift. Why do there seem to be so many more people like Josias around? Is it the impact of that imprecise word “globalization”? Did Bob Geldof set the ball rolling when he raised his voice about famine in Ethiopia? Was it USA for Africa, or Bono, or Mother Teresa or Princess Diana cradling babies infected by AIDS? Which reminds me: I saw her sons William and Harry on television this week. They were in Lesotho, Africa, supporting humanitarian efforts there and continuing in their mother’s compassionate tradition.
Or is it the influence of people like Bill and Melinda Gates, pouring millions and millions into initiatives to combat AIDS and find a vaccine for malaria? Of course, big business philanthropy is nothing new. But has the world ever seen it on such a scale? Last week, the Seattle Times ran a front-page story about Gateses persuading other billionaires to sign a “Giving Pledge” whereby they would donate most of their wealth to worthy causes.
Or is it the fact that Christians are rediscovering the gospel of Jesus. That it’s not just about personal salvation but it’s also about responding to the plight of the poor—something evidenced by my boss’s book, The Hole in Our Gospel, being named ECPA’s 2010 Christian book of the Year.
Frankly, I haven’t the foggiest idea why the times are a-changing. But I like it. I like it a lot.