Sunday, August 9, 2009

Millennium Development Goal #1 – by John G. Miers

Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger

“I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
- Matthew 25:31-46

Extreme Poverty and Hunger. Have you seen it? Are you sure? People are quick to say “sure, I’ve seen hunger and poverty….just downtown earlier this week.” I’m sure they saw some hunger and poverty, but that is not exactly what this goal is speaking to. This Goal is to Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty. It also refers to this eradication as being done throughout the world, not just “downtown.”

What is meant by “Extreme?” Just what does it mean? How hungry can you be before your hunger is “Extreme?”

This is a hard question, because there are many definitions of hunger.

If a person doesn’t have lunch, is he or she hungry?
If a baby does of malnourishment in its home is he or she hungry?
What about one who dies in the hospital?
If a school age child only eats junk food for lunch, is her or she hungry?
If there is a crop failure in Nigeria, will the people be hungry?

The same set of questions can be used as to just what defines “Poverty.” How poor do you have to be before your poverty is “Extreme?”

I think that the terms for the title of MDG #1 were chosen carefully. I believe that what the MDG-drafters were – and are – referring to is a pair of root and basic situations where many people do not have sufficient nourishment or wealth over an extended period of time, with not much hope to turn the situation around.

The MDGs were crafted to force us to look away from “downtown” and to a bigger picture, one that is world-wide, one that is “over there.” Poverty and Hunger can, indeed, be “Extreme” here, close to home, but the odds are much greater that they will be “Extreme” when you go to another part of the world. It is these places to which our attention must be directed, and our plentiful resources need to be directed “over there.”

How should this be done? How can we tend to our own people as well as tending to the others? This is a hard question, and one that is not easy to answer. Part of this difficulty is that when we see Poverty and Hunger in other places, the causes are often significantly different than they are “downtown,” and the ways to deal with them are also different than the easy ways that work over here. An entirely new way of thinking is needed; creativity and imagination are essential. We need the proverbial new set of lenses.

One of the most far-reaching impacts of the MDG effort will be the shifting in our perspectives from “downtown” to “over there.” This will be the most long-lasting and valuable effects. I hope that we can be “opticians to the world,” issuing everyone a new set of lenses!

We are currently in the series of Gospels where Jesus states that “I am bread.” Not the short-lived manna, but the long-life bread. This is what we need to give to the world.

John Miers is from Bethesda, Maryland, where he was employed at the National Institutes of Health from 1968 to 2005. He serves on the board of St. Luke’s House, a halfway house for persons recovering from mental illness and also serves as Jubilee Officer for the Diocese of Washington. He was a member of National Commission on Science, Technology and Faith for the Episcopal Church and is active in his local church, where he is in the choir, worship committee, pastoral care committee, and the prayer team, and he also visits patients in a local hospital on behalf of the Chaplain.