Last weekend my wife and I joined 230 other people in Canberra for the Micah Challenge annual Voices for Justice conference. This was not just a conference but a demonstration of faith in action. Voices for Justice has 2 main aims; firstly, to seek more of God’s heart for the poor, and secondly, to lobby our political leaders to act more justly in their dealings with the poor.
The main asks of Voices for Justice this year were for the Australian Government to increase its overseas aid giving to 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) by 2015, and to increase spending on child and maternal health. The Government has committed to spending 0.5% of GNI on aid by 2015. This is a commendable move, but it is not enough to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which Australia, along with 190 other nations, has committed itself to.
The first 2 days of the conference were spent organising our lobby groups and being educated and inspired about the reasons that Australia can and must increase our level of aid giving. The 2 main speakers this year were Dr Melba Maggay from the Philippines, who played a role in the people power movement in that country in the late 1980s which contributed to the demise of the Marcos regime, and Rev. Joel Edwards, the International Director of Micah Challenge. They both told inspiring and empowering stories of the need for perseverance in the lobbying of political leaders. Joel related the story of the persistent widow who knocks on the door of the unjust judge demanding justice, and eventually the judge gives in and gives her what she wants (Luke 18:1-8).
Then, on the lawns of Parliament House, we heard from Scott Higgins, author of a report titled ‘We Can Meet the Challenge’ which we left with the politicians we visited. Higgins told us that history belongs to the dreamers. There has always been talk that changes of the measure that Micah Challenge is seeking are completely unrealistic and will simply not happen, especially in the current economic climate. However it is those who dare to dream who are the shakers and movers of history. Higgins pointed out that William Wilberforce’s dream of an end to the scourge of slavery was seen as hopelessly utopian at the time, used as it was as the very foundation of the might of the British Empire. It took 50 years for the abolitionists to see justice prevail, but prevail it did, because of the perseverance of the faithful. When Martin Luther King spoke of his dream of little black children and little white children holding hands together, his dream was seen as hopelessly utopian, yet today we are on the verge of seeing the first black President in the history of the United States. When Nelson Mandela was languishing in a South African prison for 27 years, his dream of an end to apartheid was seen as hopelessly utopian, yet he became President of his country and is now a hero to millions.
History belongs to the dreamers. Dr King spoke of why his people could no longer wait for justice to simply happen. He knew they had to make it happen. Moses of old told the mighty Pharaoh to let his people go. In the end they were freed. Bono in more recent times has said that it has fallen upon this generation to make poverty history. And years ago a good friend of mine said to me that anything worth fighting for is never going to be easy.
When the commitment and passion of 230 people from every State and Territory in the country converges on the nation’s capital to demand that our leaders do what they have said they would do, change happens. We visited 102 politicians over 3 days, and the overall response was positive. Bob McMullan, the Parliamentary Secretary for Overseas Aid, spoke of the fact that change will happen the more groups like Micah Challenge speak up. After the conference, MPs Maxine McKew and Mike Kelly cornered McMullan and asked “what are we going to do about this?!”
It was McKew as well who spoke to our group on the lawns of Parliament House as we prepared to begin our visits. She applauded us for being there as we handed over 4,550 personal letters from people across the country asking the Government to do more for the poor. On the lawns that morning we also welcomed 6 cyclists, members of our group who had cycled 1,500 kilometres from Brisbane just to be in Canberra to lobby for the poor. On the way they gained support from 12 churches for their cause. Those churches are now supporters of Micah Challenge and will do their part in advocating for our poor brothers and sisters in developing nations.
There is a groundswell of support in this country for justice to be done for those who are less well off than ourselves. We as a rich and affluent nation, have the resources to make poverty history, to listen to the call of God and act in doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. Change is upon us. We saw it in the support given at Voices for Justice.
When people commit themselves to act out God’s love for the poor and marginalised, change happens. The politicians have to do what you tell them to do. We went to Canberra calling for an increase in aid to 0.7% by 2015. I think it’s going to happen. On that weekend the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, committed the Coalition to 0.5% by 2015, and is considering 0.7%. This is a huge step. It is now up to us to keep the pressure on our leaders to follow through.
We are the first generation to be able to end poverty in our lifetime. Jesus spent most of his time with the poor and outcast and he calls us to follow him. Just as the Father sent him, so he sends us. As Rick Warren found out a few years ago, there are more than 2,000 verses in the Bible referring to the poor. According to Jeremiah (22:16), to know God is to defend the cause of the poor and needy. What a privilege it was to spend 4 days in Canberra with 230 other Christians doing just that, being part of a movement that is bigger than ourselves, advocating for those who have no voice, and influencing our nation’s leaders to love those whom God loves.
For more information, visit http://micahchallenge.org.au