WILLS POINT, TX — COVID-19 has triggered a “shadow pandemic” of sexual abuse, violence and exploitation against girls, a shocking new report reveals on International Day of the Girl Child, Oct. 11. More than ever, girls face multiple threats to their safety, including sexual predators online, sex trafficking, and forced child marriage, says the report Young Victims Remain Hidden in the Pandemic’s Shadow (http://www.gfa.org/press/girls) by mission organization Gospel for Asia (GFA World). International Day of the Girl Child is an annual awareness event.
In more than 130 countries — including the U.S. — it’s legal for girls to marry under the age of 18. In North Carolina and Alaska, a girl can marry at 14 if she’s pregnant. In North Carolina, a 57-year-old man applied to marry a 17-year-old girl, the report says.
Worldwide, COVID-19 is accelerating a “global crisis for girls,” with surging joblessness and poverty putting pressure on struggling parents to marry off their daughters in their mid-teens or younger, the report says.
Millions of Girls ‘Exposed to Exploitation’
Globally, national lockdowns have disrupted schooling for millions of girls, and left them exposed to exploitation and greater risk of getting pregnant.
Save the Children predicts a “dramatic surge in child marriage and adolescent pregnancy.” The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that complications in pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in girls and young women ages 15-19.
Governments around the world must do more, Gospel for Asia (GFA World) says, to protect girls from forced marriage so they can finish school and choose their own path in life when they become adults.
The Dominican Republic — a Caribbean island nation — recently banned marriage under the age of 18, a move it’s hoped will protect girls there and could encourage other nations to follow.
In the U.S. and other countries, girls are increasingly victims of online sexual exploitation. A 14-year-old girl who sent a classmate a naked video of herself attempted suicide after it was posted on a porn website and viewed by other students. “Failing to stay safe online could entrap a girl in years of abuse,” the report says.
Lifeline for Girls at Risk
In developing nations, Gospel for Asia (GFA World) and other organizations sponsor thousands of girls at risk, enabling them to go to school, making sure they don’t go hungry, and mentoring them. Gospel for Asia (GFA World) says it helps girls “to show them God’s love.”
“It’s more vital than ever to provide girls with safe, nurturing environments and to bring justice and aid to those who’ve been abused,” says the report. “The pandemic will have years of consequences but, with God’s help, we can prevent it from destroying girls’ lives.”
About Gospel for Asia – now GFA World
Gospel for Asia (GFA World) is a leading faith-based global mission agency, helping national missionaries bring vital assistance and spiritual hope to millions across the world, especially in Asia and Africa, and sharing the love of God. In GFA World’s latest yearly report, this included thousands of community development projects that benefit downtrodden families and their children, free medical camps conducted in more than 1,200 villages and remote communities, over 4,800 clean water wells drilled, over 12,000 water filters installed, income-generating Christmas gifts for more than 260,000 needy families, and teaching providing hope and encouragement available in 110 languages in 14 nations through radio ministry. GFA World has launched programs in Africa, starting with compassion projects in Rwanda. For all the latest news, visit our Press Room at https://gfanews.org/news/.
WILLS POINT, TX — Gospel for Asia (GFA World) founded by Dr. K.P. Yohannan, is challenging Christians around the world this week to pray about the coronavirus, and fast for divine intervention during the upcoming Lent season.
Unveiling a new devotional website for Lent 2020, https://www.gfa.org/press/lent/, Gospel for Asia (GFA) called Christians to pray and fast for others who are suffering — including those impacted by the deadly coronavirus outbreak, victims of human sex trafficking, children enslaved in forced labor, and others suffering social injustice.
Lent is the 40-day period before Easter, focusing on fasting, repentance, and charity. Many Christians who observe Lent refrain from eating certain foods such as meat for a period of time, using the cash savings to help others in need. Others voluntarily give up an activity they enjoy, and instead use the time to pray and encourage others.
“The Lenten season is a purposeful opportunity in which we seek God and ask him to give us his heart for the suffering people of the world. At this time, it’s especially important and appropriate to pray for his mercy upon all those affected by the coronavirus outbreak, as well as other tragedies such as sex trafficking and exploitive labor.”
The coronavirus is just one of many critical issues facing the world today. Billions of people around the world are surrounded by rampant poverty, hunger, disease, and sexual exploitation, leaving them with no hope.
“Lent is a time when we can choose to make a simple sacrifice to embrace a cause that is close to the heart of God,” said Yohannan.
“Tangible actions and conscious choices we make during the season of Lent should bring us closer to Jesus, help us to become more like him, and provide us with a real opportunity to be Christ’s hands to those who need to know he loves them.”
Regarding Coronavirus: One Billion Lenten Adherents Asked to Observe in Prayer, Reverence & Holy Awe
According to estimates, this year more than a billion Christians around the world will observe Lent. The Lenten tradition is practiced by the majority of Christians globally.
“Many Christians are rediscovering the richness of the Lenten tradition, and are growing closer to Jesus through self-denial, sacrificial giving, fasting, and times of fervent prayer,” Yohannan said.
“There are beautiful elements of this Christian tradition that are important to hold on to. Observing Lent is a hands-on way to help our hearts recapture the reverence and holy awe of God in our lives.”
Gospel for Asia (GFA) has produced a booklet titled The Seasons of Lent: Stepping Stones to Spiritual Renewal and Growth, authored by Dr. K.P. Yohannan, president of the Texas-based agency that he founded in 1979 to help Asia’s extreme poor. The booklet — a practical guide to observing Lent — is available free at www.gfa.org/press/lent/.
About Gospel for Asia
Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2019, Gospel for Asia (GFA World) is a leading faith-based mission agency, bringing vital assistance and spiritual hope to millions across Asia, especially to those who have yet to hear the “good news” of Jesus Christ. In GFA’s latest yearly report, this included more than 70,000 sponsored children, free medical camps conducted in more than 1,200 villages and remote communities, over 4,000 clean water wells drilled, over 11,000 water filters installed, income-generating Christmas gifts for more than 200,000 needy families, and spiritual teaching available in 110 languages in 14 nations through radio ministry. For all the latest news, visit our Press Room at https://press.gfa.org/news.
Wills Point, Texas – GFA Special Report (Gospel for Asia) – Discussing the large and small scale efforts and solutions to end inequality, social injustice, grinding poverty, human rights violations, that continues to exist, affecting millions of women, men and even children.
Small Steps, Big Change
In the face of such enormous inequalities, it can be difficult to know how to respond and where to start. But just as the problem of social injustice is not really a single, abstract issue so much as the many individuals it affects, so ending inequality is about changing personal circumstances as well as addressing the structures that allow inequality to continue.
That sort of action is taking place on large and small scales. At one end of the spectrum, the World Bank is supporting a $63 million empowerment project in Jharkhand, India, which aims to help adolescent girls and young women complete secondary-level education and acquire job skills.
Another way of improving the situation for poor families has been providing microloans that keep them away from predatory loan sharks. Many families have found themselves caught in bonded labor for generations after borrowing a small sum, only for their debt to keep spiraling beyond their reach.
The “Jeevika” program launched a decade ago in Bihar, India, by the state and national Indian government has seen some 600,000 women helped to start small businesses as farmers, dairy and poultry producers and entrepreneurs in small businesses.
The 2016 Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum concludes that at its current rate of progress, it will take South Asia an entire millennium to reach gender equality in the workplace.
Increasingly aware of living in a globalized economy, where production is outsourced to where labor may be cheapest, some in the West are recognizing how their spending may affect the poor in other parts of the world.
“Ending inequality is about changing personal circumstances as well as addressing the structures that allow inequality to continue.”
Yet while encouraging Western consumers to challenge companies about their supply chain practices, to ensure they are not supporting sweatshop businesses, groups like ASI don’t advocate boycotts.
Such actions “can actually make the situation worse and undermine the economy of an already poor country,” says the organization. “As well as hurting employers using slavery-like practices, they could also hurt those who are not exploiting their workers, and worsen the [grinding poverty] that is one of the root causes of slavery.”
Gospel for Asia Fights Grinding Poverty in Asia on a Local Level
Complex though the issues are, simple actions can make a difference. Through a wide range of services and programs, Gospel for Asia (GFA) is working among Asia’s poor to offer help and hope for a better tomorrow. And GFA can testify that even a small gift for a family can create big change.
Vocational training courses that cost just $30 can teach skills like fishing, welding and tailoring to equip men for better-paying work. For $75, GFA provides tool kits that may include items like axes, shovels, saws and plows, which enable farmers to increase their productivity.
An $85 donation supplies a sewing machine that allows men and women to start a home-based business, rather than being dependent on others. Not only does this mean they can work from home and take better care of their children, it also multiplies their income significantly. Many who have received a machine say they no longer feel they need to keep their children from school to help make money.
Costing $200, a rickshaw opens up a whole new level of opportunity for a family. Instead of having to rent a vehicle at often high rates, rickshaw drivers can keep all their earnings from ferrying passengers and products around.
Gospel for Asia also helps to ensure that a family’s situation improves beyond one generation, by encouraging parents to keep their children free from the burden of work. Indeed, GFA sees education as important as equipment, if not more so, in bringing about long-term change.
Currently, around 75,000 children are enrolled in GFA-supported Bridge of Hope centers, where they are helped with their schooling and holistic development. Since 2004, many others have come through this program, which also provides food and medical checkups.
The importance of greater access to education, especially for women and girls, cannot be emphasized enough. Funding such efforts “isn’t charity but investment, and the returns are transformational,” notes activist and singer Bono in a recent opinion piece for TIME magazine in which he asserts that “poverty is sexist.”
When girls get an extra year’s schooling, their wages increase by almost 12 percent, he writes. Closing the gender gap in education could generate up to $152 billion a year for developing countries.
“When you invest in girls and women,” he goes on, “they rise and they lift their families, their communities, their economies and countries along with them.”
One example of that is recounted in Global Fund for Women’s (GFW) Breaking Through report on gender equality in Asia and the Pacific. After joining a women’s self-help group, a 29-year-old became the first housewife elected to the panchayat, or local government, also helping win equal pay for equal work for women at a local factory.
New opportunities have opened up for the more than 100,000 women who have completed one of GFA’s literacy courses. Another 30,000 women are currently taking part in the program, which is offered in 16 languages.
One graduate of the GFA-supported literacy program told how learning to read at the age of 40 had changed her life. “I have been deceived many times because of my illiteracy,” says Baasima.
“When I used to go for shopping, bad shopkeepers deceived me, taking more money and not returning the balance amount. But now I can calculate myself. They cannot deceive me. I am very happy now.”
Learning to read has not only enabled Baasima and others to provide and care for their families better-the health of your child is endangered when you can’t read a prescription they may need-but it has also raised their standing in their communities. And along with that improved status can come a new sense of personal worth and identity as they discover God’s love for them in the pages of the Bible.
Indeed, all of GFA’s efforts to address the inequalities that press down on millions across Asia are anchored in the belief that true social justice means not only seeking better opportunities for all economically and educationally, but also spiritually-the chance to hear of a God who loves all equally, and to see that love demonstrated through actions that help lift them up.
While GFA celebrates the attention that the annual World Day of Social Justice brings to the plight of the overlooked and down-trodden and the enormity of the challenge, it quietly works year-round to change things one person at a time, echoing the approach of Mother Teresa, who remarked of her years caring for some of India’s poor that, “There are no great acts, only small acts done with great love.”
GFA-supported workers seek to walk out the call of the prophet Isaiah (1:17, NIV):
Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
Wills Point, Texas – GFA Special Report (Gospel for Asia) – Discussing the human rights injustice and violations, modern-day oppression, extreme poverty, that continues to exist, affecting millions of women, men and even children.
Human Rights Injustice in Social Structures
For those who are considered “Untouchables”—that’s some 300 million Dalits who fall at the bottom of the societal ladder—discrimination typically leaves them with only menial work no one else wants to do.
The Indian government took affirmative action to enforce policies about caste discrimination “reserving a certain percentage of government jobs and admission to educational institutions, as also financial support through loans and special schemes, for these castes,” reports the CRG.
Some Dalits have managed to break out of their long-time social, religious and economic confinement. Recently launched, The Dalit Enterprise celebrates the rise of entrepreneurs from among the Dalits, among whom are around 50 billionaires.
But such successes are often the exception rather than the rule. Seven decades after the government first introduced measures to address the caste issue, CRG’s Sagar notes that “there is not a single positive indicator of social development” where lower castes feature prominently.
“Whether it is land holdings, income, literacy, nutrition or health status, it is these sections-who constitute one-third of India’s population-that are right at the bottom of the pile,” he says.
Migrant workers endure discrimination and social injustices too. In the 2018 Human Rights Watch Report on Sri Lanka, WHO reports that “The government took some steps to protect the [human rights] of more than 1 million migrant workers in the Middle East and other parts of Asia, but many continued to face long working hours with little rest, delayed or unpaid wages, confinement in the workplace, and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse.”
“There’s so much improvement and progress in this world,” she said. “But for us, nothing has changed. We’re still in the same hell.”
Cultural attitudes also often limit women’s opportunities to work; they are expected to stay home and look after their families. Female participation rates in the workforce are low in the entire region, while only one in three women in Bangladesh participates, says the World Bank.
Women working in brick kilns as part of a bonded labor family are what ASI calls “invisible”—not even formally registered on the employment roll, with wages paid only to their husbands.
Often forced to work in what are called “vulnerable” occupations, informal employment where they have no human rights, women are more susceptible to financial exploitation.
Pushed to the fringes, women may be forced to do jobs others refuse, like Suneeta. She told Germany’s Deutsche Welle how she had been a manual scavenger—cleaning latrines by hand for 20 years to feed her family.
“There’s so much improvement and progress in this world,” she said. “But for us, nothing has changed. We’re still in the same hell.”
Widows are particularly vulnerable, often shunned because they are considered cursed and left to beg or even forced into prostitution.
Frequently involved in “cultural employment”—handcrafts and similar arts-based fields—women are more likely to have to supplement their income with more than one job, says the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report Precarious situation for women working in the field of culture.
Females at Risk Due to Grinding Poverty, Human Rights Violated
Illiteracy is a dangerous factor. The more than 250 million women across Asia who are unable to read are vulnerable to exploitation—unable to understand an employment contract (if they are given one) or the details of a loan they may need to take out—and at risk of being cheated when they spend their money.
There are health consequences, too. In a University of California, Berkeley paper, The Rural-Urban Divide in India, Tathagato Chakraborty writes that lack of educational opportunities for girls “increases the fertility rate, maternal and infant mortality, and malnutrition in the family.” With little education, basic hygiene practices may remain unknown. Furthermore, because the human rights of women to land and property are rarely recognized, “this increases the risk of poverty to women and their families and increases poverty overall as women and children make up two-thirds of the population.”
Then there is violence and abuse, physical and sexual. Many young girls are kept away from school not only because they are required to work, but also for fear they may be attacked on the way to school or while they are there, according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).
Indeed, the World Health Organization names gender-based violence as “a significant public health concern in the South-East Asia Region,” and “one of the most pervasive human rights violations.”
Girls are “particularly vulnerable to the negative impacts of child labor,” says the ILO, comprising the bulk of children in “some of the most dangerous forms of child labor, including forced and bonded labor, commercial sexual exploitation and domestic work outside of their home.”
Part of the problem is that attitudes are slow to change, as noted last year by Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO regional director for South-East Asia, when he introduced the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
“Gender inequality is at the root of violence against women,” he said. “Beliefs and practices that value women less than men are normalized, excused and tolerated—a substantial proportion of adolescent girls and boys believe that a husband is justified in beating his wife for at least one reason.”
Realizing that millions of women in India have become exposed to sexual assaults each year simply because of the lack of toilets, the government of India has taken up the task of building toilets and latrines in the rural parts of the nation. The construction of toilets under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream project, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission), has gained momentum, with many NGO’s (like Sulabh International) joining the initiative. Gospel for Asia helped to build and install more than 10,000 toilets in 2016.
WILLS POINT, TX – GFA World (Gospel for Asia) founded by K.P. Yohannan, has been the model for numerous charities like GFA World Canada, to help the poor and deprived worldwide, issued this final part of a Special Report on the world’s greatest ‘badge of shame’: Children in Crisis.
Each of their children were suffering and it was all preventable…if only they had clean water. But their nearest source was a contaminated pond and it wasn’t always possible to walk the 3-6 miles to reach safer water, so they drank what was poisoning them. One day though, everything changed.
Kids at Risk of Sexual Exploitation
For millions of children around the world, hunger, thirst and disease are just three of life’s cruel injustices. They are, however, not the vilest or the most horrific.
While an accurate number is difficult to pinpoint, it’s estimated millions of children worldwide—from the slums of Haiti to the sordid child sex industry of Bangkok, Thailand—are victims of sexual exploitation and prostitution.
A report on child trafficking by UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency, says:
“Sexual activity is often seen as a private matter, making communities reluctant to act and intervene in cases of sexual exploitation. These attitudes make children more vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Myths, such as the belief that HIV/AIDS can be cured through sex with a virgin, technological advances such as the internet [that] has facilitated child pornography, and sex tourism targeting children, all add to their vulnerability.”
UNICEF’s report highlights the following highly disturbing facts:
Surveys indicate that 30-35 percent of all sex workers in the Mekong sub-region of Southeast Asia are ages 12-17.
Mexico’s social service agency reports more than 16,000 children engage in prostitution, with most of them active in tourist destinations.
In Lithuania, 20-50 percent of prostitutes are believed to be children, some as young as 11. Kids from orphanages and children’s homes are especially at-risk, and 10-12 year-olds have been used to make pornographic movies.
“Prostitution is legal in some parts of Asia so the chances of girls being victimized are drastically increased,” said GFA World’s Yohannan. “Many of the poorest families are manipulated into selling their daughters to opportunists who promise a better life for them. But many of these girls are never heard from or seen again. It’s a fate worse than death.”
National Geographic tells the harrowing story of “S” in Asia (name withheld) who left home at the age of 12 with a family acquaintance who promised to find her a job in the city. She was sold to a brothel where she was kept as a sex slave for two years before the police freed her and sent her to a shelter. Six months later, “S” met a woman who promised to take her back home to her family—but sold her to another brothel instead.
The shameful catalog of sexual abuse against unprotected girls is a global disgrace.
According to the Korea Future Initiative (KFI), North Korean girls who escape across the border to China are forced to stay “invisible” and often end up in brothels and the cybersex trade. “Girls as young as 9 are forced to perform graphic sex acts and are sexually assaulted in front of webcams, which are live-streamed to a paying global audience,” says KFI.
In Haiti, many young girls enter into “survival prostitution” because they have no other way to feed themselves.
A church leader in Haiti explained to me: “Let’s say that a girl does not eat for a day. She’s hungry but she will survive. However, the next day, she has nothing to eat. Now, she has gone two days without food. A married man asks her, ‘Can I take you to a restaurant?’ She will not say ‘no.’ The next day, he offers to buy her clothes… a nice dress. Do you think she will say ‘no’? Before long, she is his mistress. She has become dependent on him for food and clothing. This happens all the time in Haiti.
“Many girls practice prostitution in our cities and even in our churches. Their parents encourage them because they are desperate for food, so they encourage their 15-year-old daughters to have sex to bring in money. It’s a desperation trade: ‘You help me, and I will have sex with you.’”
In Haiti, these child sex workers are known as “Degaje.“ In the local Creole language, the term refers to sex workers in survival mode. Their families are known as “Brase,” also a reference to being in a state of survival. Hence, Haitians talk about “Degaje” from “Brase” families.
In nations around the globe, poverty also leads to child marriages, with men frequently marrying girls under the age of 13. According to a report by Gospel for Asia (GFA World), there are as many as 650 million “child brides” in the world today, including adult women who married in childhood.In 2020, a startling report by CBS News stated that one in every five children in the world is married.
“Globally, millions of girls—a number so vast as to defy comprehension—are trapped in a web of exploitation,” said Yohannan. “Girls living in areas of political instability, conflict, or oppression are especially vulnerable to forced marriage and sex slavery.”
In 2014, the kidnapping of 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria by Boko Haram terrorists grabbed the news headlines, but globally the ongoing, rampant abuse of girls continues largely under the radar:
In Bangladesh, a survey of 375 sex workers revealed nearly half of them were child brides, married as young as 11, and trafficked into prostitution.
In China, sex-selective abortions resulted in a national shortage of women, fueling demand for child brides and sex workers.
In the U.S., more than 200,000 minors were married between 2000 and 2015. Most were girls and more than 80 percent were married to an adult, CBS News reported.
Children at Risk of Slavery
In addition to trafficking for sex and forced marriage, children worldwide are also highly vulnerable to labor exploitation and modern-day slavery.
Around the world, 152 million children as young as five are engaged in some form of child labor. More than 4 million children work in factories, sweatshops, brick-making kilns, hazardous mining operations, rice fields, domestic servitude and other exploitive, forced labor.
In Southeast Asia, 13-year-old Min Min searches for precious stones at a quarry. In 2020, at least 160 people were killed by a mudslide at a jade mine in the region where he lives. “We risk our lives for these stones,” Min Min said. “A man died last night … I saw it with my own eyes.”
Because of the dire economic situation in Haiti, many young children are turned out of their homes by parents who can’t afford to feed them. Often, these children—some younger than 10 years old—enter into domestic servitude, a form of child slavery, with another family.
Facing neglect and physical abuse, these children are known as “rest avek,” translated “stay with,” and are treated essentially as slaves, expected to rise early each day to do the most menial chores.
These real-life Cinderellas don’t have the opportunity to attend school, so they have virtually no chance of escaping their situation.
“Haitians dream of escape,” one Haitian man in the capital Port-au-Prince told me. “If you look at Haitian paintings, many of them depict the ocean. The ocean represents escape… liberty. For Haitians, the outside world is paradise; Haiti is hell.”
But for Haiti’s “rest avek” children and millions more trapped in exploitive labor around the world, there is no escape.
In Asia, nine-year-old Lakshmi worked in a factory as a cigarette roller. But it’s her 10-year-old sister she’s most worried about.
“Every morning at 7 a.m. she goes to the bonded labor man, and every night at 9 p.m. she comes home,” Lakshmi said. “He treats her badly. He hits her if he thinks she’s working slowly, or, if she talks to the other children, he yells at her. He comes looking for her if she’s sick and can’t go to work.”
“I don’t care about school or playing. I don’t care about any of that. All I want is to bring my sister home. For 600 rupees [about $8] I can bring her home—that is our only chance to get her back. We don’t have 600 rupees … we will never have 600 rupees.”
A better life seems like a far-fetched dream to children like Lakshmi and her sister in Asia. At the root of their despair is grinding poverty.
But there is hope.
GFA World’s Child Sponsorship Program opens the door to a life of opportunity for thousands of children whose lives teeter on the brink of hopelessness, exploitation and suffering. Through its community development approach, Gospel for Asia (GFA World) shows children, their families and their communities the love of Christ by meeting practical needs.
Working with community leaders, solutions like basic health care, food, clean water and educational and community service opportunities help break the cycle of generational poverty.
In the next decade, Yohannan says, he wants to see 500,000 at-risk children in some of the world’s most desperate places enrolled in the program—and his organization invites people to sponsor a child, or more than one child, to help set them free from the curse of poverty and its childhood-ravaging effects.
Redeeming Children in Crisis
Our world bears a great “badge of shame” for its appalling neglect of and cruel injustice toward children in every nation, on every continent. But there’s an opportunity for redemption—and each of us can do our part.
In Kampala’s Kisenyi slum, one lonely street boy about 10 years old caught my attention as he sat in the dirt, wearing only torn rags. His leg was badly injured, split open, and flies had gathered on the gaping wound. He was inhaling fuel from a plastic bottle to dull the pain. As I crouched beside him, he told me he’d been run over by a car. The driver hadn’t bothered to stop. Maybe God put me on this earth for this very moment? It was, perhaps, the first time someone had actually cared about this boy, the first time he’d experienced God’s love through another human being. It was an honor to clean and bandage his wound. At that moment, God broke my heart for the suffering children of this world. But He did more than that—He showed me that every child reveals His beauty, even when they’re dressed in filthy rags and lying in the gutter.
As Mother Teresa is quoted as saying:
The child is the beauty of God present in the world, that greatest gift to a family.
Gospel for Asia (GFA World) is a leading faith-based global mission agency, helping national workers bring vital assistance and spiritual hope to millions across the world, especially in Asia and Africa, and sharing the love of God. In GFA World’s latest yearly report, this included thousands of community development projects that benefit downtrodden families and their children, free medical camps conducted in more than 1,200 villages and remote communities, over 4,800 clean water wells drilled, over 12,000 water filters installed, income-generating Christmas gifts for more than 260,000 needy families, and teaching providing hope and encouragement available in 110 languages in 14 nations through radio ministry. GFA World has launched programs in Africa, starting with compassion projects in Rwanda. For all the latest news, visit our Press Room at https://gfanews.org/news.
Read the rest of Gospel for Asia’s Special Report: Children in Crisis — World’s Greatest ‘Badge of Shame’ —Part 1, Part 2
Learn more about the GFA World Bridge of Hope program and how you can make an incredible difference in the lives of children, bringing hope to their lives and their families, transforming communities.
Learn how to provide a chance for children without sponsors. When you give to help unsponsored children, you help supplement the lack of resources when children in Asia don’t have the sponsors they need to stay in a Bridge of Hope center.
WILLS POINT, TX – Gospel for Asia (GFA World) founded by Dr. K.P. Yohannan issues an extensive Special Report on the deadly diseases brought by the mosquito and the storied impact of faith-based organizations on world health, fighting for the Kingdom to “come on earth as it is in heaven.”
This is Part 3 of a Three-Part Series on FBO Initiatives to Combat Malaria and Other World Health Concerns.
Go here to read Part 1 and Part 2.
No Mosquitoes in the Room Now: A Quick Look at the Impact of Faith on Modern Medical Approaches
One of the most succinct summaries of the role of faith-based activity in relationship to ongoing health needs worldwide is a paper by Matthew Bersagel Braley, “The Christian Medical Commission and the World Health Organization.” In it, the author outlines the collaborative work done between the CMC and the WHO in the 1960s and 1970s. They both, concurrently and intentionally aided by the proximity of their headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, sought to address many of the deficiencies that were (and still are) growing apace modern Western medicine with its rapidly increasing dependence upon expensive diagnostic and curative technologies.
Braley’s abstract explains, after referencing the existence of two previous international consultations organized by the World Council of Churches out of which grew the Christian Medical Commission: “What followed was a theologically informed [italics added] shift from hospital-based tertiary care in cities, many in post-colonial settings, to primary care delivery in rural as well as urban communities.”
They saw the mandate of the church as being that of working to restore (as much as is possible) the world to God’s original design.
The early consultations, Tübingen I (in Germany) and Tübingen II, had developed a theology of health that eventually culminated in a mutual understanding. Looking as they were through the lens of health and defining health as the kind of flourishing that God intended for His human creation, they saw the mandate of the church as being that of working to restore (as much as is possible) the world to that original design. Wholeness then is a kind of health—an “at oneness” with God, with fellow humans, with our communities and with our environment. As believers work toward this goal, despite the fact it will never be ultimately achieved until Christ returns, they consequently become healers or health-bringers with an emphasis on flourishing.
Health was also redefined as the ideal that God desired for the people of the earth, one that will probably not be achieved completely, but will have periodic breakouts in time. Health was seen not simply as the “absence of disease” as defined traditionally by the medical establishment, but the presence of ecological health, harmony within the community, at oneness within the individual and in his or her relationships. It was a presence of peace and a lack of warfare; it was an insistence and concern that the neglected, the poor and the oppressed should even be given preferential treatment because of the systemic unfairness, lack of parity and often true evil exercised by the powerful over the powerless.
These theological comprehensions and conclusions have personal meaning to me, because I’ve seen firsthand the importance of working together to help others achieve this all-encompassing health. In 1967 we planted a church on the near west side of Chicago, across the expressway from what is now the Illinois Medical District. At that time, we knew it was one of the largest medical centers in the world; now it consists of 560 acres of medical research facilities, labs and a biotechnology business incubator, four major hospitals, two medical universities and more than 450 health care-related facilities. Needless to say, our small but rapidly growing congregation consisted of many medical grad students, nurses and doctors, and social workers.
There must have been something in the international waters, because totally unaware of the groundbreaking conversations going on among the professionals concerned with health impacts on the other side of the world, David Mains, my husband and the founding pastor of our church, discovered Christ’s major preaching theme was the Kingdom of God. Salvation, or being saved, was entry level to an understanding of that preeminent theme. If the predominance of this message was correct, then it totally shifted our thinking from an individualistic interpretation of faith lived out among private lives to a corporate identity framed through the mutual understanding of Scripture’s teaching of this breakthrough concept. Our salvation was worked out in dialogue around Scriptures and in community with other spiritual pilgrims.
“How important it is when members of faith-based consultations … across the world put aside their differences and … design outcomes that have the possibility to alter … whole nations for the good.
There were places in the world, I discovered as I traveled in the role of journalist, where the people used the word “I” but really meant “we.” I began to understand the Epistles often addressed readers with the word “you.” This was not an individual personal pronoun; in most cases, it was a plural pronoun requiring group action, as in “you, the people of God.” David preached a sermon series titled The Christian, the Church and Society including Christ’s two-part summary message, “Unless you are converted and become like little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” The dialogue of those Christians, listening to David’s sermon in that place and that time in history, when a whole revolutionary resistance movement was rising in our culture—against the war in Vietnam and against injustice, racism, sexism and government corruption—forced upon us a theological conversation that just didn’t happen in other places.
In addition, David, in his 30s, became the head of the Greater Chicago Ministerial Association, and we learned to dialogue across the whole body of faith-based confessions. So, we understand how important it is when members of faith-based consultations here at home or far away across the world put aside their differences and in respect and with deep listening capabilities design outcomes that have the possibility to alter cultures and societies and whole nations for the good.
Conclusion: Our Part in World-Changing, World Health
Matthew Braley’s chapter, taken from the book Religion as a Social Determinant of Public Health, is filled with theological terminology such as epistemology and eschatology, but for the average layperson, what is most important is the Christian Medical Commission’s (CMC) understanding that God’s desire for humankind was that humans flourish in environments most optimal to health as defined not by the absence of disease but by a growing wholeness, and that the thrust of Christ’s ministry and preaching demonstrated the ways to achieve this, aptly summarized in His explanation that we are to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. The CMC’s struggle to understand redemption as a growing wholeness eventually resulted in the “game-changing” 1978 Declaration of Alma-Ata, the conference out of which the Millennium Development Goals proceeded.
All eight of those goals, delineated earlier in this article, are undergirded by and initiated from a theological understanding of the health emphasis, the redemptive purpose, the salvific meaning demonstrated by Christ and often emulated (though not often enough) by His followers. The MDGs are basically communal in the fact that they bring healing in the large sense of being at peace—or at home—with one’s self; with one’s family, friends and community; and with one’s place in the world. And they cannot be accomplished in a village or a nation or globally without the commensurate communal action of as many entities as possible, giving whatever they can to eradicate whatever suffering can be done away with through these human initiatives.
The participants at Tübingen I and II, the emergent Christian Medical Commission, and thousands of others of us who have, as the Jewish phrase states, worked at “repairing the world” for most of our lives would insist this is God’s work, in God’s way and with God’s help. Fortunately, as Bishop Tutu of South Africa said when he addressed the 2008 61st-annual meeting of the World Health Assembly, the World Health Organization’s governing body, “It is a godly coincidence … together WHO and WCC share a common mission to the world, protecting and restoring body, mind, and spirit.”
As Sharon Bieber responded: “Surely the relief and development organizations that are out there in the world can come to the same conclusion on this one thing—everybody is needed in order to fight diseases such as Ebola, HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis; every agency has strengths that will add to the synergy of the whole.”
So when we see groups like Gospel for Asia working to hand out hundreds of thousands of mosquito nets to fight malarial infection, when we know tens of thousands of wells have been dug to provide clean water, and when we understand that the effectiveness of the message of Christ can often be measured by how many latrines have been built in a village or a city, we understand that this is what is necessary to help the participants in our world discover true, full health.
Who knows what consultations among desperate folk with common passions are forming even now that will salvage our world at some future critical juncture?
Perhaps you would like to be part of that network of people determined to spread goodness (God-ness) throughout the world. First, begin by educating yourself. Read the book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, which includes a compendium of organizations seeking volunteers. The authors do not hide how impressed they are with conservative faith-based organizations doing work in the world. Another book to read is To Repair the World by Paul Farmer, a medical doctor many consider to be a modern-day hero.
“This is a bold read by a humble visionary. For those who care about humanity, this is a handbook for the heart,” reads a blurb on the back cover written by Byron Pitts, the chief national correspondent for CBS Evening News.
Then circle one of the volunteer efforts that seems to be calling your name. Become an activist. No need to travel overseas (although that is highly recommended). There is plenty of work to do at home, wherever home may be for you. Just don’t only think about doing something: Do it! (I’m going to look up volunteering for disaster-relief training with The Salvation Army—or the American Red Cross—and I’m 76 years of age!)
At the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus says to the young lawyer, “Go and do likewise.” No, there’s no danger pay for the faith-based health worker. I don’t know of any who have become wealthy. Most of them belong to the league of the nameless. For these, fame is not a motivator either; it generally gets in the way of doing the job.
But mercy? Compassion? Daring to go where others dare not go? Becoming more and more like Jesus? Yep, these are where most of those I know find deep satisfaction. A remarkable man once said, “Go and do likewise.” And they do.
Is that a mosquito I hear buzzing above my ear?
It only takes one mosquito bite to raise a welt.
It only takes one mosquito to kill a child.
It will take a multitude of innovators (believers or nonbelievers) to fight for the Kingdom to “come on earth as it is in heaven.”
It Takes Only One Mosquito — to lead to remarkable truths about faith-based organizations and world health:Part 1 | Part 2
Years ago, friends and I experimented with designing listening groups. These small groups with three or four participants met once a month for seven months. Basically, we listened to one another for two hours. After a time of centering prayer where we became stilled and focused, the first person would begin and share where he or she was in life. When the first person was done, we would go back into silence, and the only way we could respond to the one who had spoken after those short moments of quiet was to ask questions. This pattern continued until we had gone around the group.Over seven years, I led some 250 people in listening groups and was amazed by the remarkable growth I saw in many of the attendees. I also was transformed in unexpected ways; I certainly became convinced of the healing power that exists when humans feel heard and understood.We always take the first session of a listening group to get to know one another a little so that we are not complete strangers. One woman sitting in my living room started her story with these words: “I guess you could say that I was raised by parents who were Evangelical atheists…”Whoa, I thought. Now that’s strong! Evangelical atheism?
The woman explained that her parents adhered to conservative Christianity but that their lives were a dysfunctional antithesis to what Scripture explains are the fruits of belief. Over the next month, I kept mulling over this apparent oxymoron: Evangelical atheism. Evangelical atheism.
Could that be one of the reasons our spiritual fiber is weakening in the West? Are there too many of us who really don’t believe what we say we believe and our dysfunction in living is proof of this personal dissembling? Do the words we say; the thoughts we act out; and the way we function with family, friends, neighbors and work colleagues belie the faith system we say (or in some cases fool ourselves into thinking) we are following? Are many of us really closet Evangelical atheists at heart — at least in part?
I often examine why so many Western Christians wonder, Is this really all there is to Christianity? What’s wrong? Why am I so ineffectual? With so much religious feeding going on, why am I still hungry? Polls released about the time of this women’s statement revealed that 10 percent less Americans claimed to be Christian than what was revealed in previous polls. Statistically, this is a huge shift and indicates a frightening trend. We all need to be asking ourselves, “What is really happening?”
The website “Real Clear Politics” (www.RealClearPolitics.com) reprinted an article from the Christian Science Monitor website (www.csmonitor.com) titled “The Coming Evangelical Collapse.” In it, the author, Michael Spencer, a writer who describes himself as “a post-evangelical reformation Christian in search of a Jesus-shaped spirituality,” predicts the demise of evangelicalism as we know it due to seven predicators.
The first one:
“Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism.”
The second reads,
“We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught … our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures.”
Check out the website if you are interested in reviewing the rest of the seven predictions. But let’s concentrate on only one of the predictors: In the years going forward, will that second prediction be one of the evidences of a heretical fissure? Will younger generations hold to a form of godliness but as Scripture says, “without the power thereof”?
“The woman explained that her parents adhered to conservative Christianity but that their lives were a dysfunctional antithesis to what Scripture explains are the fruits of belief. Over the next month, I kept mulling over this apparent oxymoron: Evangelical atheism. Evangelical atheism.”
Paul wrestles with this type of spiritual split personality in his second letter to Timothy, a young man he mentored and loved. He says, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come …” He continues with a list of disturbing characteristics: self-adulation, money motivation, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. His conclusion after this disturbing list is “… having a form of godliness but denying its power” (see 2 Timothy 3:1–5).
I would maintain that one reason the local church is bleeding millennials, and that so many of them are often spiritually adrift, is that their own parents are living out a faith where religious activity has more to do with form, not with a “Jesus-shaped spirituality.” According to Pew polling,
“Almost every major branch of Christianity in the United States has lost a significant number of members, mainly because millennials are leaving the fold. More than one-third of millennials now say they are unaffiliated with any faith, up 10 percentage points since 2007.”
In the documentary “An Unreasonable Man,” which chronicles the remarkable consumer-safety record established by Ralph Nader, the principle reveals how, when coming home from grade school one afternoon, his father, an immigrant to this country asked,
“Well, what did you learn in school today? Did they teach you how to believe, or did they teach you how to think?”
Have we been teaching ourselves how to believe without also emphasizing how to think about what we believe, and then, how that thinking belief works itself out in the proof of how we choose to live? Are we passing this intellectual and theological knowledge on to the next generation in such a way that they one day will look back and recognize the power of previous spiritual models? Will those younger than ourselves identify and remember our belief linked to lifestyles in such power-filled ways that our example will continue to be a motivator for their belief and lifestyle for decades beyond the span of our own lives?
Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy
There are two great rulers by which insidious, private heresy can be measured. One is orthodoxy, right theology. The other is orthopraxy, right living. Scripture is clear that the marriage of both is the cornerstone of Christian faith. Christ is stunningly clear that belief and living must be in sync. He is particularly livid over the empty performance orientation of religious leaders.
“Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” — Matthew 7:15–17.
The way we live is evidence of what we truly believe. Or another way to look at this is in the simple statement that Christ also makes:
“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (see Luke 6:45).
What an indicator of orthopraxy! Our tongues tell.
The Apostle John picks up this theme in his first letter: “If we say we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth,” (see 1 John 1:6) and “He who says he is in the light and hates his brother, is in darkness until now” (see 1 John 2:9). Orthodoxy, what we believe, and orthopraxy, how we live it out, must be in sync. Otherwise, our Christian confession is obliterated by our actions.
Not only should individuals be wary of their own hidden heresies in belief or in practice, religious organizations can become horrific examples of incomprehensible splits between living and doing as well. My husband and I have been in ministry throughout the full five decades of our married life. We were in youth work, planted a church in the inner-city of Chicago and pastored an inter-racial congregation, spent 20 years in daily radio outreach, seven years producing and hosting a daily television show, and sponsored 132 pastors’ conference annually. Together we’ve written dozens of published books, traveled on the speaker’s circuit for 20 years and served as directors of various not-for-profit boards.
We are well aware that the demands of ministry are such that it is more than easy to do God’s work, using approaches and techniques that are not God’s ways. Spiritual schizophrenia is all too easy to slip into. Let’s look at a couple of examples of ministries that have worked hard to prevent evangelical heresy.
Preventing Evangelical Heresy
Gary Haugen, a lawyer formerly employed in the civil-rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice, who was also the director of the United Nations genocide investigation in Rwanda, took a huge lifestyle leap, committing what is essentially professional suicide by resigning his high-powered government positions in order to live out a Jesus-shaped spirituality. He and dedicated colleagues have founded and formed the International Justice Mission, which confronts, rescues and protects those women, men and children who are held in thrall to the deeply entrenched sex slave industries in the world.
In the name of the God of justice, legal expertise is leveraged to combat illegal evil. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 provides the tools to combat trafficking in persons both worldwide and domestically. IJM leverages these legal means to combat illegal evil at home and in the world.
In his book Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christian, Haugen talks about being haunted by John Stuart Mill’s 1859 essay “On Liberty.” (Mill was a philosopher who argued in this essay that “over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”) The thoughts that gnawed at Haugen were those where Mill examined how words lose their meaning, using Christians as the prime example, since they seemed to have a remarkable ability to say profound things without really believing them. This is evidenced by the way they act and behave.
“What became more disturbing was his list of things that Christians, like me, actually say — like, blessed are the poor and humble; it’s better to give than receive; judge not, lest you be judged; love your neighbor as yourself, etc. — and examining how differently I would live my life if I actually believed such things. As Mill concluded, ‘The sayings of Christ co-exist passively in their minds, producing hardly any effect beyond what is caused by mere listening to words so amiable and bland.’”
Perhaps this is a 19th-century prognostication of an approaching 21st-century Western spiritual malaise: Evangelical atheism. Yet, Scripture’s warnings against this divide, writing centuries before the analysis of John Stuart Mill, indicate that heresy is endemic to the human character. All believers have the potential of failing while at the same time priding themselves on exterior mental assent to biblical principles of belief.
Need we (need I) begin asking ourselves (asking myself),
“Am I really an unbeliever in church clothes?”
Or perhaps a better question would be,
“Where are the areas of faith in which I am practicing disbelief? Where am I really NOT seeking a Jesus-shaped spirituality?”
The Cure for Evangelical Atheism
I often pause in the outside lobby of bookstores because many of them stack their really bargain books in enticing displays that catch the attention of an avid book-lover like myself. A while back, I picked up (for $5) 7 Minutes of Magic: The Ultimate Energy Workbook. A blurb by Deeprak Chopra graced the cover, “A perfect blend of Western and Eastern fitness to jump-start your day and help you relax at night.” Since I am working at getting eight hours of sleep per night as part of my aging-gracefully attempt, I thought I might pick up some tips for evenings when I need to begin incorporating the 7 minutes of relaxing techniques for those mornings when I can’t afford the hour that visiting an exercise class would take.
The book has sat, unopened, on my bedroom chair for several years.
This 7-minute approach of flow exercises and stretches is supposed to give me a “lightning flash of vitality” after a long night of inactivity. Somehow (isn’t it strange?) that book hasn’t done a thing for me … just sitting on the chair with the cover photo of some well-toned practitioner stretching from spine to flap.
Get the picture? We must do what we know is good for us — or at least we must try to do what we know is good for us. Thinking things are so is not enough to establish a reality that things are so.
When starting the International Justice Mission, Haugen and his colleagues put themselves in a place where they were utterly dependent upon God. Perhaps you can imagine the reality of this need if you think about the way they spend the majority of their time fighting sex trafficking all around the world, going into brothels and dens of human slavery and freeing young girls from their bondage to enforced prostitution.
“This is why I am so grateful for my experience with IJM,” Haugen writes,
“Because it gives me a continual experience of my weakness in which God is delighted to show his power … We are forced by our own weakness to beg him for it, and at times we work without a net, apart from his saving hand. And we have found him to be real — and his hand to be true and strong — in a way we would never have experienced strapped into our own safety harnesses.
“In concrete terms, what does that desperation look like? For me, it means being confronted with a videotape of hundreds of young girls in Cambodia being put on open sale to be raped by sex tourists and foreign pedophiles. It means going into a brothel in Cambodia as part of an undercover investigation and being presented with a dozen girls between the ages of five and ten who are being forced to provide sex to strangers. It means being told by everyone who should know that there is nothing that can be done about it. It means facing death threats for my investigative colleagues, high-level police corruption, desperately inadequate aftercare capacities for victims and a hopelessly corrupt court system. It means going to God in honest argument and saying, ‘Father, we cannot solve this,’ and hearing him say, ‘Do what you know best to do, and watch me with the rest.’”
Because of this dependency and because of the intransigency of the evil that is being confronted, IJM staff begins the first half-hour of the day in quiet reflection, to listen, to be still, to sort things through. Then, they gather again — every day at 11 a.m. — to pray about the life-and-death situations they are facing.
That’s a cure for Evangelical atheism if I ever saw one — a long dose of Jesus-shaped spirituality; a contemplative discipline observed before entering into International Justice Mission’s particular daily dangers of holy mission.
A Jesus-Shaped Spirituality
Through the years, David and I have also been impressed with the ministry of Gospel for Asia. The visionary founder, KP Yohannan, connected with us early in his ministry. We were drawn into his vision and passion to help the people in Asia. K.P. has truly been a pioneer in challenging the Western-missionary effort to understand that brown-skinned brothers and sisters might be better equipped, less costly to underwrite, already familiar with customs and languages and filled with a passion for their own lands that lead them to willingly undergo beatings and persecutions for Christ’s sake, than many white-faced brothers and sisters.
Gospel for Asia’s initial drive to establish local fellowships has blossomed into 3–4 million or so believers who are being pastored and discipled by Indian nationals.
In addition to local fellowships, Gospel for Asia-supported workers have responded to the most hopeless of social situations with practical and effective ministries: student sponsorship to educate some 70,000+ children; medical teams working with health issues and teaching the basic preventive measures that ward off 80 percent of those physical problems, which usually are present in the long lines at local clinics. GFA’s field partner is one of the largest installers of clean water wells and filters among the development organizations worldwide and, in addition, provides means for micro-businesses, which give initial start up tools to create sustainable incomes. Widows are tended to, children are invited to after-school programs, families are strengthened. The list of good works goes on and on.
Many fine relief and development organizations do the same; the United Nations, for example, sponsors excellent social outreaches in most of the countries of the world. The difference, I would maintain, however, between GFA and other large, well-known operations is that GFA doesn’t just deal with the physical failures caused by poverty or ignorance or natural disasters, it deals with the spirit of the dilemmas:
What is it in the human heart that also leaves people vulnerable in the machinations of systemic exploitation? What is the spirit lacking in the heart and soul of this child, this man or woman, this family or this community?
GFA understands that it is facing more than surface difficulties; there are deep endemic prejudices, racial and tribal injustices and institutions adamantly committed to keeping others entrapped by the economic failures that benefit others. GFA comprehends that it must get to the spirit of the matter, and since its inception, that fight has been accomplished through committed and regular and unusual amounts of time that its home offices in various centers and among its staff within 14 Asian countries spend in dedicated, determined prayer.
This is not an organization that mouths the belief that prayer is the basis for ministry, for touching the heart of God, for receiving direction and guidance without also activating a systemic organizational commitment to hours of prayer for its work in the world. GFA is a praying organization.
David and I, personally, have often been shamed by GFA’s commitment to a kind of prayer that we have not activated nearly as well in our own ministry outreaches.
So, what do you think about all this? What would happen if we Evangelicals, all of us, sincerely asked the question:
“If I really believed what I say I believe, how would it radically change what I think and speak and do?”
I’m looking at my own heart, conducting an honest self-examination, quietly considering my own bent being, finding hypocrisies I haven’t wanted to face, and with God’s help, yanking out those insidious roots that lead to hidden heresy, to actions and attitudes that are decidedly unchristian. I am examining the heretical possibilities in my own approach to living out my faith. I desperately do not want to die having a form of godliness but denying the potential power of it to change my life and the lives of those around me. And I want to concentrate my prayers on the younger generations — on grandchildren and millennial friends — in such a way that they can identify some kind of radical difference in my life. I do not want to leave a legacy of being an ordinary, everyday Christian.
How about you — are you willing to search for and possibly find any hidden closet evangelical atheism? Then, let us both deal earnestly with the following question asked by Christ of His followers:
“But why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do the things I say?” — Luke 6:46
Wills Point, Texas – GFA Special Report (Gospel for Asia) – Discussing the extreme poverty that globally creates modern-day slaves, affecting millions of women, men and even children.
More than 80 years after George Orwell wrote in his classic Animal Farm that “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others,” his barbed observation on disparity rings ever truer for humankind.
According to a 2017 report by Credit Suisse Research Institute, 10 percent of the world’s richest population owns 88 percent of all global wealth, while “3.5 billion individuals—70% of all adults in the world—have wealth below USD 10,000.” That includes some who could be living in grinding poverty in Asia.
Despite improvements in some parts of the globe, the World Bank says “extreme poverty remains unacceptably high.”
Globally, 1 in 10 is below the poverty line, somehow surviving on less than $1.90 a day.
If such staggering inequality doesn’t provoke the rich to concern for reasons of the heart, it should at least cause them to reflect on the ongoing health of their wallets. The World Economic Forum sees the rising gap between the haves and the have-nots, and the social polarization it breeds, as a major threat to world financial stability.
Such kinds of situations—the more extreme of a continuum of injustices—continue across Asia and other parts of the world because of a complex web of factors: social prejudice, gender discrimination, lack of education, and more.
Not surprisingly, then, fair employment and rights at work are among the core emphases of the United Nations’ annual World Day of Social Justice, celebrated on Feb. 20.
Poverty is not just a divide between the West and the rest, however. The gap between the rich and the poor may be as wide as an ocean or as narrow as a billboard.
“Globally, one in 10 is below the poverty line, somehow surviving on less than $1.90 a day”
With booming technology and industry sectors, India’s economy is presently the sixth largest in the world and has created more than 100 billionaires. Its financial strength is much of the reason for the World Bank tracking South Asia as the world’s fastest-growing region.
Yet, “the effects of an increasingly sophisticated and prosperous India have not reached its poorest and least educated citizens,” concludes Devin Finn in an article for the University of Denver’s Human Rights and Contemporary Slavery digest on bonded labor.
Across South Asia, “Hundreds of millions more live slightly above the poverty line, more than 200 million live in slums, and about 500 million go without electricity,” notes the World Bank. Though the number of people in the region living in “extreme poverty” has been slashed in the past decade, around 62 million children still must work to help support their families.
Worldwide, there are around 168 million of such child laborers, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO), half of them engaged in hazardous work “which endangers their health, safety and moral development.”
Extreme Poverty Creates Modern-day Slaves
Many of the world’s poor are not just struggling to survive, they have even lost their freedom. The ILO estimates that more than 40 million people around the world are currently living in some form of slavery. Of that number, some 25 million are to be found in Asia and the Pacific, where the region also accounts for 73 percent of all victims of forced sexual exploitation.
Some of those in forced labor are found working in brick kilns, with entire families—and, in some cases, even whole villages—laboring to pay off what started as a small loan and became, through withholding of wages and other abuses, an ever-increasing debt. Children and adults alike work long hours in difficult conditions.
Promises of a good salary did not materialize, he recalled. Instead, they were forced to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week. Despite sustaining minor injuries while mixing and making bricks, they were never allowed to go to the hospital. The children were beaten with a pipe and verbally abused if they were caught playing when they were supposed to be working.
Similar exploitation occurs in the tea and handmade carpet industries. One investigation of a large plantation found “a shocking disregard for health and safety,” with workers spraying chemicals without protection, children working, and families forced to defecate among the tea bushes because there were no toilets.
The International Labor Organization completed a recent study of conditions in the Uzbekistan cotton harvest, historically labeled as one of the worst human rights violations of forced labor.
While it was stated by The Cotton Campaign in 2015 and 2016 that “the government of Uzbekistan forced more than a million people, including students, teachers, doctors, nurses, and employees of government agencies and private businesses to the cotton fields, against their will and under threat of penalty, especially losing their jobs,” the ILO study noted distinct improvements in 2017.
It concluded that “the systematic use of child labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest has come to an end” and that efforts were being made to ensure all labor was voluntary. Still, the ILO found that “a certain number pick cotton during at least some part of the harvest as a result of persuasion, pressure or coercion.” Uzbekistan president Savkat Mirziyoyev stated at the United Nations General Assembly, “In cooperation with the International Labor Organization, we have taken effective measures to eradicate the child and forced labor.”
Anti-Slavery International (ASI) identifies the main barriers to the eradication of slavery as “strict hierarchical social structures and caste systems; poverty; discrimination against women and girls; and lack of respect for children’s rights and development needs.”
Many millions more may not be so clearly enslaved, but they are also caught in poverty’s endless cycle, scrabbling to make a living as day laborers or scavengers. Often, parents are forced to make their children work too, to try to make ends meet. But keeping them out of school just ensures another generation remains on the bottom rung of the ladder.
The number of out-of-school children in South Asia constitutes “a formidable challenge,” says the ILO. It estimates more than 25 million boys and girls aged 7 to 14 do not attend school in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India alone.
Lack of opportunities for fair and meaningful work is not just about financial well-being, of course.
“Far from economic inequality being seen as purely a ‘labor rights’ issue, the world is realizing that economic and social inequalities are intrinsically linked to human rights,” says U.K.-based ASI. “Inequality is one of the biggest human rights issues of our time.”
Very practically, poor working conditions and poor pay mean poor health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO),“Nearly 9 million children under the age of five die every year, according to 2007 figures.” Of those children, one-in-three deaths are linked to malnutrition.
In some impoverished communities in Asia, more than half of the children have a body mass index below 18.5, writes Satya Sagar for the Canada-based Centre for Research in Globalization (CRG), “which is regarded as chronic sub-nutrition-placing them by World Health Organization standards in a permanent state of famine.”