By the Numbers

by Wess Stafford

I'd like to throw some numbers at you. Typically, I'm against stringing a bunch of numbers together to make a point about God's heart for children and the poor because I never want us to look at those precious souls as merely statistics. I want us to realize they are real, living, breathing people. Still, I believe you'll be so staggered by some of the figures below that perhaps they just might make the point after all.

First, there are approximately 2.2 billion children on our planet. Nearly one billion of them live in poverty. When I say poverty, I don't mean they can't afford to eat steak tonight. I mean they can't afford to eat. In fact, 300 million little boys and girls will go to bed tonight without anything in their bellies. That's 300 million empty stomachs, growling as they lie in bed. Thirty thousand of them will not make it another 24 hours because malnutrition will take their young lives. That's 12 children dying every minute because they can't find enough to eat. If we factor in the adults, there are 815 million people struggling with severe malnutrition in our world. That's more people than live on any one continent except Asia.

Contrast that with our country, where we not only have an abundance of food, but we also pour billions of dollars into gyms and exercise equipment to help us burn off the excess weightmostly because we eat way more than we should.

What's sad is that there really is enough food for everyone. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has set the daily minimum requirement for caloric intake per person at 2,350. No surprise there. Here's the startling part: The FAO estimates that worldwide, there is enough food for every person on our planet to have 2,800 calories per day. Still, some have an abundance while others go without.

And it's not just food. Every 8 seconds, a child dies from a waterborne illness. Yes, in the time it will take you to read this paragraph, another two children will be gone. And all they needed was clean water. The water we get out of our taps in our homes is so much cleaner than they could ever hope for. Yet, as Americans, we spend billions of dollars a year purchasing bottled water. There are some great organizations out there whose sole purpose is to provide clean water to poverty-stricken countries. I hope you'll support them.

The problems are deeper than food and water, obviously. If you or I got sick from bad water, we would just visit our doctor. Not so for the poor. Many of those living in poverty will never know what it's like to have a regular checkup. Sadly, many of them don't even know basic hygiene and simple steps to protect themselves from disease. Consider these numbers: There are 350,000 babies born in our world every year. More than 12,000 of them will die within their first month of lifemostly because of inadequate healthcare.

I could go on, but I won't. All of these numbers can be overwhelming. It's easy to see the figures and say, "It's too much." But then I'm reminded of this well-circulated story:

A certain man was walking along a beach when he looked ahead in the distance and saw a young girl picking up starfish and tossing them back into the water. He glanced down to the sandy beach and noticed it was scattered with starfish too many to count. Yet, one by one, she made her way along the water's edge, picking up one at a time and tossing it back into the frothy, salty waves. As the two neared each other, the man interrupted the girl's apparent exercise in futility.

"Young lady, what are you doing?"

"Throwing these lost starfish back into the water. If I don't, they'll die!"

"Dear child, that's very sweet of you. But there are so many. How can you possibly make a difference?" The young girl bent over, picked up another one from the wet sand, flung it into the water, and turned back to the man.

"It made a difference for that one."

The man smiled, bent over, and grabbed a starfish in his hand. He looked closely at it-the bumpy exterior, the soft underbelly. Perhaps he had never thought of a starfish as a living creature before. He caressed it for a moment and then tossed it into the water. The two started working side by side, saving one starfish after another.

You see, we can look at these numbers and say, "Why bother? Poverty is too big." Or we can decide to help-not by trying to tackle the problem as a whole, but one family at a time. If you decide to help one family get through hard times this year, you're making a difference. Not only that, I think you'll find that your good deed may inspire someone else- just like the girl on the beach. Who knows, it could cause a chain reaction. Before long, we'll all be picking up starfish-pulling together to fight poverty.

For 54 years, this has been the heart of Compassion International's ministry. It started with one man, picking up abandoned and lonely children in the streets; providing them food, clean water, a safe place to eat; and, of course, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Before long, another sponsor joinedthen anotherand another-each helping one child at a time. Now, Compassion sponsors are impacting the lives of over 700,000 children in 24 countries. I believe God has blessed the ministry so much because it is so close to His heart.

So the question is, if helping the poor is so important to God, why isn't the church doing more about it? I'm convinced that a big part of the answer is that so many people don't know what to do. I'll give you a couple more numbers that bother me: Fifty percent of American churchgoers say they have not heard a sermon on poverty in the past year. And 30 percent say they have not had an opportunity to serve the poor through their church. Those numbers should scare all of us. How can we be teaching God's grace, His love and mercy, without giving opportunities for the church to be His hands? As the popular song by Casting Crowns asks:

"If we are the body, then why aren't His arms reaching? Why aren't His hands healing?"

God's Word is very clear about how we should care for those who are weak or struggling. They are more than just numbers. They are more than statistics. They are our brothers and sistersand we have been called to help.

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