Compassion International Senior Vice President Scott Todd spoke at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC) in California on Sunday, encouraging believers to be others-centered and presenting a hopeful outlook for the future of the poor.
Todd graduated from Stanford with a research fellowship in oncology and immunology. The once medical research scientist recounted his calling to leave his occupation and to become involved with Compassion International - “It didn’t make a lot of sense in a lot of ways,” he said, but he felt that the Lord was clearly calling him to do so. Todd was eventually asked to become the organization’s director of the HIV/AIDS program in Africa because of his medical background.
The research scientist began his sermon with a few surprising statistics; he told of a nation where 20% of babies died before their fifth birthday, usually from preventable causes like a lack of clean water or safe food, and where the life expectancy was only 41 years. This country was, in fact, the United States - back in the early 1800s. Since then, we have made a lot of progress, he said - from mechanized agriculture that increased food production to the first vaccination, to the iphone.
“Sadly, that progress has not reached all of us yet - I learned that personally, on my knees in the dirt in Tanzania,” said Todd. He relayed the story of a little girl that he had met named Jacqueline who was one of 53 Compassion children who were HIV positive and had begun treatment with antiviral medication under his program. Unfortunately, Jacquelyn had not begun treatment early enough, and she died shortly thereafter. Her death made a profound impact on Todd, who made it his goal to make sure that Compassion children were given available treatment as soon as possible.
Todd asked the congregation at MPPC what sort of expectations they had for the future for the poor. While most Americans believe that poverty is getting worse, Todd showed several statistics proving that poverty is substantially decreasing around the world. Medicine and technology are becoming more accessible in desperate places, he said. Thankfully, the lack of access to clean water has decreased significantly, as have malaria rates and fatalities from diseases that we have begun to distribute vaccinations for worldwide. In 1981, 52% of all people were below the “extreme poverty line.” Today, that number has dropped to 19%, Todd said.
The Compassion International Vice President quoted parts of Isaiah 58, noting the places where God encourages an others-centered lifestyle for His people. Todd said that God’s heart in this passage is “about seeing hurt, seeing need, and responding to it.” He also noted that the passage says that the Christian will reap joy and healing when we provide for the needy. “As we draw close to the heart of God, as we experience His love for us, and as we’re abiding in Him and His work of transforming us and making us more like Christ is taking place … our eyes will begin to shift toward those around us. Our others-centered thinking will lead us into engagement wherever God may guide us,” he said.
Todd’s final encouragement to the church was to trust God with where He is guiding us. He recounted the story of his return to Africa, where he had hoped to read a note at Jacquelyn’s gravesite. His travel plans were changed, however, and he was scheduled to be in a different part of the country than he had hoped. While there, he met and played with a joyful little girl whose gratitude had touched his heart. He later learned that that little girl was one of the 53 original Compassion children who were HIV positive and had been given antiviral medication. Her name was Jacquelyn, too; Todd had planned to go visit a gravesite that day, but instead, God allowed him to see the blessing of a life changed by his ministry.
Todd ended his sermon by praying that believers would be in tune to God’s voice and would follow whatever His will is for our lives. He prayed that we would recognize need and respond to God’s heart for the poor, and that by doing so we might find true life.