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Interview: Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of South Africa

( [email protected] ) Oct 18, 2004 02:08 PM EDT

The Micah Challenge, an international Christian call to halve world poverty by 2015 was launched at the United Nations in New York City on Oct. 15. The Most Reverend Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, patron of the Micah Challenge, delivered the launch address during the ceremony, an inspiration to all who were present. The Micah Challenge is dedicated to the UN initiated Millennium Development Goals, which lists 8 specific goals to reduce poverty absolutely by 2015. Before the launching, the Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa took some time to answer questions about the roles that the church, faith, and Jesus play in solving the persistent problem of world poverty.

What is the role of the Church in the Micah Challenge, and why is it important for the Church to be involved in it?

The Micah Challenge is harnessing Christians to lobby for a more just and more merciful world. In the Scriptures, the book of Micah in the Old Testament says something very pertinent. Just one verse in the Bible can tell us everything. Micah 6:8; what does God require of us? Just three things: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly.

We wish to harness the strength of all the different churches in the world to work together on this issue. There are 3 million churches. The Episcopal Church in US and Anglican Church are already donating 8% of their tithe to development. We want to make that the base for all the churches.

There are so many relief organizations out there addressing the issue of poverty already. For example, the Let Justice Roll campaign was launched recently in America. What do you think of all these different Christian relief organizations already out there?

Exactly! They are very important. We are trying to harness all the forces of the different groups to address poverty. It is sinful in a world in which there is surplus that 800 million people go hungry every day. And we know that it is possible for people to have access to all that is basic for living. The World’s leadership has already recognized that poverty needs to be addressed. Hence, the Millennium Development Goals, which aim to halve the world’s poverty figures by 2015.

What are the Micah Challenge’s goals? How will the Christian communities achieve those goals?

What this group is trying to do is to lobby governments to deliver on their promises. There are directives that must be done. We must hold governments accountable.

Tony Blair is going to be president of the EU and chairperson of the G8, and he has said that his presidency will be a delivering presidency, in the sense that he wants to focus on Africa, focus on development. And we want him to hold him accountable to his promises.

It’s up to the faith leaders to hold governments accountable. Someone once said, we can handle students when they’re protesting but we can’t handle mothers when they protest.

We, as Christians with the moral authority can approach the G8 countries when they meet next year. We can say to them, ‘Hey you’ve got it wrong. You’ve got to reorder your priorities. It’s not acceptable to have so many children who can’t go to school.’

Are there any future developments? What will the future bring to Micah Challenge? Has the Micah Challenge developed any strategies for long-term implementation?

In September 2005, there will be a big gathering here at the UN to review where each country stands relative to the MDG’s.

I serve on the International steering committee that monitors the MGC’s, and the sad news is that the governments scored a 3 out of 10 on a scale. What we’re seeking is to lobby governments to realize the targets that have been set in meeting.

Primary schooling is so important and yet we have still not yet achieved global primary education. It is immoral and sinful in an education age that so many are without even primary education. Most of these children are girls. Realization of this goal is possible if you think that the US spends more on cosmetics than the cost of primary education.

The Micah Challenge is an international campaign however, is there a particular region that you think that there should be a focus on?

I will come across as a little biased, but I think that sub-Saharan Africa comes out worst in the developing world because not only have you got poverty levels, and HIV/AIDS. 75% of the people with AIDS are in sub-Saharan Africa. Most people affected are young women, who are our future. There needs to be an emphasis there.

In what ways has your local church already taken a part in the Micah Challenge?

We’re got a social outreach arm, which listens to communities, and be alongside communities in areas of development. We’re involved in HIV ministry. Giving them TLC—tender, loving care. Also we have education programs for prevention. We’re involved in advocacy. For instance, we are part of a coalition in South Africa lobbying for a basic income grant, which will ensure that everyone in South Africa has got a plate of food each day and it could be a kick start for people who want to do small businesses to eek out an existence.

What role will faith play in the Micah Challenge? For example, what would Jesus say about the Micah Challenge?

When Jesus began his ministry in Nazareth, he came to the synagogue and announced his strategy for mission. What was the strategy? He is going to preach the good news to the poor, and to release those who are in bondage. And preaching good news to the poor isn’t just talking to them about the pie in the heavens, it’s making sure that people have all that is basic for human living.

Jesus, Himself, He says I came so that all of you may have life and have it in abundance. James 2:17, faith without works is dead. If you look at the entirety of what God has done from the beginning of creation, you can see that He has supplied us with all the necessities of life and made us stewards of creation. God has provided everything for our needs and not our greed. God sent us his son, Jesus Christ, and in our helplessness, Christ died for us so that we may have abundance and life. The generosity of God is what we are called to respond to. A God who is the God of compassion and mercy calls us to act.

His love touches us and we must respond by enabling people to become fuller human beings. What God is seeking to do is to create a condition in the world here where people are fully alive, where we exercise our stewardship responsibility in terms of the God-given abundance in our world.

In our world, when people look at the immensity of the problems, sometimes you become like rabbits in front of car headlights. Yet you forget that it is a drop of water that made an ocean. It is a child born in Bethlehem that made a difference n this world. You too can make a difference to another person’s life. We must enable another person to become a fuller human being. I believe that is the greatest contribution we can make.

The Most Reverend Archbishop Njongo was born in a small town in South Africa on April 2, 1941. He completed a Bachelor of Divinity, Honours degree and a Master of Theology degree in Christian ethics both at King’s College, London. From 1981, he rose in the ranks of the dioceses and is the current Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa. The Archbishop has been awarded several honorary degrees including Doctor of Divinity from Rhodes University; Doctor of Divinity from the Protestant Episcopal Seminary; and Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Cape Town. Also, a prolific writer, he’s published many essays and books. In 2003, he published A World With A Human Face: A Voice From Africa. Under his leadership the Anglican church in South Africa spearheaded an initiative in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. He has also been involved in a campaign to abolish Developing World Debt. As a passionate advocate of poverty alleviation, he wholeheartedly supports the Micah Challenge.