Bill Gates a New Ally to Christians Advocating for Poor

( [email protected] ) May 26, 2011 08:19 AM EDT

Christian groups fighting to protect domestic and international assistance programs for the poor have a great ally in Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates ahead of the G8 talks which began today.

Gates, the Microsoft founder and co-chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, traveled to Capitol Hill Tuesday to urge continued funding for aid programs aimed at lessening the international and domestic impacts of poverty.

In his speech, Gates urged legislators to take "courage" in the midst of a fiscal crisis and invest more into the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program. He acknowledged the enormous federal debt, but said that should not prevent the administration and lawmakers from doing the right thing.

"Yes, we have to watch the deficit," he affirmed. "But a financial crisis should become a crisis of courage – and it should not force cuts in programs that pay huge returns."

Gates commended Congress for dedicating $100 million to the Global Agricultural and Food Security Program to help poor farmers in the developing world, but pressed for more.

"That is welcome funding at a difficult time, but it only brings total U.S. funding up to one-third of the commitment the U.S. made at the [program's] launch last year," he said.

The program also helps American farmers, said Gates.

Geraldine Ryerson-Cruz, World Vision's international news manager, praised Gates for spreading a "very important message."

The billionaire spoke in particular about increasing aid to help poor African farmers become more productive. Most farmers in the developing world are small-holder farmers who do not have the same resources commercial farmers have to yield more crops and transport their produce to local markets, said Ryerson-Cruz.

"Supporting them ... [in] all of things is very important to solving global food prices and helping solve hunger and make sure that food is accessible," she said.

World Vision is currently attending the G8 talks in France, advocating for international aid for developing countries.

At the 2009 G8, $22 billion was pledged through 2012 to fund hunger alleviation programs. However, the Christian International aid group reported that as of last summer, there was no mechanism to track the disbursement of the funds.

Robert Zachritz, World Vision's director of government relations, said in an email from the summit, "Some of these funding commitments are tracked and monitored, and others are not. World Vision is pushing the G8 and G20 leaders for greater accountability and transparency."

The U.S. pledged $3.5 billion over three years. However, Zachritz said President Barack Obama is having problems getting Congress to fund this to the World Bank program.

At home, the National Association of Evangelicals and partners from several other Christian dominations have formed the "Circle of Protection" to petition Congress to keep its monetary commitments to aid these and other assistance programs.

The NAE's coalition joined faith-based social justice group Sojourners to call for budgetary protection of domestic and international assistance programs that help the needy.

Gates, who works with his wife Melinda, to alleviate the disparities that plague most developing countries through his Gates Foundation now proves to be a very visible and vocal partner in their cause.