Hundreds of Christian relief and development organizations around the world will launch a joint anti-poverty effort in New York City, October 15, 2004. Named after the Old Testament prophet of justice, the “Micah Challenge” is a 11-year campaign to cut worldwide poverty in half by 2015.
According to Michael Smitheram of England, the international coordinator for the Micah Challenge, the campaign will not only battle poverty but societal injustice as well.
Smitheram said the 290 church and Christian relief groups will follow the United Nations-approved Millennium Development Goals as a reference point to fighting poverty.
The eight goals are: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development.
These goals represent a "kind of a benign framework [Christians] can get behind," he said, adding, "We're not asking them to get into an argument" over which anti-poverty strategies are best.
Another central strategy to be adopted by the Micah Challenge is to involve the political leaders, said Smitheram. The groups will be "calling on their [political] leaders to live up to a promise they have already made,” he continued.
The leaders involved with the Micah Challenged recognized the need to “become more involved at the political level to support what they are doing on the ground," Smitheram said. The network sought the help of the World Evangelical Alliance, the primary international network of evangelical churches.
Top international Christian leaders are expected to take part in the New York launch of the Micah Challenge. Some of these figures include: Njongonkulu Ndungane, archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa; Katherine Marshall of the World Bank; Salil Shetty of the United Nations Millennium Campaign; and Christian leaders from Africa, Asia, South, Central and North America and Europe. The event coincides with the U.N. International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, and will be held at the United Nations office in New York.
Within days of the New York debut, national campaigns will be launched in several other countries, including Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, India, Peru and the United Kingdom. A Campaign specifically for the United States has yet to form.
"What we tend to have in the United States is parts of the evangelical church that are well used to being involved in social action," he said, explaining why progress has been slow in the States. "But then there is an enormous amount of evangelical Christians who are reticent to be involved in multinational [social] efforts."
There are, however, several U.S.-based groups involved in the effort.
According to Smitheram, the Baptist World Alliance endorsed the Micah Challenge on August 1, and the National Association of Evangelicals’ World Relief group signed onto the platform.
"There's lots and lots of interest in the United States," he continued. "We're just taking our time, trying to create the best campaign we can. It's just going slowly."
The group is trying to enlist 25 million Christians worldwide to endorse the movement through its Web site, www.micahchallenge.org.