The Neighborhood and the Nations

When it comes to issues like extreme poverty, HIV, economic development and education, does the American church have a new responsibility? One we didn’t have just a few years ago?

The road outside Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, reveals the beauty of “the land of a thousand hills.” The aroma of wood smoke collides with sunflowers and snapdragons. Avocado trees line the road and feed into the forest range and down into the valley where the rice fields are laid out like neatly stitched quilts. Along the road young children hustle goats, and women carry jerricans filled with water. On the surface, the visual splendor of Rwanda hides the tragedy brought on by the 100-day genocide that wiped out nearly 1 million people in 1994. However, it doesn’t take long to realize those 100 days still affect every Rwandan.

I’m traveling with the president of World Vision, Rich Stearns, and 15 pastors from New York City and Chicago to visit the humanitarian efforts of World Vision throughout Rwanda. Even though the genocide happened nearly 20 years ago, the needs are still great—from education, economics and food security to orphan care and clean water. World Vision is involved in many large-scale social and economic development programs to address these critical life issues, and I was ready for an up-close look.

On the road from Kigali to Butare with our driver, George, from Kenya, I initiate a conversation with Stearns and Adam Durso, a lively Italian executive pastor from Christ Tabernacle in Brooklyn—an offshoot of Jim Cymbala’s Brooklyn Tabernacle. I want to discuss the impact of globalization on the American church. In a world where we have more information about world issues than ever in history, along with advanced ways to connect with those in extreme need from many nations, does God raise the bar on international outreach and compassion? When it comes to issues like extreme poverty, HIV, economic development and education, does the American church have a new responsibility? One we didn’t have just a few years ago? If so, what should today’s global activism look like for the church?

“I think we have a profound obligation—to whom much is given, much is required,” Stearns says. “We have the tangible assets of the kingdom, and we have an obligation not only to take care of the church globally but to care for those outside the church and to take our rightful place of leadership in this revolution.”

Stearns left a profitable job as CEO of Lenox, an American gift and tableware company, to join World Vision as president in 1998. Before that, Stearns also served as president of Parker Brothers, the toy and game company. He’s no stranger to American affluence, but it’s that familiarity that also makes him passionate for better distribution of the church’s wealth on an international scale.

“America has maybe 10 percent of the Christians in the world and 80-90 percent of the church’s resources,” Stearns says. “That’s true in terms of money, that’s true in terms of educational opportunities, that’s true in terms of theological education—seminaries, Christian schools. You name a dimension of Christian life, and the United States has a huge resource base. If we keep our resources to ourselves and only operate in our own communities here in America, we’re missing the mission. God is probably saying, ‘I gave you all this stuff—I gave you the resources, the ability, the knowledge, the access to change the world, to show compassion to heal the sick and to take care of the widow and the orphan—and you’re keeping it all to yourself?’ It’s not that we lack the resources, but they’re distributed so poorly.”

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