CALGARY, AB—The former Canadian coordinator of the Micah Challenge campaign to is starting to wonder if Canadian evangelicals just can’t be bothered with global poverty.
“There’s been… a lot of discussion, but very little commitment,” says Randy Easthouse. He says he contacted 440 Alberta churches during the 18 months he worked full time to promote the campaign.
Only 25 pastors bothered to reply and only three churches got involved, he says.
“I’ve been lambasted and chewed out. I’ve had pastors say, ‘What right do you have to tell us we need to help the poor? We don’t need to do that. Our job is to preach the gospel,” says Easthouse.
“Some churches say we have to condition our help to the poor…[The poor] have to participate in the life of the church. If they’re not willing to join us then we’re not willing to help them.”
Micah Challenge is a global campaign to mobilize Christians of all stripes to embrace the United Nations’ Millenium Development Goal of halving world poverty by 2015 in keeping with the biblical call for justice and care for the poor.
The World Evangelical Alliance, which represents about 420 million Christians worldwide, launched Micah Challenge in 2004 together with the Micah Network, a group of nearly 300 community development agencies, mostly from the global South.
So far more than 30 countries have launched national Micah Challenge campaigns of their own, with endorsements from hundreds of organizations and various public figures that include Jim Wallis and South African Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) helped launch Canada’s own national Micah Challenge campaign in October 2004, but so far it hasn’t gained the same momentum as in some other countries.
Jocelyn Durston, from the EFC, says that Micah Challenge Canada hasn’t been effective enough in getting the message out. While working as national coordinator for the Canada campaign she met Canadians who were supporting Micah Challenge campaigns in Australia and U.S., unaware that Canada had started it’s own.
Roy Birkenbosh, interim chair of Micah Challenge Canada, says the campaign’s slow start isn’t because Canadians don’t care about poverty.
“Mostly I find people really resonate with it... they see how central to the whole Scripture is God’s desire for economic justice,” says Birkenbosch.
Evangelicalism began as a reaction to what some Christians called a “social gospel,” emphasizing personal salvation instead, says Birkenbosch. “A lot of people are recognizing that’s a bit narcissistic—to say that the gospel is all about me.
“This is a really important time in the life of the Canadian Church. We’re at a transition place where the Church is ready to hear this message.”
Birkenbosch believes the evangelical community will get behind Micah Challenge with enthusiasm—once the campaign gets its act together.
“We don’t have a staff. Right now we’re just a ragtag group of volunteers,” he says.
Micah Challenge Canada is putting the finishing touches on a strategic plan it will present to donor agencies in the fall, says Birkenbosch. With more financial support, they can hire a national coordinator—someone who knows Canada’s political scene and has a passionate voice.
“We really need somebody to champion it,” says Durston. “We need a Bono of Canada.”