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WORLDVIEW: Tightening belts — and helping others

EDITOR’S NOTE: “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, can be found here http://worldviewconversation.blogspot.com. An audio version of this column is available at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/78/7817/7817-43469.mp3.

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–If you just lost your job, you’re probably not jumping up and down over recent signs the economy might be rebounding.

You’re not alone. More than 340,000 U.S. jobs were lost in May. The national unemployment rate has reached 9.4 percent — the highest in nearly 30 years — and is projected to climb even higher before it begins to fall.

The pain from job losses and other impacts of the recession continues to be felt in countless lives and families — and in financial support for churches, ministries and mission efforts around the world.

Even before the economic crisis hit, overall church giving among American Christians had been trending downward. “Committed” American Christians (regular church attenders who consider their faith important) earn more than $2.5 trillion a year, according to “Passing the Plate” (Oxford University Press), a new study of Christian giving. Evangelical Protestants are the most generous in their gifts to churches, but only about 27 percent of them tithe. More than a third give less than 2 percent of their income.

About 5 percent of Christians supply 60 percent of the money that funds American churches and religious programs. Many others who give do so cheerfully — but from their wallets when the urge strikes, rather than from their checkbooks as a habit.

It’s easy to criticize the stinginess of American Christians, who are rich by the standards of most of the rest of the world. But Christianity Today magazine’s recent analysis of the “Passing the Plate” study highlights a daily reality average folks face even in good times:

“[A] major reason Christians don’t give more is because they can’t. Fixed costs in households have increased from 54 percent to 75 percent of family budgets since the early 1970s.

“‘A mere two buying decisions — the purchases of homes and cars — are enough to lock household budgets into tight budgetary situations for decades,’ [researchers] say.”

The recession has tightened family budgets much more. You’re likely feeling the squeeze. I know I am. While we’re riding out the storm, however, let’s be thankful for living in a nation with an incredibly resilient economy. Many others aren’t so blessed.

The recession is “the biggest development in the global system in the year to date,” reports Peter Zeihan in the Geopolitical Intelligence Report produced by Stratfor, an open intelligence service. “In the United States it has become almost dogma that the recession is the worst since the Great Depression. But this is only one of a wealth of misperceptions about whom the downturn is hurting most, and why….

“[T]he U.S. recession at this point is only the worst since 1982, not the 1930s, and it pales in comparison to what is happening in the rest of the world.” Yes, the recession started in America, “but the American system is far more stable, durable and flexible than most of the other global economies….”

What does that mean in human terms? As we tighten belts and cut out luxuries, many around the world are facing a life-threatening crisis.

“Those at the bottom of the ladder do not have far to fall,” notes one analyst for The Economist magazine. “But what happens if you have clambered up a few rungs, joined the new middle class and now face the prospect of slipping back into poverty?”

A recent message from Christian workers in Kazakhstan outlined the financial crisis in that Central Asian country. Currency has been devalued, prices have soared and salaries have stayed the same or fallen. Life has become very difficult for people with creditors to hold off, families to feed, bills to pay.

“In the past, you have been asked to pray about the hold of materialism on this culture,” the message noted. “Many are coming to realize that security is not in material things. Please pray for many who face desperate times. Ask that they will turn to Jesus for hope.”

For others, the situation is even more grim. Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist relief and development organization, is supplying grain and vitamin supplements to pregnant women and children in a part of southern Asia where up to a third of the people suffer from malnutrition. The “Wise Mother, Healthy Family” project will help at least 500 women and their families with an ongoing distribution of rice, corn and dal, a dietary staple in southern Asia.

“A recent United Nations report states that an average woman in this area has five children, that all of her children under age 3 are malnourished, that she works 15 hours a day and is anemic,” said Francis Horton, regional director for Baptist Global Response.

“The food situation in this area has worsened dramatically, and this project … eventually could help far more families than the ones currently being assisted,” Horton said. “Their world is becoming increasingly insecure due to economic, political and religious conflict. Please pray that this project would help them understand God’s love for them and that they would experience the full and meaningful lives He wants them to have.”

As we go through our own difficult times, we can pray for those experiencing deeper troubles. We can help them in practical ways. And we can love them as Christ loves them.
Erich Bridges is global correspondent for the International Mission Board.

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