(RNS) About 15 years ago, countries around the world agreed on Millennium Development Goals to tackle some of the biggest issues facing the developing world, among them HIV/AIDS, maternal health, education and gender equality.
While many evangelicals were slow to come to the table on these issues, a few faith leaders did take a stand, gradually leading their communities to become involved, with some significant results.
In 2015, HIV/AIDS hasn’t been eradicated, but the tide is turning, the numbers are declining and there is cause to take a moment and celebrate. There are other amazing victories in global health as well. Since 1990, the U.N. reports, progress has been made on many of the goals:
- The number of people living in extreme poverty has been cut in half.
- The number of out-of-school children has fallen by half.
- The under-5 mortality rate has dropped by half.
- Maternal mortality has nearly been cut in half.
We celebrate this good news while recognizing we still have a few miles to go before we can finish this fight. We must keep the faith for the millions who still are dying by mosquito bite, diarrhea, dirty water or a cold.
On Sept. 25, countries gathered at the U.N. General Assembly to agree to a new set of Sustainable Development Goals and targets for 2030. These goals encompass economic, social and environmental transformation for humanity and the planet, addressing prosperity, peace and partnership.
This is a real moment for the faith community to hit “refresh” and join this united front of governments, nonprofit organizations, institutions and foundations to finish the race. The time is ripe for all to come together with their leadership and lend a voice to help shape policy, affect legislation and join in the efforts — large and small — to meet these global health and development targets of 2030.
History has shown that this group can be one of the most effective when united toward a common goal. While the Barna Group showed that evangelicals, especially, were slow to come on board for HIV/AIDS in 2000, we know that once they did get involved, their leadership moved the needle.
This group rallied in support of increased U.S. government assistance during the Bush administration to create historic legislation, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. In 2002, only 50,000 people had access to anti-retroviral medication to fight HIV/AIDS. Today, over 14 million people have access to these lifesaving drugs, thanks to American tax dollars.
We hope to see the faith community similarly get behind funding for an area that we believe is a lynchpin for almost every single one of these Sustainable Development Goals: women’s health and women’s empowerment. If we can keep moms healthy, keep girls in school and provide women the resources to make good decisions on when to have children and how often to have children, poverty and hunger will decline, and good health, education and equal opportunities for women will grow.
Arguably the church, people of faith, should be at the helm of such sustainable changes. Religion is all about the care of widows, orphans and the refugee. The threads of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, call us to attend to vulnerable populations, the sick and the imprisoned.
We have the knowledge. We have the will. We need the hands, the feet and the voice of the body of Christ to act.
Our calling is for everyone to take a stand and lend a voice for these Sustainable Development Goals.
We look forward to one day celebrating our successes in saving lives, perhaps within our generation.
(Jenny Eaton Dyer is executive director of Hope Through Healing Hands in Nashville, Tenn. She is a lecturer in the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University.)
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