Mike Cope's blog

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Before this post, let me say: my central concern is not that America look generous but that the community of Christ-followers all over the world BE generous. (This reflects my deep conviction that I not first of all an American, but a member of the Jesus Community whose citizenship is in heaven.) This is a time of tragedy that calls for generosity, compassion, and thorough prayer. Having said that, this is from my favorite columnist, Nicholas Kristof: So is the U.S. "stingy" about helping poor countries? That accusation by a U.N. official, in veiled form, provoked indignation here. After all, we're the most generous people on earth ... aren't we? No, alas, we're not. And the tsunami illustrates the problem: When grieving victims intrude onto our TV screens, we dig into our pockets and provide the massive, heartwarming response that we're now displaying in Asia; the rest of the time, we're tightwads who turn away as people die in far greater numbers. The 150,000 or so fatalities from the tsunami are well within the margin of error for estimates of the number of deaths every year from malaria. Probably two million people die annually of malaria, most of them children and most in Africa, or maybe it's three million - we don't even know. But the bottom line is that this month and every month, more people will die of malaria (165,000 or more) and AIDS (240,000) than died in the tsunamis, and almost as many will die because of diarrhea ( 140,000). And that's where we're stingy. Americans give 15 cents per day per person in official development assistance to poor countries. The average American spends four times that on soft drinks daily. In 2003, the latest year for which figures are available, we increased such assistance by one-fifth, for President Bush has actually been much better about helping poor countries than President Clinton was. But as a share of our economy, our contribution still left us ranked dead last among 22 top donor countries. We gave 15 cents for every $100 of national income to poor countries. Denmark gave 84 cents, the Netherlands gave 80 cents, Belgium gave 60 cents, France gave 41 cents, and Greece gave 21 cents (that was the lowest share, beside our own). It is sometimes said that Americans make up for low official aid with private charitable donations. Nope. By OECD calculations, private donations add 6 cents a day to the official U.S. figure - meaning that we still give only 21 cents a day per person. One reason for American stinginess, I think, is a sense that foreign aid is money down a rathole. True, plenty has been wasted. But there's also growing evidence of what works and is cost-effective - such as health programs and girls' schooling. One of the most unforgettable people I've met is Nhem Yen, a Cambodian grandmother whose daughter had just died of malaria, leaving two small children. So Nhem Yen was looking after her four children and two grandchildren, and she could afford only one mosquito net to protect them from malarial mosquitoes. Each night, she had to choose which of the six children would sleep under the net. Do we really think that paying $5 for a mosquito net to keep Nhem Yen's children alive would be money down a rathole? When I contracted the most lethal form of malaria, in Congo, I was easily cured because I could afford the best medicines. But to save money, African children are given medicines that cost only 5 cents a dose but aren't very effective; the medicine that would actually save their lives is unaffordable, at $1 a dose. Do we really think $1 a dose for medicine to save a child is money down a rathole? Jeffrey Sachs, the Columbia University economist, estimates that spending $2 billion to $3 billion on malaria might save more than one million lives a year. "This is probably the best bargain on the planet," he said. The outpouring of U.S. aid, private and public, for tsunami victims is wonderful. But, frankly, the affected nations will get all the money they can absorb for the moment, and Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka are far from the worst off in the world. "The really big money can be better and more usefully absorbed by developing good health and education programs in the poorest countries," noted Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development. "But that's not as visible or heroic." With America's image tarnished around the world, one of the most effective steps Mr. Bush could take to revive it would be to lead a global effort to confront an ongoing challenge like malaria. That would also give Mr. Bush more credibility by suggesting that the "culture of life" he talks about embraces not just fetuses, but also African children crying from hunger. The best response to accusations of stinginess is not to be defensive, but to be generous. And the measure of generosity is not what you offer when the spotlight is upon you, but what you do when the spotlight moves on.

13 Comments:

  • Mike, Travis Stanley posted this article over at his blog. I'm just going to copy my comment that I left over there.

    I just don't think that USA (unheard chanting from the movie "Miracle") is the issue. Our country is great. Our country is imperfect.

    As Christians our duty is to give to Ceasar (W, Clinton, Kerry, or whoever you like/dislike) and give to God what is God's. Fact of the matter is no country contributing to the needs will ever save any of us. I'm with Matt E on this. We need to start looking in our own wallets and check registers on this one.

    Could the USA give more? Sure. Does the USA give tons already. Sure. Fighter jets vs. AIDS. Very valid points from each of you. But we're not of this world. We need to set our hearts on things above. We need to empty our pockets and lives. And most of all, let's not depend solely on any infalliable government to do Kingdom work. When it's all over, "whatever you did to the least of these" is about believers not governments.

    Now, back to today. Leaving comments on your blog takes forever. Did you ever figure out why? Good day to you.

    By Blogger Jon, at 1/06/2005 05:49:00 AM  

  • Hey Mike,

    Mr. Kristof's piece in the NY Times was factually deficient (not a surprise for the Times). Please refer to the following article which is very well documented. http://www.heritage.org/Research/TradeandForeignAid/wm630.cfm

    This is a serious research piece and I realize that Mr. Kristof's was an opinion piece designed to make a larger point. I just think facts should matter when making larger points.

    With all of that being said, I agree with you and Jon as well, we are citizens of Heaven and should render our all to His service.

    In Him,

    Ed

    By Blogger Ed Harrell, at 1/06/2005 06:01:00 AM  

  • Jon, thanks so much for your link. It gets all over me when no matter what America does we get put down by other countries. I do agree that it is unfortunate that it seems always to take a catastrophy to cause people to act. I also think, that when possible, we should give in the name of the Lord. That is why I usually don't give to the Red Cross. I have come to appreciate the work in our fellowship done by Healing Hands International (HHI-aid.org). With them the percentage of your gift that will actually go directly for aid is almost 90%. Perhaps a good thing for us to do is to examine the budgets of our churches and see how much we actually give as churches to help others. Mike, as always, a thought provoking post.

    By Blogger RC, at 1/06/2005 06:58:00 AM  

  • Jon, thanks so much for your link. It gets all over me when no matter what America does we get put down by other countries. I do agree that it is unfortunate that it seems always to take a catastrophy to cause people to act. I also think, that when possible, we should give in the name of the Lord. That is why I usually don't give to the Red Cross. I have come to appreciate the work in our fellowship done by Healing Hands International (HHI-aid.org). With them the percentage of your gift that will actually go directly for aid is almost 90%. Perhaps a good thing for us to do is to examine the budgets of our churches and see how much we actually give as churches to help others. Mike, as always, a thought provoking post.

    By Blogger RC, at 1/06/2005 06:58:00 AM  

  • Jon, thanks so much for your link. It gets all over me when no matter what America does we get put down by other countries. I do agree that it is unfortunate that it seems always to take a catastrophy to cause people to act. I also think, that when possible, we should give in the name of the Lord. That is why I usually don't give to the Red Cross. I have come to appreciate the work in our fellowship done by Healing Hands International (HHI-aid.org). With them the percentage of your gift that will actually go directly for aid is almost 90%. Perhaps a good thing for us to do is to examine the budgets of our churches and see how much we actually give as churches to help others. Mike, as always, a thought provoking post.

    By Blogger RC, at 1/06/2005 06:58:00 AM  

  • Unless we are doing ALL we can as individuals, I don't think we ought to be overly concerned with what our govt. is or is not doing. Our govt. is not going to be standing as an institution on judgement day saying "when did we see you hungry"? All of us as individuals will be.

    Your "FAVORITE" columnist?!?!?! Really?

    By Blogger David U, at 1/06/2005 06:58:00 AM  

  • Well, David, Dave Barry has now announced he's not writing anymore. So that leaves Kristof. :)

    Kristof has meant a lot to me recently because of his focus on hurting places in the world. He is the one who opened my eyes to pray for the genocide in Western Sudan.

    More and more, I want someone to help me see the world. I live in America. What a privilege. But my own tendency has been to fail to grasp what's happening in this world.

    I want to know better how to pray. I know we're in deep agreement on this: we aren't primarily Americans. We're followers of Jesus who have more in common with brothers and sisters in Thailand than people who live by us but aren't seeking the way of Jesus.

    By Blogger Mike, at 1/06/2005 07:23:00 AM  

  • I just thought maybe you had forgot about Cal Thomas! :)

    A hearty AMEN on your statement concerning our being Christians first, and being committed to brothers and sisters all over the world......regardless of where their passport is from!!

    In HIM,
    DU

    By Blogger David U, at 1/06/2005 07:46:00 AM  

  • Mike,
    Thank you so much for your post today. As always it was thought provoking and convicting. It was also very timely as I have been struggling with the reality that I often let myself be completely unaffected by the world around me. While we are not of this world, we are in the world and while we are here I just hope that we will do all we can in the name of Christ to reach out to all of His children. I just wrote about this in my last blog and am still pondering where my heart is at here...my motives are often selfish, and worse than that, my response and action is often nonexistent. I am thankful for you and your ministry, and for the reminder once again that "to live is Christ"...
    I'm also thankful that my best friend married your son and that she is also my husband's cousin (wow...that was confusing)...all that to say, it was fun to have christmas in smithville with "cousin matt cope"!

    By Blogger tine, at 1/06/2005 08:00:00 AM  

  • Wow...for a moment I thought Mike had been body-snatched, and someone else was writing this comment. He wrote:

    "More and more, I want someone to help me see the world. I live in America. What a privilege. But my own tendency has been to fail to grasp what's happening in this world."

    I was reading quickly and it looked, for a second, like," More and more, I want someone to SEE me HELP the world."

    Good thing it didn't ring true, and I went back and read it.

    /Useless comment, I know.

    By Blogger Greg Kendall-Ball, at 1/06/2005 08:02:00 AM  

  • Tine -

    He married into a great family! And now that we're related, we expect you to sing at all Cope family gatherings (and to bring little Jack with you!). :)

    By Blogger Mike, at 1/06/2005 09:06:00 AM  

  • Indifference might be "his" greatest scheme.

    By Blogger Larry, at 1/07/2005 03:07:00 AM  

  • Here is another voice to add to the discussion:

    "We are six percent or less of the world's population, yet we give almost half. We are a very small number of people, relatively speaking, and we carry the weight of a dozen countries. Secondly, we maintain a military structure that keeps the peace of the world..... Who is in the Indian Ocean with the aircraft carriers, helicopters, skilled personal? No one has the infrastructure in the world, we spend almost half a trillion dollars a year on our military structure, which is essentially the fire department of the planet and it is always at the disposal of people hit in a national disaster..... Incidentally on food aid, we give 60% of all the food aid in the world. It is simply irresponsible to talk about the U.S. as anything other than the most generous nation on the planet." -- Charles Krauthammer

    By Blogger Jeff Slater, at 1/07/2005 09:51:00 PM  

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