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Stephen Offutt


Development Report Card

Evangelicals follow Jesus' command to love their neighbors—within limits.

Thuso Siziba was one of the lucky ones. He had a job, to begin with. Forty percent of Zimbabweans don't. But Thuso earned enough to eat one good meal a day, in a country where that isn't to be taken for granted. He knew almost as many languages (three) as he had shirts (four). He had severe problems with his eyes but no money for treatment.

Thuso was my partner in ministry in Masvingo, Zimbabwe. Poverty such as he and countless others experience is slow, grinding, and pervasive, wearing ruthlessly on the societies over which it lords. The numbers are telling: two million people in Africa alone die of AIDS each year; 33,000 children die every day from largely preventable diseases; between 1943 and 1992 an estimated 149 major wars plagued our world, the majority of which took place in developing countries. But the pain of poverty runs far deeper than numbers can measure.

In spite of the vast need, donor fatigue has forced international organizations and U.S. government initiatives to operate with continually shrinking budgets. Globally, the World Bank reported that official development finance dropped an astonishing 29 percent between 1990 and 1996. Nationally, the 1999 U.S. Census Bureau indicates that between 1995 and 1997, U.S. foreign aid for economic assistance was reduced by 19 percent.

In the face of these trends, evangelical development efforts have grown steadily, and their performance has not gone unnoticed. USAID has been increasingly willing to fund organizations such as World Vision, Opportunity International, and World Relief, accounting for as much as 40 percent of their annual budgets. Indeed, evangelicals seem poised to help fill the emerging development gap in a great and mighty way. But do they have a strategy? A solution? If so, is it any different from the World Bank's?

The evangelical community is concerned first and foremost with spreading the gospel of Christ, as it should be, for the Christian message alleviates spiritual poverty. But poverty cannot ...

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