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To the extreme 

Is it possible?

Compassion International, a Christian nonprofit based on Voyager Parkway, announced last week that it is working with nine other international nonprofits to — get this — eliminate extreme poverty worldwide by 2035.

Dr. Scott Todd, senior ministry advisor at Compassion International, is admittedly overwhelmed. "Every day I wake up and think, 'Am I really that delusional? We're going to end extreme poverty? Yeah, right.'"

Currently 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day. But fixing this, Todd says, actually can be done.

Todd is one of the architects of 58:, the network that these 10 nonprofits have formed. Each specializes in anti-poverty work, he says, ranging from water safety and food security to microenterprise and community development. Together, they are developing a framework of best practices that can be taught to smaller nonprofits around the world.

At live58.org, you see a major aspect of their mission: connecting donors with some of these enterprises. For instance, Helping Haiti Rebuild, a project backed by network member Living Water International, hopes to raise a modest $2,000 when things get rolling.

"We haven't even really pulled the trigger yet," Todd says.

Obviously. The network has only about 700 followers on Facebook and has yet to get major media attention. But this fall, 58: intends to release a full-length documentary on global poverty. And Todd's book, Fast Living: How the Church Will End Extreme Poverty, will also come out.

Todd says that there is no better time than now for this kind of effort. As he notes, over the past 30 years, amazing advances have been made in combating the effects and causes of extreme poverty.

Since 1981 there has been a 50 percent reduction in people living in extreme poverty, while 600 million people have gained access to clean drinking water.

"Malaria is on the decline. HIV is on the decline. Literacy rates are climbing," he says. "There is so much evidence of progress."

Right now is also the perfect time, he says, because the Christian world is re-awakening to its charge to care for the needy.

He points to Rick Warren's 2003 book, The Purpose Driven Life, which sold 30 million copies in its first four years. Oddly, the word "poverty" was not mentioned once in the book, Todd says. The word "justice" was used only once in a casual reference, while "the poor" were mentioned twice.

But today, Warren has become fully engaged in the poverty crisis in Africa.

"Rick Warren has become a key evangelical leader in the space of concern for the poor. He is sending thousands of members of his church to Africa every year."

Todd calls that a case study for a broader shift occurring in the American Christian church. There are 138 million Christians in America, according to Todd, bringing home an annual $2.5 trillion in income.

"We have $2.5 trillion in the hands of people who believe that Jesus is the Son of God and who consider the Bible to be the word of God," he says. "Why not just talk about what that book tells followers of Jesus Christ about how they ought to live?"

The name 58: comes from the 58th chapter of Isaiah, an Old Testament prophet who scolded the people of God for being hypocrites when it came to caring for the needy.

It's just as critical, Todd says, for Christians to hear the message now.

chet@csindy.com

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