The Common Good

Church emissary takes a stand against poverty

Date: April 12, 2009

Virgil Williams of Clementon knows firsthand what kind of impact a bad economy can have on a family. At 64, she is the only safety net for her daughter, a single mother who is raising teenagers.

Three years ago, her daughter lost a high-paying job in the insurance industry and everything that went with it: Independence. Security. Health insurance. A home. She hasn't been able to find good, steady work since the layoff.

"She came back home to live with me," said Williams, who retired from a management position with Acme Markets. "If she didn't have me, she and her two children would have been homeless."

It's stories like this that are driving Williams and thousands of Christians like her to attend a three-day conference later this month in Washington, D.C., called the Mobilization To End Poverty. It will be held April 26-29.

Hosted by the Christian ministry, Sojourners, and sponsored by the Christian humanitarian organization, World Vision, the gathering hopes to focus national attention on reducing poverty in the United States and around the world.

The organization's goals are to cut American poverty rates by half in the next decade, and to take a leadership role in reducing extreme global poverty.

It wants quality health care for all, beefed-up federal nutrition programs, improved education and housing, mental health and drug treatment for those who need it, compassionate immigration policies and changes in the tax laws to benefit low-income people.

Among the speakers are politicians and religious leaders. President Barack Obama has been invited to give a major address on poverty. There will be workshops to discuss how poverty affects the environment, women, peace, health care and more. Sojourners is arranging visits between the participants and their senators and congressional representatives on Capitol Hill Day.

It will be a chance for Williams to put a face on the need for universal health care, for example. Williams' daughter and grandchildren have no health insurance, and they have been unable to get insurance coverage through the state.

Williams will represent her congregation, St. John's United Methodist in West Berlin, which is paying for the cost of her trip. Williams believes it's work "our Lord would approve of."

"He has given the directive that we are to help those who are less fortunate," said Williams. "We are to care for them and just do what we can. We have to ask the question, "Who is our neighbor?' Our neighbor isn't always the people who live next door. Our neighbor is now the world."

Reach Kim Mulford at (856) 486-2448 or


The Mobilization To End Poverty will be held April 26-29 in Washington, D.C. The conference includes numerous guest speakers, workshops, worship and a Capitol Hill Day, when participants can lobby their representatives.

Registration is $299 per person, $199 for students, and $99 for one day. Group discounts and a special college rate is available.

To register, visit