“MORE THAN 800 million people in the world are malnourished. More than a billion lack access to clean water. Six million children under the age of five die annually as a result of hunger. Three million children die each year from waterborne disease. More than 22 million people have died from AIDS, leaving at least 13 million children without mothers.” Statistics like these, contained in Boundless Faith: The Global Outreach of American Churches, by sociologist Robert Wuthnow, provoke responses ranging from activism to nervous avoidance to apathy. American Christians, who claim compassion for the poor and love of neighbor as core values, cannot, however, altogether avoid coming to new terms with global inequities and injustice as worldwide media access widens our awareness of the scale of human suffering.
In many of the places where such suffering is most acute, Christian faith is flourishing, sometimes in forms quite foreign to American Christians. Sometimes that faith brings sufferings of its own: Wuthnow reports that “more than 13 million Christians worldwide died between 1950 and 2000 under conditions that could be described as ‘martyrdom.’” Historically, the church thrives under persecution—and it is also the church’s task to challenge and resist those who persecute, whether they do so by direct violence or by economic oppression. For Christians, material abundance and safety come with responsibilities toward those who have neither.