New & Noteworthy

Educating All God's Children: What Christians Canand ShouldDo to Improve Public Education for Low-Income Kids by Nicole Baker Fulgham / Bidder 70 / Just Spirituality: How Faith Practices Fuel Social Action by Mae Elise Cannon / Courage to Think Differently by George S. Johnson

Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Julie Polter is Senior Associate Editor at Sojourners.

'Girl Rising:' Changing the World, One Story at a Time

Photo courtesy the filmmakers

10×10 behind the scenes. World Vision Drop-in center, India. Photo courtesy the filmmakers

In her 1968 poem, “The Speed of Darkness,” the late American poet Muriel Rukeyser penned the line, “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”

While the medium is different, a new feature-length documentary, Girl Rising, also bares witness to the same truth in poetic images and stories of girls from around the world.

Through the vivid accounts of nine girls from the developing world — Cambodia, Nepal, Peru, Afghanistan, Egypt, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Haiti, and India — and their valiant struggles for the right to be educated, Girl Rising articulates a universal truth: Educating girls ensures a safer, healthier and more prosperous world for all of us.

The film, a project of the 10×10 Campaign to educate and empower girls, paired a girl in each locale with an accomplished writer — novelists, journalists, and screenwriters — from their own developing country to help craft and tell the stories in the girls’ own words.

WATCH: Elizabeth Smart on Human Trafficking, Limits of Abstinence Education

 Ida Mae Astute/ABC via Getty Images

Elizabeth Smart talks about her new campaign against child exploitation on GMA. Ida Mae Astute/ABC via Getty Images

Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped from her home in Salt Lake City and held in captivity for nine months in 2002 at age 14, spoke out about her experience at a human trafficking panel at Johns Hopkins University last week. Her main focus: educating children and giving them the skills to fight back.

She recounted her own experience in abstinence education. 

I remember in school one time, I had a teacher who was talking about, well about abstinence. And she said, 'Imagine that you're a stick of gum, and when you engage in sex, that's like getting chewed. And then if you do that lots of times, you're going to become an old piece of gum, and who's going to want you after that?'

… for me, I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I'm that chewed up piece of gum. Nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away.' 

And that's how [easy] it is to feel like you no longer have worth; you no longer have value. Why would it even be worth scraping up? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life no longer has value. 

Watch the full speech here. 

U.S. Christians Rally Around Homeschooling Family Facing Deportation

Chalkboard image, Sam72 /

Chalkboard image, Sam72 /

When Uwe and Hannelore Romeike’s asylum case is argued on Tuesday before a panel of federal judges, their lawyers won’t talk about poverty, war, or any of the reasons most immigrants cite in their bid to stay in the U.S.

Instead, they’ll focus on a parent’s right to teach their children at home, which isn’t allowed in the Romeikes’ native Germany. There, homeschooling families face fines, jail time and even loss of custody if their children are not enrolled in a traditional school.

The Romeikes’ lawyers will also talk about their right to teach the Bible during the school day – an angle that has spurred more than 100,000 U.S. conservatives to sign a petition to let the family stay in Tennessee, where they’ve made their home since 2008.

Changing Poverty Into Opportunity: A Moral Cause To Bring Us Together

Aerial view of Pennsylvania Avenue, Orhan Cam /

Aerial view of Pennsylvania Avenue, Orhan Cam /

I know I am not the only one who is sick and tired of Washington’s manufactured crises around budget and deficit debates. Brinksmanship has replaced statesmanship in trying to find a sound path to fiscal responsibility. It is time to make the right moral choices that will defend the most vulnerable and pursue an opportunity agenda to reduce the highest poverty rate in 50 years.

Ideological debates over the role of government are the real battle in the nation’s capital — more than the debt crisis. Political calculations about the next election are more important to many of our political leaders than the common good of the country.

It’s just time to move on from the partisan politics that has polarized and paralyzed us for so long — by committing ourselves to moral issues that could and should bring us together. The first will be comprehensive immigration reform, which will change the lives of 12 million people in this country, lift many out of poverty, and help the economy at the same time. This is a clear example of how the faith community has changed, and now come together to become a political game changer in Washington, D.C., at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue on both sides of the aisle.

And it’s time to make another moral commitment in the midst of our growing economic recovery — to include poor families and change poverty into opportunity. Fighting poverty must not be a partisan issue. When we look at both the causes and the solutions, this battle should bring both liberals and conservatives together. Overcoming poverty, by creating opportunity, happens because of three very basic things that most of us can agree on: family, education, and work. All three are crucial and necessary in moving people out of poverty and into opportunity.

Let’s break it down.

In Kabul, Widows and Orphans Move Up

Photo courtesy Kathy Kelly.

Zainab, Umalbanin, Ali, Kathy, and Martha going up the mountainside. Photo courtesy Kathy Kelly.

Kabul —Yesterday, four young Afghan Peace Volunteer members, Zainab, Umalbanin, Abdulhai, and Ali, guided Martha and me along narrow, primitive roads and crumbling stairs, ascending a mountain slope on the outskirts of Kabul. The icy, rutted roads twisted and turned. I asked if we could pause as my heart was hammering and I needed to catch my breath. Looking down, we saw a breathtaking view of Kabul. Above us, women in bright clothing were navigating the treacherous roads with heavy water containers on their heads or shoulders. I marveled at their strength and tenacity. “Yes, they make this trip every morning,” Umalbanin said, as she helped me regain my balance after I had slipped on the ice.  

About 10 minutes later, we arrived at the home of Khoreb, a widow who helped us realize why so many widows and orphans live in the highest ranges of the mountain.  Landlords rent one-room homes at the cheapest rates when they are at this isolating height; many of the homes are poorly constructed and have no pipes for running water. This means the occupants, most often women, must fetch water from the bottom of the hill each and every morning. A year ago, piped water began to reach some of the homes, but that only meant the landlords charged higher rent, so women had to move higher up the mountain for housing they can afford. It only made their daily water-carrying longer and more arduous.


Getting Children Out of Work and Into School

 PavelSvoboda /

Photo: Unidentified young boys work hard as porters instead going to school: PavelSvoboda /

Beau Underwood reminded us at this year’s Sojourners’ Christmas chapel that Jesus was not born into a calm, peaceful world in a serene nativity scene. It was a chaotic world in which the Jews were oppressed by Roman rule and Jesus’ very act of being born freaked Herod out, resulting in a mass genocide of baby boys. All was not calm and peaceful as the birth of Jesus challenged the sinful powers and structures of the world from the very start of his life.

This Christmas the world remains a very frightening and chaotic place for many children around the world. Jim Wallis and I met with former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown just a few days ago and Gordon told us about a group of children in Delhi, India who were being held in unspeakable conditions — forced to work for up to 15 hours a day making Christmas decorations. 

Children! Forced slave labor, some of them as young as 8 years old, imprisoned, beaten, and required to make decorations intended celebrate the birth of the savior of the world. Making matters worse, these are only a few of millions of young children trafficked into slave labor around the world all year long. What horrible irony.