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News: The Good News

It isn’t hard to feel overwhelmed by daily headlines that report the ills of the world, conflicts in far-off regions and tragedies that regularly strike all corners of the globe. But buried within the pessimistic talking points of cable news reporters and newspaper headlines, a story came out yesterday that claims things aren’t really that bad. And it contains research to back the bold claim: “World faces brighter future.” The global think tank at the American Council for the Tokyo-based United Nations University published the 2007 State of the Future report that says, “Although great human tragedies like Iraq and Darfur dominate the news, the vast majority of the world is living in peace, conflicts actually decreased over the past decade.”

Within the report, the researchers noted that in the last decade, African conflicts have fallen from a high of 16 in 2002 to just five in 2005. They also found that the number of refugees globally is falling. And though HIV/AIDS continue to spread quickly in parts of Eastern Europe and in Central and South Asia, it actually seems to have begun to level off in Africa and, thanks to international efforts, may actual decrease in years to come in the region. Globally, the report also found a higher life expectancy, higher literacy rates, lower rates of infant mortality, increases in GDP per capita and cited a growing number of Internet users.

Among the negatives noted in the report were global warming, terrorism, unemployment and a notable decrease in voting populations. Much of this was underscored by economic inequality figures: The poorest 50 percent of people in the world own just 1 percent of the world’s wealth, while 2 percent of the world’s richest own 50 percent of the world’s wealth. Along with practical solutions suggested in the report—which include breakthroughs in water desalination, education implementation and renewable energy development—narrowing the poverty gap remained high on the list of possible solutions to many problems still facing much of the world.

Recently, a group of Christians have been at the forefront of this movement, campaigning for third-world debt-relief legislation that would ease the financial burden on developing nations. Members of the organization Jubilee USA, along with followers of the movement and many Christian leaders, are currently in the middle of a 40-day fast that will be followed by a push for legislation that would forgive the debts of some the world’s poorest nations. The premise of their movement is based on the Old Testament notion of a “Sabbath Year”—a mandate by God to Israel to forgive all debts every seven years. The 2007 Jubilee movement has attracted the support of leaders including Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo. Along with partnering with anti-poverty organizations including the ONE campaign, Bread for the World and Oxfam, the group believes that by strategically moving for legislation, the gap between the richest and the poorest can be narrowed.

In an interview with RELEVANT, Jubilee USA National Field Organizer Brian Swarts explained the mission. “One of the most powerful quotes we use to describe the issue of debt today comes from the former president of Tanzania, speaking to the world’s rich leaders: ‘Must we starve our children to pay our debts?’ It is a statement that echoes Hebrew prophets, like Amos, who complains, ‘The people of Israel have sinned … They sell into slavery honest people who cannot pay their debts, the poor who cannot repay even the price of a pair of sandals’ (Amos 2:6-7, GNB).

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Swarts further explained, “In ancient Israel debt often became a vicious trap: The poor might lose their land to wealthy creditors. In the end, their only option might be to sell themselves or their children into slavery. The indefinite continuation of this process and the permanent enslavement of the poor is what jubilee was meant to address. Today, in the world’s most impoverished nations, we see a similar vicious debt trap. These countries can no longer afford to repay debts without neglecting their people’s basic needs. Just as in Amos’ time, we are living in a world that is seriously out of balance. Every day, 13 percent of the world’s population goes hungry and more than 30,000 children die of easily preventable diseases. By committing to the U.N. Millennium Development goals to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015, world leaders acknowledged that things need to change. The biblical practice of jubilee has a lot to say to us in our current context.”

With Christians taking an initiative to help those in need, the good news of a brighter future may be a foreseeable tomorrow.

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