The theme of the 2010 Florida Annual Conference is "Transforming the World by Eradicating Extreme Poverty." You may be wondering where this phrase, "extreme poverty," comes from.
I did not make it up. It comes from the United Nations Millenium Declaration in September, 2000. This declaration was approved by world leaders who gathered for what was called the Millenium Summit.
The 192 nations of the United Nations and 23 international organizations have adopted 8 international development goals. In order to spur action, these goals were adopted to be achieved by 2015. The first goal is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Just so that you have some perspective, here are all of the 8 goals:
Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Achieve universal primary education
Promote gender equality and empower women
Reduce child mortality rates
Improve maternal health
Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
Ensure environmental sustainability
Develop a global partnership for development
The first goal is a critical one. "Extreme poverty" is defined as the most severe state of poverty. It is quantified as the number of people who live on less than $1.25 a day in United States dollars. 1.4 billion people in the world fall into this category! 54.9% of the population of Haiti lives in extreme poverty. 54.3% of the population of Angola lives in extreme poverty.
The actual targets of this goal to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger are to halve the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day; to achieve decent employment for women, men, and young people; and to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.
You are probably thinking this is an audacious goal or even an impossible goal. Yet consider this fact: a smaller percentage of the world's population lives in extreme hunger now than at any other time in the history of our civilization. During the 20th century the percentage of the world's population living in extreme poverty has fallen from 59% to 19%. So then, it is not as if no progress is being made. Indeed, much human energy is being spent on this great cause, and it seems plausible that extreme poverty can be eradicated.
Of course, there will still be poverty. For example, in the affluent United States, 12% of our population lives below the poverty line.
The church of Jesus Christ has always understood that obeying our Lord and following his teaching leads us into ministry with and to the poor. Our first responsibility is always our nearest neighbors. In whatever way we can, we can also try to touch the world with our service. In our conference, our covenant with the Methodist Church in Haiti and our partnership with the East Angola Conference provide us opportunities to do this.
At our annual conference we shall be able to hear the Rev. Dr. David Beckman of Bread for the World, who will help us see the big picture, the one being addressed by the Millenium Goals of the United Nations.
We shall also hear about the campaign to End Childhood Hunger Now in Florida and the ecumenical mission of ECHO.
I hope this time together will educate and inspire our churches in participating in God's work in the world to eradicate extreme poverty and to serve the needy in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.