Joel Edwards describes one of the greatest privileges of his life.
One of the most engaging and inspiring things for me was when, in the year 2000, nations around the world said, we want to do something about extreme poverty – over a billion people living on less than a dollar a day. And the millennium development goals were initiated in September 2000. One of the greatest privileges of my life was to stand with civil society, with governments around the world, and in our work in Micah Challenge, for 10 years – and that work is still going on – to challenge and support governments in this decision to do something about the world’s extreme poor.
I think what that demonstrated wasn’t just the fact that we wanted to preach about poverty on a Sunday – in fact, many of us did not – but that our commitment as Christians to hope, our commitment to the future, our commitment to human dignity, was … found an opportunity to engage in a partnership with civil society, with government, for some of the world’s most marginalised people, and so the work of Micah Challenge, the work of fighting extreme poverty in these eight promises, served us well. Firstly, because if anybody understands the concept of promise, certainly Christians ought to, because the whole Christian faith is based on the idea of promise. But it also gave us an opportunity to engage as equal partners with civil society, to practicalise our faith on behalf of the poor and the marginalised.
And we finished off with a brilliant event – if I say so myself – at the UN, celebrating what the world had achieved in delivering elements of the MDGs, but also expressing sorrow for those things we failed to accomplish from our promises. So we called the events Celebration and Sorrow, and the idea was to do precisely that, to say thank you to God for what had been achieved, to say thank you to our nations and our governments for what had been achieved – many more children educated, diseases like malaria really being attacked, HIV AIDS – and yet saying, Lord, we’re really sorry, things like the environment, things like extreme hunger, we’d fallen behind on. We were beginning to become more conscious of things like the presence of corruption as the greatest obstacle to accomplishing our promises to the poor. And so the opportunity to celebrate and sorrow I think expressed where we were as the Millennium Development Goals, the MDGs, began to morph into the Sustainable Development Goals.
One of the great things, I think, which the world should be encouraged by is that, although together we had not delivered everything we had promised, at least now the world had for the first time an agreed vocabulary about poverty, and an agreed shared statement about human dignity in relation to poverty which was carried forward in the SDGs. And so, rather than having abandoned these MDGs – you know, four years after they started, you know, it seemed like a good idea when it started, we’re not so sure now – the whole commitment of promise to the poor has been sustained and is now unavoidable in political discourse. I think that’s progress to be built on for the future.