My friends have helped me see the deadly consequences of the growing gap between rich and poor. A wise African religious leader named Jose Chipenda challenged me with a stark perspective on this situation. When I met him Rev. Chipenda was about to retire after two decades of service as head of the All Africa Council of Churches. He listened to my explanation of the United Religions Initiative with the skepticism that many people from the south and east have when they listen to someone from the north and west promoting yet another good idea for how to save the world.
When I finished talking, he said, before I would support this initiative, I would have to know what it would do for three groups of people I have come to know in my years in this work. The first group is those people who are born to die. The conditions they are born into are so harsh and the spark of life in them so weak that they are in this world only a brief time before that spark is extinguished and they die. What would this effort for a better world do for those people who are born to die? The second group, and it is enormous, is those people who are born only to survive. They will spend their entire lives struggling each day to sustain the physical spark of life. What would this work for a better world do for those people who are born only to survive? The third group, and this group is tiny, is those people who are born truly to live. They are blessed with abundance, though they often are blind to it, and they have the opportunity to thrive in this life. What would this work for a better world ask of and offer to those people who are born to thrive?
I carry those questions with me every day; and I have to believe that an important part of our education is to instill in each person a recognition that all three groups Jose Chipenda identified are part of the human family. We are all sisters and brothers, part of the same web of life; and those of us privileged to be born to thrive must not forget our less fortunate sisters and brothers, whether they are living next door to us or halfway around the world.
Charles Gibbs was the founding Executive Director of United Religions Initiative. He has published a book of poetry, and currently is working on a subsequent book.