At less than 1 percent of the federal budget — an amount analogous to the “widow’s mite” — foreign assistance promotes our values, our own prosperity and our nation’s security, all while providing a lifeline to the most vulnerable in the world, those Jesus called “the least of these.”
This isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. If the U.S. government isn’t on the ground saving lives and promoting recovery and development — in solidarity with thousands of American aid workers and American allies — then global crises will proliferate and cause destabilization that eventually reaches our shores.
In an increasingly unstable world, this small but vital account is the ounce of prevention that is worth a pound of cure. Former secretary of defense Robert Gates has said, “Economic development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.”
We hold out hope that new American leadership will seek to strengthen American resolve to act before crises escalate. Our country did not act soon enough in Syria. A famine has been declared in South Sudan, and three other countries are on the brink.
Every year, generous Americans, churches and foundations support the life-saving work of organizations like World Vision and Catholic Relief Services to keep vulnerable children alive and enable communities to work toward standing on their own. They expect our government to mirror their generosity. The U.S. government and faith-based organizations are powerful partners in eradicating the most egregious forms of poverty hindering human potential.
With poverty-focused international assistance at risk for deep cuts, more than 100 leaders in the Christian faith community expressed our support for foreign assistance in a letter to Congress. Evangelical, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and mainline Protestant leaders, as well as leaders from a wide array of networks, seminaries, ministries and mission agencies — cumulatively representing tens of millions of American donors — have signed this letter.
Like us, many of the signatories have seen firsthand how lives are saved. International assistance has transformed entire communities, in many cases providing the cornerstones of a strong economy — health care, education and livelihoods. Those strengthened communities today are home to millions of people able to pursue their God-given potential.
We witnessed the remarkable impact when President George W. Bush, with bipartisan support in Congress, created PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which has saved the lives of some 9 million people in numerous countries and continues to allow millions of babies to be born HIV-free.
U.S. foreign assistance also helps faith-based organizations and others care for mothers and their babies in the developing world, enabling women to have access to safe childbirth and improving the ability of infants to survive the first harrowing 28 days of life. A simple vaccine that immunizes children from preventable killer diseases yields a 16-fold return on investment — but these children’s lives are priceless.
This aid is not about nation-building, but rather spreading hope and goodwill in ways that raise America’s reputation around the world — and advance our own national economic interests.
Thanks to public and private investments, in the past 25 years we’ve seen the number of people living in extreme poverty slashed in half. The mortality rate for children under five has plummeted from 35,000 deaths per day in 1990 to under 17,000 today. Foreign aid works.
Loosening the chains of poverty and injustice allows people to become independent, free-thinking and productive. It opens the way for the “life in all its fullness” that Jesus promises in John 10:10.
The federal budget cannot be balanced on the backs of the poor. By drastically cutting foreign assistance, we risk the extraordinary gains we have made against hunger, disease and extreme poverty. It is penny-wise and pound-foolish to forfeit funding that does so much good in the world.
Richard Stearns is president of World Vision U.S. and the author of “The Hole in Our Gospel.” Sean Callahan is president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services.