1.4 billion. According to the World Bank, that's the number of people living in poverty. It's a number that was revised upward last year – by close to 50 percent.
How do you reference a number so big? The significance becomes apparent when a news video or a face-to-face encounter provides some glimpse into the lives that make up that number– real people who, like everyone, want a better existence for themselves and the people they love.
Oxford professor Paul Collier commented in The New York Times on prospects for improving the lives of the world's poorest people. Writing from Zambia, where the average per capita annual income is about $921, Mr. Collier noted that, although the number of poor people in China and India far exceeds that of Africa, a greater increase in Chinese and Indian incomes is providing people with an important ingredient: hope. He observed, "hope makes a difference in people's ability to tolerate poverty; parents are willing to sacrifice as long as their children have a future.… Our top priority should be to provide credible hope where it has been lacking" (Sept. 22, 2008).
In times of adversity, even slight improvements in income or health brighten a person's outlook. But Collier makes an important qualification. For hope to be meaningful, it must be credible. Real hope rests on something more solid than increased income or economic development, important as they are. In "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Mary Baker Eddy addressed the hope that Collier speaks of as grounded in something that never fluctuates. It's a moral quality that people progressively recognize within themselves as they learn more about their nature as God's expression. Along with other important qualities such as humanity, honesty, affection, compassion, faith, and meekness, hope resonates with spiritual power, and is capable of transitioning humans out of the depths of deprivation and into the conviction of God's powerful healing love (see pp. 115-116).
Some may feel far removed from those around the globe suffering abject poverty, and think there's little they can do to kindle hope in people who seem far removed from the ability to access such spiritual concepts. But anyone who sincerely wants to can, in the precincts of his or her own thoughts, play a part in helping those billions who are in need of comfort and healing. This involves nurturing one's own understanding of God's presence and willingness to aid, an understanding that won't give up because the hunger or the homelessness looks overwhelming. Whenever a neighbor across the street, or even a country across the globe, seems sunk in despair, that's when they most need the balm of prayer acknowledging that God never abandons His children.
We can't give the world a reason to hope – not in and of ourselves. But God can. Prayer that recognizes God's impartial supply of hope and inspiration can help open mental doors in those seeking a better life, and in those hungering for new solutions to poverty at home and abroad. At poverty's core is the belief that there can be a dearth of ideas and the courage to pursue them – and only an all-nurturing divine Mind can remove that want and supply the human heart's deepest needs.
The saving hope that Jesus preached – the Christ-message that promises we can heal as he did – is here today. Surely this includes helping lift humanity out of despair, as we come to understand what he taught. Everyone has a spiritual identity as God's perfect creation – healthy, whole, nourished, satisfied.
Jesus encountered staggering numbers of people in need – "multitudes" – and was "moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd." And through this compassion, he went about "healing every sickness and every disease among the people" (Matt. 9:36, 35). Perhaps our compassionate prayer to express Christly love will be enough to precipitate that much-needed "credible hope" in the hearts of today's multitudes.
Adapted from the Christian Science Sentinel.