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16 November 2005

Derek Webb On Poverty, Africa, And The Gospel

Just to let you know right off the bat, this one is going to be long as hell (and I even cut several paragraphs). Grab some coffee if you need to. I mentioned in the comments to my earlier Derek Webb post that I would also be posting his thoughts on Africa. These are those thoughts.

Webb gave pretty much this exact talk on Friday night, but I transcribed this from audio from an earlier concert. There's one additional excellent point that Webb made on Friday to us that isn't here, so I'll chime in with that later, perhaps in the comments, or maybe in another post. And while you're at it, Nicole, Zalm and Brandon have all been talking about these sorts of things lately, in one way or another, so check them out as well.

At any rate, here's some more rambling by a musician:

I want to tell you really briefly about an organization that I've been working with the last couple of years that I'm just so excited about the work they're doing. And I think it's the most important thing I'll tell you tonight, certainly more important than any of my stupid songs or anything. And I think that it would just be more of a waste of time to not tell you about this. I would gladly come all the way from Tennessee just to tell you the following. And if getting you in here to hear this takes me playing some songs right before and after then I'm happy to do that.

But there's an organization that's called the Blood Water Mission. For those of you who are not familiar with the Blood Water Mission, I'll just tell you briefly about what it is they do and then really briefly why I think it's so important that we get involved with this kind of work.

The Blood Water Mission is an organization that was started by our friends in the band Jars of Clay. Some of you guys have probably heard of Jars....Jars have spent a lot of time over the last five or six years over visiting and keeping a close eye on what’s happening in some of the poorest areas of Africa.

Now before anybody rolls your eyes at the mention of Africa, because I know that it's gotten a lot of press over the last year or year and a half, let me just assure you really quick that the press that Africa has received over the last year or two is in no way proportionate to the tremendous need, the tremendous devastation, that we have even yet to hear about over there. It just doesn't even come close. So if you're sick of hearing about, you know maybe, the conditions of what's going on over in Africa right now, just imagine how the sick the people who are living in those conditions must be, considering that we have the luxury of just now hearing about something that has literally been the conditions they've lived in for generations over there. We're just hearing about it. So let me just assure you of that up front.

But as Jars of Clay were over there and visiting and just seeing what's happening there, the conditions that our neighbors there are living in, they wanted to try do something and they wanted to try to do one thing and do it really well, rather than trying to do everything for everybody, which there are some organizations who try to do. And that's very ambitious and I support that as well, but I really appreciate the fact that Jars are trying to focus on doing one thing really well. And that's exactly what they're doing.

What we are in the process of doing right now, what Blood Water Mission is trying to do right now, is to build 1000 clean water wells in the poorest areas of Africa, 1000 water wells that can purify water for folks to drink. And that seems pretty elementary to us here. Cause, I mean, I can count five bottles of clean water on this stage right now. You can go anywhere in this building and turn on the faucet and get clean water. I mean, that's not a concern we have over here in the West.

But over in Africa right now, we've got our neighbors living in what's known as extreme poverty. It's something that we have scarcely ever seen here. Now do we have some very poor people with some desperate situations that need to be addressed here in our country? You better believe we do. But it's just not really much of anything compared to this extreme poverty that we're talking about that our neighbors over in Africa are right now living in. It's the kind of poverty that you simply can't get a drink of water and you die from it. Folks living on less than a dollar a day. It's a situation where we have mothers with their children having to walk 12 to 15 miles every single day to the nearest water to fill huge canisters and carry them all the way, 12 to 15 miles back, just to have water for their families to drink, just to keep themselves alive.

But unfortunately a lot of the water that they often can get to is not clean water. A lot of the diseases that are traveling around over there, it's not just HIV and AIDS, it's malaria and TB, there's a lot of really bad stuff going around and a lot of it travels in this dirty water. And so little do these families that travel all this great distance every day, little do they know that in these huge canisters that they are carrying all the way 15 miles back are the very diseases that will eventually kill them and their families. It's just a desperate situation.

And so Blood Water Mission has been trying to build these wells. We've built about 50 or 60 wells so far. We're not going to stop till we get to 1000. They don't cost very much to build. It's about $3000 a well to build these things, which is just pennies if you think about the tremendous impact that it has on these communities of people who are absolutely no different than us. There is absolutely no difference between them and us, except for the fact that we were born into the wealthiest nation on the planet, and they were not. It's just, it's a tremendous need over there. What they need is right beneath their feet, they just can't get to it. They can't purify it. And so that's what Blood Water Mission is trying to do.

Because many of us just go through life and have no idea the conditions that our neighbors are living in. And we just simply, especially as Christians, we just can't live like that. Jesus is concerned with the building of his kingdom and that involves every tribe, tongue and people group. Heaven, you'll be shocked to find out, will not be filled with Caucasion Americans. We'll be the vast minority there. And so we need to start to concern ourselves with things of the kingdom, which involves, again, every tribe, tongue and people group. It involves people who are suffering anywhere for any reason. Because we know that right now in Africa there are 6500 people who die every single day, every single day, due to poverty related issues: AIDS, disease, hunger, thirst, preventable, treatable things.

These are all needs that we have resources to meet. And when asked what the greatest commandments were, Jesus said to love God and love our neighbor. When asked who our neighbors were, Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan, which put a context on it to mean that our neighbor is anybody with need that we have resources to meet, regardless of their race, regardless of their religion, regardless of their morality, regardless of if you like or agree with them, regardless of if they are your enemy. That's what the story of the good Samaritan tells us. This was Jesus' answer to who are our neighbors. It's the second greatest commandment.

We spend all this time as Christians busy doing all these other things. Not that these other things aren't important, but all the other things we're busy with are peripheral, are secondary at best, to Jesus' answer to that question, to who is our neighbor. So we have got to learn to tune our ears to the cries of the poorest people in the world. Cause you don't have to read much further than Matthew 25 to see that Jesus put a special emphasis on the poor and the sick and the weak. And that is where we should be putting our emphasis as well.

The reason that this kind of work is so important, I believe, for the church is if for no other reason than because the church is the only institution on the planet that has the moral imperative to go and to love and take care of people. It's not the government's job. We make it the government's job by the fact that we aren't doing anything about it. It's good that the government is increasing their spending and, you know, the American government started very, very low when it came to giving to countries like this. Very low. Now we have increased it quite a bit but we are still way, way, way behind all the other countries in the world as far as giving. But the bottom line is it's not even really our government's job. It's the church's job. The government should have to get in line behind us to go and to love and take care of these people. We are the only ones with the moral imperative who are commanded by our savior to love our neighbors and to go and take care of them.

Cause the thing is, we forget sometimes as Christians that, you know, we concern ourselves with proclaiming the gospel. And that's the right thing for us to be concerning ourselves with. But we forget that there's two sides to the gospel coin, if you will. There's the coming of Jesus, there's one who has come who has made intercession, who has made a way for us to be back in right relationship with the father, one who has kept the law perfectly on our behalf, who we can put our faith in and have right relationship with him. That's one half of the gospel. That's where we focus most of our energy.

But then there's the other part of the gospel we forget, which is also the proclamation of his kingdom coming. It's Jesus and his kingdom coming. But we forget the second part, his kingdom coming. It's the being made right of all things. We're to proclaim that. It's a kingdom where there will be no hunger, no poverty, no thirst, no disease, no war, no disaster in our world. It's that kingdom that we are to proclaim.

And how is the best way we can do that? I think one of the primary ways we can proclaim that kingdom coming is by putting our hands to the being made right of all things. You see someone who is hungry? You proclaim to them a kingdom where there will be no hunger, where that will be made right, by putting food in their mouth. You see someone who is sick? You proclaim to that person a kingdom where there will be no disease by caring for them or giving them life saving drugs.

This is the highest of our callings to proclaim this to people. I really believe that that's what Saint Francis might have meant when he said to "go and proclaim the gospel at all times and if necessary use words." That's a great quote and I've never quite understood it, but I'd like to think that what Francis meant by that was to go and proclaim the coming of the kingdom of Jesus by putting our hands to the being made right of all things. And if necessary we can also tell them outright that there is one who has come. If they don't see him and his beauty in the way that we love and defend their dignity, then we can also just come right out and tell them. But we must do all of that, in fact, to proclaim the whole gospel.

So I want to give you an opportunity to do that tonight. So as you're leaving, if you wouldn't mind. We can certainly spare just a few moments of our time for our poorest neighbors on the planet. Nearly half of sub-Saharan Africa living, right now, in extreme poverty. Nearly half. Again, 6500 people dying every single day. It's like the Twin Towers falling twice a day, ever day, in Africa. Every day, twice a day, you can set your watch to it. And that number is going up all the time.

We have the resources to meet these needs. We have the moral imperative to do it. This is the Lord's work. This is the largest concentration of the poorest people in the world. This is absolutely the Lord's work to do this.

And, so, please do something though. Please do something. The only way that you can know this is going on and not do something about it is if you've got yourself convinced that these people are just not like us. That they're just not human. They are human. They are exactly like us. They are people with dreams and talents and families and senses of humor and stories. They're just like us and if anyone ever tries to tell you different, that is just a lie from the pit of hell. Cause these people are exactly like us.

And imagine if there were 6500 people dying here in our country or if it was your family. Wouldn't we be stirred to get involved? Wouldn't we be stirred to do something? But, see, the truth of it is that that's exactly what's happening. This is our family. These are our neighbors, who we are commanded to love and to take care of. We can't leave this to our government. It's just not their job. We need to do this work. This is the Lord's business.

So, please everybody, go back there and just have a look and see what's happening back at the Blood Water Mission table. I'm going to play a song now that was written by a guy named Woody Guthrie, who I think would have had a lot to say about this particular issue. He was a great hero of Bob Dylan's and any great hero of Bob Dylan's is a great hero of mine. I think it speaks directly to this issue.

And as I'm playing this song, I want you to think about one last thing. Cause I want to be just crystal clear about something. This is not an opportunity for you to go and buy God's favor. Christians love stuff like this mainly for one reason and that is because you go back there and put your dollar in there or something, or you buy your bracelet, or whatever you're going to do, and you feel like you've just secured just a bit more of God's favor. That God loves you just a little bit more now than he did just before, or if you hadn't done anything at all.

And I'm not here to manipulate you. I'm not going to try and guilt you into doing something. Here's the truth. If you're a person here tonight who's put your faith in Jesus, if you're a follower of Jesus in here tonight, here's the good news. Jesus has loved the poor perfectly on your behalf. He has already done this for you. He's done it perfectly. And that's your righteousness. That is the thing that earns favor with the father for you now and forever in glory, and there is not a thing you can do about it. There is not enough you could give to make God love you more and there is not a sin you can commit that would make him love you less. He will never love you any differently, in fact, than he loves you right this second, not in the depths of your worst sin and not one day in glory will God love you any different than he loves you right now if your faith is in Jesus. That's the truth.

So the only reason that I want you to go back there and give is in response to God's kindness. It's his kindness that leads us to repentance. It's his kindness that leads us to action. It's his kindness that leads us to get involved with things like this. Never fear, fear of guilt, fear of performance, fear that you don't have his favor, trying to earn that, trying to buy that. You couldn't give enough. You just couldn't give enough. Jesus has done this on your behalf.

So that's the reason I want you to give. I want you to do it out of freedom and out of joy and out of liberty. Because I've heard too many of my brothers and sisters get up at a place like this and try to get people to get involved, for Pete's sake, with the emergency that's going on over in Africa with our neighbors. And then at the end of it, tell people that God is going to judge you, he's going to judge me, based on our response to Africa. He's going to judge us based on our response to what happens in Africa. And that is, again, just an outright lie. I'm not here to tell you that.

God has already judged and punished Jesus for the fact that we don't love people well, for the fact that we have failed at this. It's already been dealt with on your behalf. And Jesus has done it perfectly. And that's all you've got, now and forever. And that's all you need. You don't need to do this to make God love you. So if you're going back there to put your money in there believing you're earning God's favor, well you know what, go ahead and put your money in there anyway because we need your money. But once you've done that, come and find somebody and let's talk about that and we can sort all the rest of that out for you, OK? Because I don't want you to live in fear. I want you to live with joy and liberty. Do this because it would just simply please your father to do it. Not cause it will make him love you a tiny bit more, cause it won't. But just because it would please him for you to do it.

Comments on "Derek Webb On Poverty, Africa, And The Gospel"


Blogger Dan Trabue said ... (11/23/2005 09:05:00 AM) : 

I'm seeing that our good conservative brothers over at


are starting to criticize Webb, so he must be doing something right.

Nutty Christians and their following in-his-steps-what-would-JD silliness...


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