“God has given us tremendous wealth and influence … what are we doing with it?” So, what are we doing, Catholics?
I had never watched a film that claimed it could change the world – I have now. 58, which premiered across Australia in late May, aims to trigger a global Christian movement that will eradicate extreme poverty within one generation.
It is no doubt a goal many may believe to be impossible, but it is this very sense of negativity that is the biggest barrier according to Dr Scott Todd, one of the film’s promoters.
During the DVD introduction of 58, Todd, Senior Advisor of Compassion International, shares an experience he had during a gathering of pastors.
“When I asked them what Scripture they first thought of when they thought of the poor, most of them quoted Matthew 26:11 when Jesus said, “You will always have the poor with you …”
It is a quote Todd believes has been taken out of context. He is right. It seems our world, in fact, has simply embraced poverty as a fact of life. As Christians, however, we cannot, and must not, accept this reality.
We cannot sit inactively in our churches and communities and allow thousands upon thousands of children to die of preventable diseases, starvation or contaminated water. This is the essence of 58.
To ignore this fact is to contradict many other Scriptures such as the story Jesus shared with his disciples immediately before he uttered the words above.
“When I was thirsty you gave me a drink, when I was hungry you gave me food to eat … when you did this to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt 25: 35 – 40).
The title, 58, in fact, is based on Isaiah, chapter 58, which mirrors Jesus’ call to “loose the chains of injustice”, “set the oppressed free” and “share your food with the hungry”.
It is why Todd is so adamant any attitude of hopelessness or apathy needs to be countered before full submersion into the full message of the film.
“The biggest reason the poor are still with us is simply this”, he says, “We expect they should be”. When viewed with the filter of Christianity, 58 becomes a vehicle of inspiration and hope.
There is no doubt viewers will be challenged by the lives of misery and oppression unapologetically thrust before them, but there is always a thread of hope that weaves its way through this film.
It is a good sign if one squirms uncomfortably as a burdened Ethiopian mother struggles to feed her children in a famine-ravaged village or a young boy sniffs glue in the slums of Kenya or girls are trafficked into prostitution in Kolkata or a young child in southern India looks up from the pile of rocks he is breaking and stares longingly into the camera, because this is a sign that we believe such extreme poverty is not acceptable.
But these moments are not designed to trigger a sense of guilt because they are interspersed with the moving testimonies of people who, by the grace of God, have been released from the bondages of poverty and oppression and returned to reach out to those still there.
The film is also punctuated by inspiring and challenging Scripture from Isaiah 58, emphasising our call as followers of Christ.
This is a film for all Christians, of all denominations. It is intended to ignite a flame of compassion within viewers, as they are exposed to a world as harsh as it is alien.
At its conclusion, all are encouraged to meditate on Isaiah 58 and to inspire churches and communities by taking screening kits to spread the message that we can no longer sit back and do nothing.
This is a film designed to break the shackles of helplessness that define our inactivity and motivate our sense of justice by recognising Christ in all.
Todd inspires us with statistics of hope. In 1981, he tells us, 52 per cent of the world was living in poverty; today, it is 26 per cent.
If numbers can drop like this in one generation, he states, we can be the generation that reduces it to zero.
There are 138,000,000 dedicated Christians in the US alone, he explains, with an annual income of $2.5 trillion.
Todd points out this level of economic power would make Christians the seventh richest country in the world and get them a seat on the G8.
“God has given us tremendous wealth and influence,” he challenges us. “What are we doing with it?”
58 is promoted and distributed by Compassion, an international, Christian, child advocacy ministry, and therefore viewers are encouraged to contribute to the wonderful networks of financial and spiritual support this ministry is involved in.
However, the call to eradicate extreme poverty in the world is directed to all Christians.
There are also many wonderful, life-changing ministries within the Catholic Church that have been making inroads in the war against poverty for many years.
But this call must be a unified effort from all who follow Christ. No matter what church we attend we cannot accept, nor ignore, the plight of those suffering each day. 58 is the wake-up call the Christian world needs.
There is no more time for talk – now is the time for action.
For more information or to view 58, go to: live58.org.au.