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Faith, poverty and pasta – an unlikely combination

World Vision
22 February 2013 by Nils Von Kalm
Faith, poverty and pasta – an unlikely combination

Faith takes flight: World Vision works in countries of many faiths, including Afghanistan where this street children’s centre supports hundreds of kids. Photo by Chris Weeks, World Vision.

I have been fortunate to work with World Vision for almost 13 years now, and in that time I have been on quite a journey about what I think about life, the universe and everything.

Living in a country as affluent as Australia and being exposed to life as it is for the majority of the world, one thing I have quickly realised is how privileged I am.

As a Christian I also believe that God wants to make this world a better place. Most of the world doesn’t live as well as I do, and I want my life to be used by God to help others to be able to have the same opportunities that I have.

As a believer though I realise I am in the minority. The percentage of Australians who attend a church regularly these days is in single figures. And the most recent census shows that there is generally a more satirical attitude towards religion by many of us.

For instance, did you know that the number of people identifying as Jedi in this country has increased to 65,000? The number of people calling themselves ‘pastaferian’ – worshippers of pasta – has also increased. Now I love a good lasagne, but I’d hardly choose to dedicate my life to it!

It’s not just me in the minority in terms of what I’m committed to. As a largely secular country, most Australians are also in the minority.

The Pew Forum released a report in December showing that 84% of the world’s population has a religious outlook on life. This sort of information is crucial for how World Vision approaches its development work.

To do our most effective work, we first need to be familiar with the way people think about their lives.

For example, in a country like India, where the caste system is still very strong, if you ask someone why they are poor, they will say it is because they were born into the wrong caste. For them it is just their lot in life and it’s considered a sin to aspire to get out of that.

What does a development organisation do with that? How do we work with such different cultural and religious beliefs?

A country which has seen great success in this area is Senegal, which has a population that is 95% Muslim. Over there, World Vision is teaching staff to understand each other’s religions, as well as fostering mutual understanding and respect.

Building healthy relationships between religious leaders and members, and uniting them, allows us to take action together in support of child wellbeing.

These are some of the challenges and opportunities we confront in our work. Religious faith is a fact of life for the vast majority of the world, so the work of setting the world right involves us being sensitive to everyone’s worldview.

Nils Von Kalm works in Church and Advocacy at World Vision. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Nell and is passionate about showing how the Christian faith is relevant to all parts of life.  

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