In increasing numbers, young adults are expressing a desire to "make a difference" in a world that is torn by disease, poverty, terror and the ravages of war. An article in The Washington Times ("Youth Volunteerism at 50 Year High, Study Finds," Nov. 20, 2002) noted that among teens and young adults, volunteerism and a desire to serve by helping others in the community and the world is at its highest level in more than 50 years. Chances are that you also have a desire to do your part to bring desperately needed humanitarian aid to a strife-torn world—especially since the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
A world in need. In recent travels to West Africa, I came to see just how much in need so many people are in this part of the world. Infectious disease and poverty kill more than the continuing bloody conflicts that plague many countries in the region.
The Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C., reports that in the past year more than 13 million children have lost a parent due to AIDS, 14.4 million people died from infectious disease and there were 12 million international refugees. These are just a few examples of a world where human suffering is rampant. While the global economy has grown sevenfold since 1950, the disparity in per capita income between the 20 richest and 20 poorest nations has more than doubled between 1960 and 1995.
We live in a world filled with conditions that cry out for others to simply help. Yet the problems and sheer numbers of people in need are so great that the goal of making a true, lasting difference is daunting. Conditions such as these have moved some people, particularly the younger generation, to want to make a difference. However, the idea of serving the world in the interest of solving human suffering is not new.
The Peace Corps: the power of an idea. Forty years ago, while campaigning for the presidency in October of 1960, John F. Kennedy (who was soon to become the 35th president of the United States) arrived at the University of Michigan to speak to the students. It was there on the steps of the Michigan Union that the Peace Corps was launched.
The assembled students heard the future president issue a challenge: "How many of you," he asked, "would be willing to serve your country and the cause of peace by living and working in the developing world?" That question bears asking again.
The reaction to the presidential candidate's idea was enthusiastic, and since 1961, more than 168,000 men and women have responded to that challenge and have served in 136 countries around the world. From that time, the Peace Corps has demonstrated how the power of an idea can capture the imagination of an entire nation—particularly those of the younger generation.
Countless efforts today. Forty years after the beginning of the Peace Corps, international humanitarian efforts have mushroomed. Today thousands of organizations around the world send volunteers to fill the desperate needs in education, health care and comfort in many of the developing and war-torn nations of this world. These organizations include Care International, the American Red Cross, Feed the Children and United Nations Children's Fund, to name a few. What about you? What can you do to make a difference in a world that sorely needs such help?
God's Word teaches us that Christians should do good for others. Paul stated in Galatians 6:10, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all . . ." Serving and volunteering—whether in your community or in a developing country overseas—is a wonderful way for a person to fill real human needs. Being involved in serving others and true humanitarian causes can offer you experience and contact with others that will help you through the rest of your life. The biggest benefit is that you have a direct impact on helping other human beings.
Man does not have the answer. Many young Americans were introduced to patriotism and a desire to defend freedom after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The desire to "make a difference" through service in the military grew strong after those historic events. Appreciation and respect for those who have recently served in the military overseas is at an all-time high. Yet, when we consider God's Word, His understanding of human nature and what will bring harmony and peace to this planet ... war will not accomplish that! Mankind's history over the millennia is proof that war, strife and killing are not going to ultimately solve the problems that exist on this planet!
If war is not the way to true peace, can the humanitarian efforts to diminish human suffering today make a lasting change in man's future? Jesus Christ told His students (disciples) that He was the way to peace. And while the Bible tells us that Christ's Kingdom is not here yet (John 18:36), it also reveals that the true, lasting peace and harmony that Jesus Christ spoke of simply cannot be brought about in the world as we presently know it!
That statement is sobering, and can cause one to ask, "What good is it to volunteer today if civilization is all but doomed in this age?" Christ told His disciples that man's present civilization will continue to get worse. In Matthew 24, He said of the world we live in, "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved . . ." (verses 21-22).
These are pretty bleak words! Yet, despite these dire predictions of the future, we should not forget that serving the needs of the despondent of this world is a very worthy cause. Whether it be in our neighborhood or a remote developing country, doing good, one act at a time, one person at a time, is an important part of being a light in a world of darkness and preparing for a greater cause in the future.
Making a permanent difference. Help as we may, we won't be able to make a permanent difference in the massive humanitarian needs of today—starvation, homelessness, war, poverty and disease. In fact, not even all the efforts of all nations combined could provide the lasting answer to the daunting plight of humanity. God, however, does have plans to permanently answer these needs. And unlike man's noble efforts that are limited to food, clothing, medical supplies and education, God's plan is different. It not only includes meeting the physical needs of people, but more importantly involves a fundamental change in the human heart and mind that these other humanitarian institutions are just not able to accomplish.
While getting involved in serving the needs of others is an important part of our lives as Christians, the "ultimate humanitarian cause" is the work of God, not men. God is working through human beings now—those whom He has called. And through His Church, He is preparing a people who will display the kind of humble, serving leadership that Christ taught and exemplified in His life.
God's Word speaks of a new government that will have an impact on this entire world through the leadership of Jesus Christ and those who are His students. This "peace corps" of God, made up of converted members of His family, will be able to bring changes to this world that will ultimately eliminate the causes of human tears and suffering (Revelation 21:4).
What should you do now? So should you now join the Peace Corps? Or crawl into a cave or mountain retreat and wait for Jesus Christ to return?
God tells us—young and old alike—to live in this world and to be a light (Matthew 5:14-16). He desires us to experience productive lives of learning, giving and accomplishing. In Matthew 25:14-25, Jesus Christ told His parable of the talents. In it He showed that we should do something profitable with what we have been given. For many young people, the most precious commodity you have is the spiritual knowledge of God's plan and purpose for mankind—a plan that involves revamping civilization in a way that will bring about true happiness and peace for eternity.
The "greatest humanitarian cause" has already started. It began with Jesus Christ sacrificing His life for mankind and continues in the work of His Church—a work that is about teaching and preparing a people. Use the knowledge God has given you. Study God's Word; draw close to Him. Get involved in serving in your local congregation and in local participation programs such as the newsstand program. Help with preteen camps, United Youth Camps and consider United Youth Corps projects. All of these can be part of preparing for God's Kingdom—planting seeds of peace. Prepare now for God's "peace corps" of the future—the ultimate answer to human suffering. VT