Churches celebrate debt relief

Churches celebrate debt relief

The UCC's Office for Public Life and Social Policy in Washington, D.C., joined millions of Christians and churches around the globe in October in applauding the U.S. Congress' bipartisan efforts to end debt relief for some of the world's most impoverished nations.

"This is a victory for the hundreds of UCC members who visited and wrote to their members of Congress to support funding for debt relief," says Judith Layng of PLSP, a team of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries in the national setting.

"More importantly, it is a victory for millions of people living in countries overwhelmed by a crushing burden of debt," she says.

Congress approved the full funding of $435 million requested by the administration.

In addition, Congress authorized the reevaluation of International Monetary Fund gold reserves to be used solely for the purposes of debt relief. Congress also called on international financial institutions to discontinue user fees in health and education in heavily indebted poor countries.

"To put this in perspective," says Lisa Wright of the National Council of Churches and Church World Service, "the average spending on debt relief for impoverished countries, prior to last year, averaged closer to $30 million a year. Through our work, the faith community has been able to persuade Congress to provide over 10 times that much this year."

Two years ago, when Jubilee 2000/USA held its first national conference, most people in the United States knew little or nothing about the debt relief crisis, although millions of people worldwide were involved in the Jubilee movement.

This campaign to "break the chains of debt" is based on the biblical injunction in Leviticus 25 for a jubilee year when slaves are set free and debts forgiven. The UCC has been a part of Jubilee 2000/USA since its inception.

"Because of their burden of debt, the world's poorest countries are caught in a web of economic insolvency that places a morally unacceptable burden on an already vulnerable citizenry," says Layng.

"Parents cannot afford to send their children to school or buy them the medicines they need. Diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS have reached epidemic proportions. Child mortality is 10 to 25 times higher than in the United States," she says.

But even as they celebrate, church officials realize there is much more work to be done.

"Our future work with the Jubilee 2000 Campaign will extend beyond Washington," says the Rev. Ron Stief, team leader for PLSP. "We will work with non-governmental organizations to reform global financial institutions and with local churches to keep the pressure on for debt relief that helps, not hurts, indebted countries."

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