Saturday, August 22, 2009

Be a lobbyist for the poor -- faithful mobilization for health care reform.

Remarks made by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at the Metropolitan Congregations United Prayer Vigil for Health Care Reform on Saturday, August 22 in St. Louis.

I want to take a minute this morning and tell you a story about my friend Josh. Josh lives and works in Rwanda. What you probably know about Rwanda is the genocide that happened 15 years ago that killed nearly a million Rwandans. What you might not know about Rwanda is that since then, the new Rwandan government has made huge strides in improving the lives of its people – including a community based national health insurance program called Mutuelle.

But there was a problem when they set up Mutuelle. And that was getting people to subscribe to it. In fact when my friend Josh arrived in Rwanda to start a development project in one of the villages that had been hit hardest by the genocide, a village called Mayange, he had people tell him that he was wasting his time because the people there didn’t even want health insurance when it was offered to them for almost nothing. Even when because of lack of basic health care one out of five children never made it to age five.

And so Josh did something absolutely simple and absolutely extraordinary. He went to Mayange and actually listened to the people. And here is what they told him. They said in order to subscribe to Mutuelle, they had to get a photo ID card. Ok, fair enough. But the only place to get that photo ID card was Kigali, the capital. And that meant a day’s journey roundtrip to Kigali, paying a fee to have your photo taken and the card made. Then a week later, it meant making another day’s journey roundtrip to Kigali to pick up the card. It was too time consuming and too expensive for people who were only living on less than 1 dollar a day.

Well Josh did what most of us would have done with this information. He said, “man, this is crazy.” And so he went to his friend the health minister and said what if we put a computer with a camera and a printer in Mayange and we covered the cost of the ID card so people could get them locally for free. The minister, said, “Go ahead, give it a try.” And soon people in Mayange were streaming into the health center to get their cards. Today there is 100% subscription to the Mutuelle system in Mayange. The government has taken this model of subscription and recommended it for use across the country and, most important, when I visited Mayange a couple years ago they had not had a funeral for a child under five in the past nine months. In fact I was telling Josh that it was very clear to me that the people of Mayange, Rwanda, had better access to basic health care than the people of St. Louis, Missouri.

How did it happen? Simple. Because someone with power was willing to listen to the voices of people without power. Because someone with power was willing to use their power to bring healing to lives of people who need it.

Now there are people who will tell you the answer to this health care crisis is that we need to get rid of the lobbyists. Those are the bad people. Get rid of the lobbyists and everything will be just fine. I say no way. I say we need even more lobbyists. We need lots and lots more lobbyists. Because the problem isn’t that some people are being lobbyists. It’s that the rest of us aren’t.

Being a person of faith is about being a lobbyist. A lobbyist for the poor. A lobbyist for the powerless.

Moses was a lobbyist. Moses saw his people in poverty and slavery and used his position of power in Pharaoh’s court to lobby for their release. And he didn’t take no for an answer. He said, Pharoah: my God and me, we’re like a couple of bad pennies, and we’re gonna keep turning up until you see the error of your ways and the wisdom of ours. And it took some time, ‘cause Pharoah was a stubborn customer, but the people of Israel were set free.

Jesus was a lobbyist. Oh, man, was Jesus a lobbyist. Jesus stood up in the synagogue in front of all those church leaders and said he was there to bring recovery of sight to the blind and preach good news to the poor. And those people tried to throw him off a cliff for saying that, but that didn’t stop Jesus, ‘cause he had a lot of Moses in him. Jesus went right to the seat of power with his message of love and healing and refused to stop speaking it even when faced with the cross. Jesus was a lobbyist not just with his lips but with his whole life. A lobbyist for the poor. A lobbyist for the powerless. A lobbyist for love.

Moses was a lobbyist. Jesus was a lobbyist. Josh was a lobbyist. And I’m lobbying you right now. I’m lobbying you and you and you and me and all of us to be lobbyists too. Lobbyists for the poor. Lobbyists for the powerless. Lobbyists for love.

Because we have listened to their voices. We have heard their stories of being denied health care. We have heard their stories of having homes forclosed upon because all their money was sucked up by medical bills. We have heard their stories of fear and frustration. Like Moses and Jesus we have heard the cries of our people, and there are those among us who have cried those tears as well and are crying them right now. We have heard our people crying for health care for all.

And if every person here. If every person in each one of our congregations. If every person of faith in this country rises up and claims that mantel of lobbyist for the poor with the tenacity of Moses and the passion of Jesus we will flood the halls and phone lines and email inboxes of Washington with such force there will be no power on heaven and earth that can stop us. And minds will be changed. And hearts will be turned. And health care for all will not just be a dream but will be a reality.


Health care reform depends on our elected officials hearing from us that guaranteed affordable choice of health care for all is a priority. Use the links below to contact our Missouri senators.

To contact Senator Claire McCaskill, click here.

To contact Senator Kit Bond, click here.

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