This year’s National Prayer Breakfast on February 2, 2012 capped off what was a very busy week of events for USAID and our faith-based friends and colleagues.  But above the events and meetings, what was most important was the chance to connect with old friends and build new friendships, to hear personal stories from people who are passionately committed to helping the most vulnerable.

Early in the week, I had the pleasure of meeting Kay Warren of Saddleback Church, who is an advocate for orphans and for people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. She spoke to our senior staff about the work Saddleback and it’s congregants have been doing in Rwanda, including raising $12 million, sending 1,000 church workers to Rwanda, and training 3,500 community health workers with plans to double that number to 7,000 before the end of this year.

Mid-week, I headed over to the State Department where I was joined by USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict & Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg.  Together USAID welcomed and talked to a group of pastors convened by Bread for the World.  The group had just returned from a multi-country trip to Africa and it was a great chance to talk about the Feed the Future Initiative and what they saw on their visit.

With our eye on Africa, Administrator Shah then spoke at an Africa gathering event that was sponsored by Senators James Inhofe and John Boozman as part of the National Prayer Breakfast.  I was moved to hear Administrator Shah’s response  about why he chose this line of work.  He said:

In my case it’s very kind to say that we all could choose to do lots of different things—and why do we do work that is fundamentally in service to the world’s most vulnerable people? In my case the answer is more personal. I grew up in an immigrant family. My parents came here from India without really any resources, but with the hopes that with an education and being in this great country of America they could build a better life for themselves and for their kids. […] From that moment on I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of opportunities to serve. Frankly, it’s more rewarding, possibly than any of the other things one could possibly do.

Finally, I want to leave you with these words from President Obama during his National Prayer Breakfast remarks, as he spoke about the motivation and inspiration he draws upon to serve not only the American people but those in need around the world.

But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.’  It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who’ve been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others…

…And when I decide to stand up for foreign aid, or prevent atrocities in places like Uganda, or take on issues like human trafficking, it’s not just about strengthening alliances, or promoting democratic values, or projecting American leadership around the world, although it does all those things and it will make us safer and more secure.  It’s also about the biblical call to care for the least of these –- for the poor; for those at the margins of our society.

Read the President’s full remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast.