When we think of the systemic struggles of the developing world—extreme poverty, gender inequality, lack of educational access, proliferation of disease—it can be difficult to envision progress. Bill Frist, doctor and former US Senator, posits that maternal health is at the center of all these issues, and has dedicated his nonprofit Hope Through Healing Hands to caring for women and children.

The organization has partnered with faith leaders to make maternal health a global pro-life cause. Its latest venture, The Mother and Child Project, is a collection of essays on the topic, featuring perspectives from faith leaders and activists such as Desmond Tutu, Melinda Gates, Hillary Clinton, and Kay Warren—whose excerpt we’ve posted below. – Kate Shellnutt, Her.meneutics editor

For more than a decade, God has taken me on a journey. A journey in which I had to walk by faith not by sight. I didn’t know where God was leading me, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to follow. But I did. I followed God to corners of the world I never imagined I would ever visit: places like Cambodia, Mozambique, and Rwanda. God called me out of my insulated suburban life in Southern California, opening my eyes to the painful reality of those in the most dire of circumstances—orphans, those living with HIV and AIDS, and those in extreme poverty.

Upon this journey I have come to know the suffering of mothers and children with many faces and many names. I have listened with a broken heart to stories of violence against women and children and stories of mothers dying in childbirth. I have met orphaned children caring for their orphaned siblings and have met children in the care of their grandmothers because their parents had died of HIV and AIDS.

These people and these stories matter.

Today I write for The Mother and Child Project because God calls us to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Prov. 31:8). Last year, more than 6.6 million children under the age of five died from preventable, treatable causes. Many of these children died in the arms of loving parents who simply didn’t have access to basic newborn care, simple antibiotics, vaccines, or oral rehydration therapies. For pennies to the dollar, these children’s lives could have been saved. In addition, more than 287,000 women died last year in childbirth. They died because they lacked a skilled attendant during birth and had complications during pregnancy or delivery.

The good news is that we know how to prevent these needless tragic deaths. The challenge is to choose to do so.

The nexus of global health issues revolves around the stability of the family, especially the mother and child. If the mother can remain healthy and happy and stable, the family can flourish physically, socially, economically, and spiritually. When families gain the skills to plan the timing and spacing of their children, and when mothers have access to prenatal care, lives will be saved. Then, other global health issues can be tackled. We can begin to combat extreme poverty, keep young girls and children in school, promote gender equality, improve maternal and child health, and fight infectious disease, like HIV and AIDS.

In the developing world, too many mothers are losing their children to preventable, treatable causes. Likewise, too many children are losing their mothers due to complications in pregnancy and birth that could easily be avoided.

In 2013 I, too, became a mother who lost her child.

I empathize and resonate with the intense grief of such a precious, tragic loss.

I stand by these millions of women and children in their loss around the world to say that in the midst of mourning, we can choose to do something. We, as Americans, can choose to prevent these deaths with our personal and governmental support for maternal, newborn, and child health and healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies in ways that honor God. Our voices can and will make a difference.

And, in doing so, we choose joy.

Kay Warren is the co-founder of Saddleback Church, wife of pastor Rick Warren, an author and Christian communicator, and advocate for people struggling with mental illness. She and her husband live in Lake Forest, California.

The Mother and Child Project was compiled by Hope Through Healing Hands’ Faith-based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide. Information about the coalition, as well as how others can help, is available at http://www.hopethroughhealinghands.org/faith-based-coalition.