Guess what was on the cover of the magazine published by Campus Crusade for Christ.

A glowing young couple pledging themselves to sexual abstinence until their wedding night? Nope.

The cover was about poverty in rural Cameroon. And it reflected a broad new trend that is beginning to reshape American foreign policy: America's evangelicals have become the newest internationalists.

The old religious right led by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, trying to battle Satan with school prayers and right-to-life amendments, is on the ropes. It is being succeeded by evangelicals who are using their growing clout to skewer China and North Korea, to support Israel, to fight sexual trafficking in Eastern Europe and slavery in Sudan, and, increasingly, to battle AIDS in Africa.

Evangelicals are usually regarded by snooty, college-educated bicoastal elitists (not that any read this newspaper) as dangerous Neanderthals. But while the old religious right was destructive when it launched the cultural wars, the new internationalists are saving lives in some of the most forgotten parts of the world.

"The American electorate was split right down the middle on these cultural wars, and nobody was going to win them," said Richard Cizik, Washington director of the National Association of Evangelicals, explaining the shift to international issues. The new international efforts, he says, are "going gangbusters."

The evangelical movement encompasses one-quarter of Americans and is growing quickly. One measure of its increasing influence is that a newsstand in the United Nations has carried the "Left Behind" series of religious novels by Tim LaHaye. These books, which have sold 50 million copies so far, describe the battles that precede the Second Coming, and there is indeed a United Nations connection: In the novels, the Antichrist is the secretary general.

Evangelicals have their quirks. While many have been galvanized by 9/11 and the Middle East conflict and are fervent supporters of Israel, the recent upheaval in Israel has also quickened evangelical interest for more apocalyptic reasons. As Dwight Gibson, director of the secretariat of the World Evangelical Alliance, notes, the violence "has people thinking, `Is Christ coming back?' " (And I have my doubts about the Middle East peace plan proffered by the Rev. Franklin Graham, Billy's son: Muslims and Jews alike should try "surrendering their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ and having their hearts changed by the Holy Spirit.")

Yet the evangelicals have won important legislative victories. They were behind the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (fighting religious persecution) and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (battling sex slavery and peonage), both passed over objections of the Clinton administration. They are behind the Bush administration's freezing of money for the United Nations Population Fund.

I disagree with evangelicals on many issues. A simple-minded moralistic streak often leads them toward sanctions that would hurt precisely the people they aim to help, in Sudan, Myanmar, North Korea and China. The freeze on population funds is a catastrophe for poor women and children.

Yet all in all, we should welcome this new constituency for foreign affairs in Middle America. Just look at AIDS funding: With bleeding-heart evangelicals like Mr. Graham pressing hard, Congressional Republicans are suddenly scrambling to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars in additional money to fight AIDS in Africa. Even Jesse Helms is joining in, and that's pretty much proof of divine intervention.

Evangelicals are among the most generous donors, for many tithe (evangelical cheapskates donate their 10 percent of incomes after tax). The 15 biggest Christian charities monitored by Ministrywatch .com collect more than $3 billion a year. Even small evangelical funds are booming; World Relief, with 9,000 employees, says its $40 million budget has doubled in four years.

I've lost my cynicism about evangelical groups partly because I've seen them at work abroad. Earlier this year, for example, I visited the Philippine island of Basilan, home base of the Abu Sayyaf rebel group. Aid groups have mostly pulled out because of killings and kidnappings, but I found one still busy providing food and medicine even in the most dangerous areas. It's the Christian Children's Fund.

Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times