It’s January and with a few notable exceptions the U.S. is cold today. Most of the Midwest, East Coast and Plains are in the 20 degree range. Meanwhile, all over the country, there are homeless people living on the freezing streets and in the city of Nashville, TN, there are about 2200 on the streets this year.
Whatever the contributing factors are, all over the country you'll find families, veterans, runaway youth and re-entry populations who call cardboard boxes and the underside of bridges home.
When Sofie Hoolhorst, a five-year old girl heard about a homeless man on a freezing night in another state, she motivated her family to join her in an effort to collect coats and blankets for those who were homeless in her home city of Nashville.
Five-years old and she’s concerned about those who are homeless. Where does that come from? Trust me. Five-year olds are not naturally overly generous. These kinds of responses from children are the direct effect of family members who talk about helping others and parents who involve their young children in conversations that point out ways to alleviate hurt and provide for others’ desperate needs.
When it is a family goal to be a help to others, children soak it up like a sponge. Then, when they are confronted with an opportunity to respond they jump at the chance.
So when Sophie wanted to help, the Hoolhorsts’ put the word out and collected donated coats and blankets. Then they walked the streets of downtown Nashville to meet, greet and provide for those living outside in the cold, giving birth to a movement called “Let’s Warm Nashville."
The Hoolhorst legacy is one of imaginative effort on behalf of others—expecting nothing in return—unless, of course, you count a deep feeling of contentment and peace. How great is that?
In this space I talk a lot about people who have done amazing things for someone else. But this story is about an engineer who has affected the lives of more than a million people. His name is Don Schoendorfer and he was on a trip to Morocco when he saw a woman drag herself by her hands across a dirt road as she dodged traffic.
That vision led him to develop an inexpensive but durable wheelchair that he hoped would change the lives of people like her. Since he began, his Free Wheelchair Mission (FWM) has given away almost a million wheelchairs. In 2015 alone, FWM gave away 74,000+ wheelchairs in 37 countries.
This young man is one of those recipients. His name is Soun and he lives in Roarng Leu Village in Cambodia. Since 2006, when he fell and suffered a spinal cord injury, he has been unable to work. As in the case of most paralyzed people, he suffered from depression and sadness because he could not care for his wife and children. Said Soun, “I prayed to God for a wheelchair,” prayers that were answered when he received a GEN_1 wheelchair through FWM’s partner, CBN Cambodia.
Whenever FWM’s wheelchairs are distributed, crowds come out to see what is happening. Villagers are incredulous to see care being shown to the least among them. No longer dirty, stuck at home and left out of society, the wheelchair recipients come alive again and are always struck with awe and gratitude and the new life they have been given.
Free Wheelchair Mission has identified its passion and concentrated its efforts on changing the lives of the world’s disabled poor, one person at a time. It is a move Jim and I strongly promoted in our book, World Changing Generosity. Each of us has the opportunity to look at a hurting world and to identify our own passions.
What moves the needle with you? Do you care about childhood diseases, clean water efforts, teaching agricultural methods, ending homelessness, or any of the other needs in the world? Find your passion, locate, learn about, and support those charitable efforts that you care most about. You will be doing the good in the world you have always wanted to do.
I am babysitting today for a seven year-old (Jack) and a 10 year-old (Katie).They love to drag out an old barn and two houses from the toy chest and set them up. The barn makes a long "mooooo" sound when you open the doors, and comes with a herd of two-inch horses, cows and people that these two love to make stories about and just let their imaginations create a world for.
Today they decided the barn and houses were the Triple “C” Farm, which stands for the family’s (pretend) Corn County Company, a firm that produces organic vegetables and provides organic milk to local groceries. The two-inch people had a grand time today. There was a proposal, a wedding and a round-up of all the horses. But most importantly, we talked about the way the farm makes money and how the family spends it when it is paid for a product the farm produces.
We made $5,000 pretend money from the sale of milk this day. So I asked them if they remember what we do with money. They remembered: “We save some, spend some and give some.” So, we figured out that we should think about giving at least $500 and talked about the charities we know about that we’d like to support. The kids came up with one that cares for wild horses. We pretended to give that one $50. Then we gave a charity that feeds hungry children half of the rest, $225, and the other half went to a pretend orphanage in Haiti.
All that might sound silly. But, these kids have developed a real vocabulary for giving. They have exercised a thought process and discussion process for deciding what charities do the kind of caring work that matters to them. And, maybe most importantly, the idea of giving away part of the money they have is an exciting opportunity that they embrace.
Generosity in a “me” oriented society may not be a child’s natural tendency, but given a little education and an opportunity to volunteer and give real money in child-appropriate situations, these kids can surpass the understanding of their peers in one of the most important lessons of life: The lesson that it is better to give than receive.
Raising a generous generation is up to us. All it takes is a little time for some fun.
Elizabeth Drury is a generous woman, married to a generous man. Together they stepped across a line from comfort into a place of radical caring. It is a journey she shares here.
My husband and I receive a lot of credit that we don't deserve, especially when it comes to generosity, and it bothers us more than it used to.
We're generous by some standards. We tithe. We try to share time, money, and abilities. Scott serves churches and charities in fundraising, estate planning, and stewardship services, so in a sense, we've practically gone "pro" with the topic of giving.
But a much higher measure of generosity has made us blush with shame and aspire for more. We recognized it not by hanging around people and places where we were comfortable and knew the social ropes, but by crossing a socioeconomic boarder and staying a while.
A year ago, in quite a departure from the familiar, our family began attending a church of primarily poor and homeless people near Washington, D.C. The experience has brought incredible friendship, learning, and growth for us and our teens.
It all began when we met the pastor, who described enthusiastically the church's upcoming ministries on Thanksgiving Day. "We usually get lots of volunteers earlier in the day, but clean-up can be a long, lonely process," she explained, adding with a sparkle, "And we can always use more mashed potatoes!"
So, bearing pots of steaming spuds and gravy, we showed up—the whole family—to lend a hand.
Earlier that frigid Thursday, church members (most of whom live in dire poverty themselves) had assembled at a rented community center at 6:00am to pick up homeless men and women from hypothermia shelters around the county. They prepared donated food and lovingly served breakfast and a turkey dinner to 180 people. Everyone broke bread together and shared a worship service. At mid-afternoon, volunteers in vans returned guests to the shelters or street corners from which they had come.
Then, nearly staggering in exhaustion, they cheerfully tackled what looked to me like Dish Armageddon. They mopped, scrubbed, and sanitized. They cleaned the restrooms. They spent hours delivering leftovers to shelters and painstakingly storing other items in a rented closet. As we followed their instructions in helping out, we each wrestled with a convicting question:
Am I that generous?
At the last, when the enormous mess had finally been conquered, the couple overseeing the work commented with a smile, "The Lord must have sent you in answer to our prayers—because last year we did this job by ourselves." Dumbfounded, we discovered that they gave themselves to this labor of love not just on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas but on each and every Sunday on a slightly smaller scale—and they did it with no guarantees of extra help. Am I that generous?
As we started helping out more often, we witnessed unflinching physical affection among people in all states of cleanliness.
Once, a drunken man in a violent temper burst through the door with unfastened, freshly soiled pants. Others rushed to help him get changed into something clean, dodging his fists and insults.
On Easter Sunday--how should I describe it?—a bowel catastrophe interrupted an otherwise lovely lunch. Before it was contained, it had taken on epic proportions. My family and I washed dishes (suddenly a lesser Armageddon by comparison) from a safe distance while others graciously helped clean up the mess, careful to protect the panicked adult's fragile dignity.
Am I that generous?
We hear dozens of requests after meal times. Does anyone have a grocery bag? A container? A cardboard box? Ziplocks for leftovers? A carton of chocolate milk? Always, yes. With startling generosity, people who possess very little share the treasures they have. It's the most vivid picture of community we've ever seen.
Offerings include modern-day widow’s mites: pennies, free burger coupons, and bus tokens—costly gifts, indeed.
Many, including the pastor, open their lives to sufferers of schizophrenia, Tourette's, drug addiction, alcoholism, lice, criminal records, uncontrolled diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases, and other very messy realities. They share their cell phone numbers, bearing incalculably inconvenient burdens.
I know it’s not about comparison, and of course, poverty and generosity do not necessarily go hand in hand. But, honestly, am I that generous? Are you?
Recently, during a seminar sponsored by our denomination, Scott and I were seated around a table with friends from this church, and discussion took an uncomfortable turn. Someone thanked us for our generosity, and others chimed in.
We chafed at the unfounded accolades. Friendship isn’t benevolence; blessing goes both ways. And in God's economy, not all giving reflects generosity.
Tithing, after all, is something we believe God expects, sort of a minimum standard. Scott gets paid for his giving-focused job; he doesn't do it for free. And I would have made those mashed potatoes, anyway, even if we had stayed home. Generosity may have had little to do with it.
So around that table, we could only object with croaking voices that the credit was wholly undeserved. We have the easy part.
By sharing life with lovers of Jesus who might never be able to write a check, we've learned profound lessons about precious generosity. They have shown us that God wants to cultivate within us and his Church an exponentially greater capacity for giving than we have ever known.
Venture close enough, stay for a while, and the believing poor may teach you, too.
On Halloween, when Georgia State Patrol Trooper Nathan Bradley responded to the scene of a car accident, he found Donald and Crystal Howard dead at the scene. The Howards were the parents of four children, ages 13, 10, 8 and 6.
Bradley moved quickly to request permission to care for the children while they awaited the arrival of their grandmother, who was driving from Florida. Meanwhile, the trooper took the kids out to eat and then to the Georgia State Patrol Post to feast on Halloween candy and enjoy a marathon of Disney films. Bradley wanted the children to enjoy the evening before delivering the awful news the next day.
The 13-year-old Howard son later contacted Bradley, explaining that upcoming costs for the funeral and transporting the parents' bodies to Florida would amount to approximately $7,000. An impossible sum for the grandmother to assume.
So Bradley created an online fundraiser
, which received an outpouring of support from generous individuals. The original $7,000 goal was quickly surpassed, reaching more than $117,000 from almost 3,000 supporters. And the numbers continue to climb.
"They keep saying, 'You have more and more,' and every time I hear 'more,' I just want to cry," the children’s grandmother told the local news. ” I didn't know people…cared so much. I've never dealt with this, never. It's just so amazing."
Bradley continues to update the GoFundMe page as support continues to flow in. According to the website, “sums donated will be given directly to the family” to first cover funeral costs, and any additional donations will be “placed into a trust fund that is set up by the family and will be used to provide higher education” to the children.
With all the drubbing police officers have been getting lately, this story is a wonderful reminder of the generous and caring men and women who wear blue and care so generously for the people they serve.