iPod Touch Down

Our seven year old, Carson, loves Angry Birds. He loves video games in general but he can’t seem to get enough of catapulting colored birds through the air to kill the taunting green pigs. I hate to admit it, but I like it too. There’s something so satisfying about shattering wood and glass and blowing up the TNT boxes to kill the pigs. If you haven’t played, I realize it sounds a little twisted but try it and you’ll see why so it’s so much fun.

Anyway, against our better judgment we bought Carson an iPod touch for Christmas because we didn’t want him playing Angry Birds on our iPhones anymore. Aside from some little stocking stuffers, the iPod was his main gift.

Carson played with it non-stop. so much in fact that we had to take it away at night because we would catch him under the covers playing when he was supposed to be sleeping.

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Last weekend Carson’s 16 year old cousin Cameron came over. He asked if he could play with the iPod touch. Carson was glad to share with him but after a while he asked if he could have it back. No one was there to witness it so we don’t know exactly how it went down, but we heard an argument ensue from upstairs and then some scuffling around. A few seconds later, we heard that unmistakable sound of glass shattering on the tile below. It was followed by fast footsteps down the stairs and then screaming. Even from the living room where we were visiting with friends, there was no question what had happened.

Less than three weeks after getting it, Carson’s iPod was broken. It took a long time to calm him, but once we did, we tried to have a logical conversation about the fact that accidents happen and this was just an accident.

Carson wouldn’t hear it. He said it was all Cameron’s fault and that he did it on purpose.

Although I was sad for him and I was irritated that it happened, there was an obvious opportunity to speak truth into our son’s life that day. We explained that bad things happen sometimes and that no matter how careful we are, stuff breaks. We reminded him that people are so much more important than stuff and that one day everything we have, our house, our cars, and our favorite things will be nothing but dust. (It’s the second law of thermodynamics. Everything in a closed system eventually breaks down.) Of course I didn’t say that part, but by the time we were done, he understood. Still, he was sad, and he was angry with his cousin.

We sat the two of them down together and asked what had happened. Apparently, there was a tug of war and when Cameron finally let go of the iPod Carson didn’t have a good grip on it. The iPod hit the carpet and briefly slid before making it’s exit under the stair railonto the tile floor below.

Eventually Cameron apologized and Carson forgave him.

Surprisingly, it was a hard day for us too. Not because of the broken iPod but because we realized that we can’t protect our son from things that hurt him. Loss is immanent in this life.

At the end of the day, it was just a toy. Carson learned that it’s not what we have that makes us happy knowing that Jesus loves us and putting our hope in Him is the only thing that brings true contentment.

Funny thing is, Carson hasn’t said much about his iPod since the incident. I guess he was a lot less attached to it than he thought he was. What he didn’t think he could live without is nothing but a faint memory now.

In Matthew 19:21-26
Jesus was talking to a rich man who had lots of stuff. He wanted to know what he could do to have eternal life. When he asked Jesus how he could accomplish that.

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.

I hope that as we raise our son and we are given opportunities to teach him, we will help him avoid the pitfall of the rich young ruler who was so attached to his stuff that he couldn’t bear to leave it behind in order to follow Jesus.

As for me, I need to hold my favorite things more loosely. I thought we were teaching Carson a lesson that day, but as it turns out, he was teaching me one too. Sometimes we can lose sight of the prize and we are lured back into trap of materialism before we even realize it’s happened.

Here’s a challenge: Is there something you are holding on to that is becoming more important than it should? Are you willing to evaluate it and ask God whether it needs to go in order to make room for Him to inhabit the space it’s been taking up in your life?

 

Ringless in Christ,

Ali Eastburn
Executive Director
With This Ring

 

Parking Lot Detour

I was recently leaving a meeting with my assistant Kate when a Romanian woman begging for money approached us. Her name was Maria. She had two small children she was pushing in a stroller. One child was only three months old and the other was about three. She barely spoke English but from what we could understand she was hungry, and so were her children.

The three year old was eating a bowl of rice in her stroller and the woman looked very thin, especially considering she’d recently had a baby. Kate and I were both concerned so we dug into our wallets and gave her what we had. I am usually very cautious about giving money to people begging because I don’t want the money spent on alcohol or drugs. Instead of money I have always preferred to give food. In this case though, there was something so desperate that immediate action seemed necessary.

When we gave Maria the money she began to cry and kissed our hands. That was enough for both of us to want more information. We asked her where she lived and all she could tell us were the cross streets, that there was a 7-Eleven on the corner and her apartment number.

We decided to try and find her the next day and see how we could further help the situation.

We went to the area she described and as God would have it we found her apartment right away.

What we discovered was heartbreaking. She had another child and husband at home, and it turned out that she and her family were refugees from Romania. They were waiting on the court’s decision to grant them asylum in the US. The house was sparse, containing hardly any furniture, and as far as food, there was only a bag of pretzels, two top ramen packages in the cupboard, and a small piece of meat in the freezer.

Kate and I went to the store and bought them food and diapers and went back the same day to deliver it. When we returned the kids jumped up and down as they saw the bags of food. We couldn’t even unload all the food before Maria and the kids began to tear open the packages.

When we left we still felt like we should do more. I called Keith Giles, a friend of ours that runs a food bank through The Mission House Church, and he went to their apartment that night and brought even more food. Maria and her family are now receiving a weekly delivery from the food bank.

The story gets even better.

We first met Maria right around Thanksgiving but by the time Christmas rolled around, we started thinking about what kind of Christmas her kids might have.

Our friend Bruce from our house church, The Well, told us about a charity his daughter Carly started, The Twelve Kids of Christmas. The program sponsors needy children locally that would otherwise get little to nothing for Christmas.

Once again, as God would have it, that same week my sister Stephanie emailed her friends and family that come to her annual Hanukah party and asked if anyone had a good charity to support for the holidays this year. For many years she and her family have collected toys and clothes for less fortunate children in her area and this year she didn’t have a specific charity in mind.

I emailed her about the Romanian family and the Twelve Kids of Christmas and within a half hour, she got another email from a friend about the same program.

Needless to say, that sealed the deal.

She put together a list of all the kids that would need to be sponsored this year and emailed it out to her guests. As Hanukah drew close, the list was quickly covered.

In addition to the many children sponsored within her group, all three kids from the Romanian family got sponsored as well. Although I didn’t expect it, on the Sunday before Christmas, our friend Bruce brought us all the toys that were collected for the Romanian family and asked if we could deliver them.

When we went to Maria’s house to deliver the gifts, she invited us in. Her daughter was sleeping and her other son was at the park with his dad. But the baby was awake and she put him in my arms. Our seven year old, Carson, opened some of the gifts for the baby since he’s still an infant. He looked wide eyed at the colorful objects Carson held up for him and they both smiled at each other as if they had a secret language that none of us adults could understand. We spent about thirty minutes playing with the baby and then we got up to leave.

When I got up, I noticed that Maria was crying. She gave me a hug and  said, “Thank you madam.” Had she been able to understand, what I wanted to say to her was, “No Maria, thank you.” She gave my husband Ken and I and our son Carson a much bigger gift than we could have ever given to her.

Carson was affected so much by this experience that he has become more benevolent than he has ever been. He recently told me that he wants to use the money he’s been saving for his favorite Lego toward a clean water well in Africa.

I feel absolutely privileged to be a part of a community of people that unselfishly cares for the needs of others in tangible ways.

Thank you to Keith Giles, The Well, The Mission House Church, The Twelve Kids of Christmas and Stephanie’s family and friends for taking the time during the busiest time of the year to bless those in such great need.

Though my family and I made wonderful new memories this Christmas, having the opportunity to love on the Romanian family will go down as one of my most precious gifts this year.

Ringless in Christ,

Ali Eastburn
Executive Director
With This Ring

For more information about With This Ring, radical giving or digging clean water wells, please visit withthisring.org. 

 

Never Too Young…

I am speechless and in awe of Rachel Beckwith, a 9-year-old girl from Bellevue, Washington. She said that she’d discovered that most children in Africa do not live to see their 5th birthday because they don’t have access to safe, clean drinking water.

Her birthday was coming and she decided she wanted to give the gift of water to the people in Africa by raising money for water wells. Her goal was to raise $300. How amazing that Rachel chose at a young age to be a radical giver. She chose to focus outward, on others, on loving people. Her passion and generosity are proof that one person can truly make a huge difference in standing for a transformed world. She decided that people in Africa matter, that generosity matters, that love matters. How powerful it is when we make a declaration that we will stand for what God cares about rather than focusing inward.

Rachel never got to see that goal realized because she died in a tragic car accident before the money was raised. The amazing part of this story is that since her death, her fundraising page has reached $368,000 in donations.

It really is true then, that one is never too young to make an eternal impact on this world. Rachel’s maturity and discernment to stand for truth at such a young age is astounding. It reminds me of the verse that says, “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.
1 Timothy 4:12

You can read her full story at:

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/donations-pour-9-old-clean-water-cause-tragic-153811801.html
Living Water!

Ringless in Christ,

Ali Eastburn

A New American Dream

Sometimes when life gets really busy, it’s easy to miss what’s right in front of me.  That almost happened to me last week.

I was at the beauty supply to pick up some hair products and I ran into Lilly, a woman I worked with over six years ago.  We struck up a conversation and Lilly asked what I was doing now.  I told her a little bit about With This Ring and it turned out that she knew someone living in her apartment complex that does work in Africa as well.  Before we said goodbye, I gave her my business card and asked her to pass it on to him.  He called the next morning.

Michael came to the United States over 20 years ago after the civil war in the 1980’s.  He was in the Ethiopian army during the war and, tragically, his entire family was burned to death.   Fortunately, he, his wife, and her family found a way out and came to America for refuge.

When Michael arrived here, he had very little and was appreciative of even the slightest opportunity.

He worked hard and eventually gained success.  Before he knew it he had a good job, two kids and he and his wife were able to buy a nice house in Southern California on an acre of land.

It wasn’t long before his family began acquiring nice things.  At one point, his wife had around $15,000 worth of jewelry and they even owned two high-end luxury vehicles.

I was amazed at Michael’s story.  Like so many of us dream, he became the exception to the rule.

He came to America seeking refuge and safety from the terror, bloodshed and starvation that fell on the innocent people in his own country.  He wasn’t looking for success or upward mobility, but before long that’s the path he found himself on, pursuing the “American Dream” like everyone else.  He acquired property, cars, and trophies that told of his newfound success.

Then, one day, he woke up and realized that he had forgotten his people and where he had come from.

Compelled to change that, he gave away one of their cars, sold their house and moved his family to a small ap

artment where he started a charity to help bring hope back to his people in Ethiopia.

As I listened to his story I blamed myself and our culture for stealing away his pride, his connection to his country, his core values and ultimately everything that made him unique and set him apart from the rest of us.  Michael was immersed in a culture obsessed with “stuff” and the longer he lived here, the more he found his own heart and life being shaped by the same obsession.

He started with nothing, became something, then returned to a meager lifestyle in an effort to change lives with what he had been given.

He is a hero to his people, and a hero to me.

I love our country and I love that we stand for justice, freedom and the pursuit of peace and happiness.  But I wish we loved people more and our stuff less.

Sometimes, I envy people in developing countries. In many ways they are richer than we are –  in love, compassion, good deeds and even generosity.

I’m not saying that I want to leave America.  Just the opposite, actually.  I want for average Christians like you and me to do more with the freedom and opportunity we’ve been given.  I want to stand for something bigger than myself.

So perhaps a new “American Dream” is in order – one that gives a higher priority to the needs of others than to my lust for more stuff to fill my (already full) American closet.

 

More money, more stuff, more debt, less happiness!

Does anybody out there relate to this at all?  Maybe you want to share your own story of how God has compelled you to pursue a different dream.  Feel free to share and let’s explore together how to spur one another on in this new dream!

 

Ringless in Christ,

Ali Eastburn

The Business of Generosity

My son Carson has a friend at school.  His mom, Julie, and I have become friends over the last year and we get together with the kids to have play dates.  She and her husband came to one of our banquets this year and they were very excited about the ministry of With This Ring.

A couple of weeks ago Julie asked me if I would have some time to go to her husband’s business and do a presentation about WTR for his business partners.

She prepared me by telling me that the men I would present to are Christians: her father-in-law, his brother, and both of their sons.  Together they own and operate a successful business in Orange County and wanted to hear more about our ministry.

I went to that meeting prepared to share my passion for our mission at WTR, teaching radical giving and digging water wells in Africa. What I didn’t expect was that each of these men already had a deep understanding of generosity and are actively living that out – both individually and corporately through their business.

Julie’s father-in-law told me that he had a well dug in each of his children’s names in third-world countries.  He also showed me pictures of the people whose lives have changed in Africa as a result of their involvement.  His brother shared a deep love of giving.  Because of his experience in the business world, he was keenly aware of the obstacles any organization has to overcome and he genuinely wanted to know what he could do to help us fulfill our mission.

They all talked about the ministries they support as a company and came alive as they told stories of the people they’ve met as a result of their generosity.

I went to that business meeting thinking that I was going to help them see the blessings of generosity and how radical giving makes an impact on lives, both here in the U.S. and across the world.  What I didn’t expect was that they would teach me a thing or two about humility and stewardship in the business world and how Christians in positions of power can harness their blessings to move mountains for the Kingdom of God.

“What mountains are being moved,” you ask?

These businessmen have decided to sponsor a well through With This Ring, and they have also committed to give us monthly support for a year, covering a significant portion of our overhead costs!  This is going to enable us to do something we have never been able to do before.

We will now have the ability to use one hundred percent of every dollar generated from each donated wedding ring to dig clean water wells in Africa.

100%!

God never ceases to amaze me!  I mean NEVER!
Ringless in Christ,

Ali Eastburn

“Just Come!” – The story of Two Amazing Grandparents

I have run across a lot of generous people in my lifetime but recently I met a couple that really made me stop and ask myself if I can’t be more radical in my giving.

My husband Ken met a man named Rick at a local pastor’s breakfast and they immediately connected on many levels.

Rick and his wife Sherry invited us over for dinner the very next week.  Ken told me a little bit about what Rick and Sherry are passionate about and it turns out that I have a lot in common with them as well.

They are passionate about Africa and they have spent the last several years preparing for something most of us would never even dream of doing.

They are leaving their comfortable home in Huntington Beach and moving to Uganda for six months.  They are starting a well digging program there that will involve teaching local people to dig wells and addressing medical needs.

Rick and Sherry

While I am thrilled at the amazing similarity of our goals for helping the poor and needy, I have to say that hearing the “getting there” piece of their story is spectacularly God in every way.

In 2001, Sherry began reading books like “Rich Christians In an Age of Hunger.” Their son was an Intercultural Studies major at Biola University and he began giving her books he was studying as a part of his program.  In 2003, his girlfriend Bethany, now his wife, came to live with them for the summer before her senior year.  Their son was in Thailand with World Vision.

In order to graduate, Bethany had to complete 6 weeks in an intercultural setting.  She went to Uganda for those 6 weeks.  When she returned to Rick and Sherry’s house she downloaded her pictures from Uganda onto their computer.  Sherry walked past the computer and saw a picture of Bethany, who had no medical training, holding a stethoscope to the chest of a pygmy baby, and Sherry commented, “I could do that!”

They sent an email to the doctor Bethany worked with in Uganda, saying, “We’ve never been to Africa, and we have no medical training, but if you think we could be helpful, we’re willing to give it a try.” He wrote back two words, “Just come!”

And guess what?  They did!  They went to Uganda for the entire summer of 2005 and they have never looked back.

Sherry came back and decided she wanted to go back to school to become a nurse.  Being a mother and grandmother already, she wanted to do more for children in third world countries.

Rick walked away from a successful flooring business to finish his degree in animal science and he stayed in school until 2008 when he graduated with an MBA in International Development.

In order to continue their education and prepare for life as future missionaries, Rick and Sherry rented out their house and moved on campus.  They lived on campus for two years in a converted slaughterhouse on what is called, “The farm” at Cal Poly Pomona and then spent another six months in an apartment.  As grandparents!!!

The kitchen at "The Farm" at Cal Poly

 

Now that’s what I call radical generosity.

They are now preparing for a move to a remote area in Uganda where they will live with the bare necessities so they can bring hope, health, and the redeeming message of Jesus Christ to people on the other side of the world.

When I hear stories of people like Rick and Sherry, I am humbled and challenged to learn of how else I can reflect God’s love to the world through radical giving.

Will you join me in that? I’m convinced that God is always up to something and never ceases to pour out his love to us and I never want to cease reflecting that love to others.

It could be something as simple as stepping up to become a leader in your church or it could be as complicated as quitting your job to pursue that vision that God gave you a long time ago.

Whatever it is, I’d love to hear about it!  Send me an email at ali@withthisring.org and let me know what you’re thinking.

Ringless in Christ,

Ali Eastburn

The Average Joe Club

The Average Joe Club

You may have heard recently about billionaire Bill Gates’ challenge to other billionaires to give away half of their wealth by the time they die.  The goal?  Make as big a difference in the world of human need as they have made in business.

Gates, along with such notable men as Warren Buffet, Larry Ellison, Carlos Slim, Ted Turner, and Marc Bloomberg have all agreed to the challenge.  By the time these six men complete their pledge they will have given away more than $100,000,000,000.00.  One hundred billion dollars!

That’s a pretty impressive number, and one that if directed at the right sources, could literally end the world water crisis and provide enough food and agricultural resources to eradicate world hunger for about two years.

That’s a pretty big dent in suffering and poverty around the world.

While I am hopeful and excited at the thought of the worldwide impact these billionaires could make in the next thirty years, I am even more hopeful and excited at the thought of the impact that could be made if average people like you and me started making changes to our daily living.  If we started now, even small changes could change the world when pooled with the small changes of countless others.  Who knows whether, in thirty years, that one hundred billion dollars will even be needed?

Meet The Average Joe

Let’s take one people group as an example.  I recently blogged about how teenagers are a generation waiting to be trained in generosity.

If you haven’t read it, you should.  The numbers are staggering.   Average American teenagers are spending between $122 and $172 billion dollars a year according to the research done by Teenage Marketing Unlimited.

One year of teenage spending totals more than the lifetime charity pledges of six of America’s wealthiest billionaires.

I am in no way insinuating that these billionaires aren’t doing their part.  They are not obligated to give anything away.  I am merely pointing out that one people group is capable of wiping out the entire world water crisis in less than three months by choosing to use their resources for doing good rather than buying more minutes on their cell phones or drinking endless amounts of Starbuck’s coffee and Red Bull.

But what about the rest of us?  Where are we spending our money and how could we use it to better the world we live in?

This leaves me with one big question: what if?

  • What if every American decided to stop buying Starbuck’s for a month?
  • What if every kid in America decided to forego McDonald’s for a month?
  • What if every woman decided to not buy any fashion items for a month?
  • What if every American stopped buying water bottles for a month?

The list is endless.  Even in this tough economy, there is something we can all do to be more generous, a luxury we can give up so that others’ basic needs can be met.

What can we do?

That’s not just a question for us to entertain, it is a challenge for us to take.  I want to challenge you to join with friends, family, neighbors, your small group – whoever – and ask that question together committing to hold one another accountable for doing it.

Whether big or small, I’d love to hear your ideas, and I’d love to be a part of it.

Maybe there are others out there who are up for the challenge as well.  Send them a link to this blog post or copy and paste it into an email to them.  Whatever you do, don’t let this challenge stop with you.

Changing the world is not the responsibility of The Billionaire Club.  The responsibility belongs to all of us.  Then, at the end of the day, when we lay our head on our pillow, we can rest knowing we did everything within our power to change the lives of others through the gift of generosity!

Let’s start a generosity club of our own! “The Average Joe Club!”
Ringless in Christ,
Ali Eastburn