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. 

 

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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

“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

Through the Fire

Through the Fire

I recently met a man at a conference I attended.  His name was David, and he told me a story that I will never forget.

At the age of twenty, David was engaged to marry the love of his life.  But ten days before their wedding, their apartment building caught fire and the only way out was through the flames.  In an act of pure courage, they both ran through the fire.

By the time they got past the flames, they were both on fire.  They dropped and rolled, but by the time the flames subsided, they were both badly burned.  Over 70% of his body was burned and over 90% of hers.

The doctors put David into a medically-induced coma for thirty days so his body could recover from the extensive injuries.  Ten days in, his bride-to-be was buried on what would have been their wedding day.

When he woke up from the coma, he realized that his entire future had changed.  He began to approach life differently and everything seemed to point him in the direction of a loving savior, Jesus Christ.

That was twenty years ago.  David is now the pastor of a small church, married to a beautiful Christian woman, and has children of his own.  He knows that the grace of God saved him and believes he is a living example of God’s love to so many hurting and lost people.

Despite his crushing loss at such a young age, David kept the rings that he and his fiancée were to exchange. He had always hoped to do something of significance with them.  After he and his wife heard about With This Ring, he knew what to do with the rings.  The very rings that could have signified death and hopelessness will instead be used to bring health, hope, and life for children on the other side of the world.

Is there something you’ve been holding on to that represents hopelessness and loss?  Would you trust God to redeem that for you and give health, hope, and life to someone else?  What step can you take today to make it happen?

I’d love to hear your story of how God is moving in your life to transform you into a radical giver.  Don’t hesitate to email me at ali@withthisring.org and tell me your story!

Ringless in Christ,

Ali Eastburn

Teens-Raising a Generous Generation

Teens: Raising a Generous Generation

Money for Nothing!

According to a national survey conducted by Teenage Marketing Unlimited, the average American teenager spent over $104 per week in 2001, and based on the spending of some teens, that amount has now increased by $16 or more in 2010.

Teenage Research Unlimited reports that teenage spending has risen from $122 billion per year to $172 billion per year over the past five years.

What are we going to do with our “privileged” teenagers and what will our future look like?

Well, according to these statistics, it’s not looking good!

I never thought much about how our consumer driven culture could affect my future grandchildren someday, but a young man named Gavin, a sophomore in a local high school, has made me see the light.

My fifteen-year-old son had his teenage friends over last week and while they were sitting around talking, one of them, Gavin, approached me and asked about the details of With This Ring.  He asked what he could do to get more involved and to be honest I was taken back by his interest.

He is the first teenager that has even asked about what I do.  I gladly told him all about the things we are doing at WTR and he began to rattle off idea after idea.

I went from just answering his questions to be polite, to total excitement as I heard his heart about his generation and what he’d like to contribute to it. I spent over an hour talking with him and he said he would like to come back the next day and start volunteering.

The next day he walked into my office and sat down without wasting any time as he began to explain the concepts he stayed up late imagining. It made me step back and realize I had grossly underestimated the power of a sold out teen. We sat for several hours planning and I put him on a computer, showed him how to work a program that creates flyers, and cut him loose.

By the end of three hours, he’d carefully strategized and mapped out a program he intends to launch at his high school this year, created a flyer and a one sheet to give to the school superintendant, and he even called the ASB president of his school to begin the steps to implement this new program.

I have to say that this was not what I was expecting.  I have worked with adults and spent weeks training them.  There are few volunteers who in several months come even close to what this young man accomplished in one day.

I have high hopes for this generation because I am now confident that in the middle of a self centered culture of spoiled teens, there are those like Gavin that are waiting for the opportunity to make a difference.

The name of the program he created is called, “Give Change to Make Change” and I can’t wait to see the outcome!

Do you know a teen that might be a generous giver in the making?

Ringless in Christ,

Ali Eastburn

With This Ring

www.withthisring.org

Automatic Generosity: How a 14-Year-Old Girl Used $20

My best friend, Kimmi, lives in Northern California. The other day we were talking on the phone and she mentioned that the child she sponsors, Rahema, just turned 14 years old.  She and her husband sent Rahema a letter and twenty dollars for her birthday so she could buy something special for herself.   Just a few weeks later, Kimmi got a letter back from Rahema.  It began with these words:

I greet you with feelings of joy.  Praise the Lord Jesus!

This child living in extreme poverty is exclaiming joy, praising the Lord Jesus.

I already love her.  Kimmi has told me many things about Rahema in the last three years, but somehow reading her letter made her real to me.

Rahema goes on to thank Kimmi and her husband for the generous birthday gift and then proudly announces what she bought with the twenty dollars.  If she were a typical American teenager, you might expect her to buy a new dress, or some toys, maybe even some candy or a video game. But for Rahema, those were not of any interest.

Instead, with the money she received for her birthday, Rahema bought a female goat for her family.   Then she spent the remaining money on a pair of shoes for her mother who walks long distances selling goods in local villages to support her family, like many of the women do.

That twenty dollars we don’t even hesitate to spend for a movie and popcorn is the same twenty dollars Rahema used to bring her family a little further out of poverty’s hand.

Twenty dollars is a little more than half of what Rahema’s family earns in a month.

Can you imagine giving away that much money, approximately two weeks salary, without even thinking twice about it? What is it that makes a person care about those they love more than they care about themselves?

A person who exhibits love like that has to be the result of God’s love so deeply resonating in them that their gratitude and generosity is more prevalent than their own personal needs or wants.  Love like that must be instinctual, automatic, not manufactured. It must come from a deeper knowledge of the Savior and His character, and a deeper knowledge of His love.

I want to exhibit love like that; generosity that doesn’t even consider oneself, but immediately looks to the needs of others.

I have a lot to learn from Rahema.  We all do.  Rahema values people, not things.  She values life, not riches. While the amount of money she has is limited, she is very, very rich.

So, how can we love more generously and expect nothing for ourselves?

We practice it!  We put action to our faith by living it out though our deeds, even when it is hard to do so. When God calls, we answer Him with authentic praise that is evident in everything we say and do.

I believe the reason Rahema is full of joy and praising God is because she has traded riches for contentment, and selfishness for service.

In Hebrews 13:16 it says: And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Little or big, we can all do something generous every day, and pretty soon our response will be as automatic as Rahema’s, even when it comes to the big things.

There is something generous you can do today that will be a significant blessing to someone else – once you know what it is, do it!  Then, begin to plan how you can be generous tomorrow and then the next day.

Who knows?  Maybe generosity will become contagious!

Ringless in Christ,

Ali Eastburn

Executive Director

With This Ring