We admire and idealize young people. We love their energy, promise, and optimism. Faith communities of all sorts prioritize programs and opportunities for children, youth, and young adults. It is wonderful to be encouraged by the ambition and hope of young people who are setting out, ready to change the world!
I had the privilege of spending time this past week with a group of visionary, service-minded young adults at Valparaiso University. I came to campus in order to attend the last event in their annual Pathways to Purpose Speaker Series, a program of the Institute for Leadership and Service.
The speaker, last in a series of truly impressive leaders, thinkers, and world-changers, was Eugene Cho. Cho is the founding pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, Washington, but he spoke with these engaged college students primarily about the charitable organization that he and his family founded in 2009, called One Day’s Wages.
One Day’s Wages invites donors to consider the impact their earnings in a single day could make in addressing issues of extreme poverty. Partnering with established organizations already working to address the Millennium Development Goals, One Day’s Wages makes grants to address a wide range of global needs, leveraging the impact of small gifts by pooling the resources of donors.
This model for changing the world for the better encourages giving through careful reflection among a base of young donors, most of whom make relatively modest gifts. I’m reminded of the power of the Global Rich List, which allows an individual to estimate his or her affluence relative to the other 7 billion people in the world.
It is certainly humbling to know that my monthly salary could staff up a medical clinic in Malawi for a year, or that in one minute I earn as much as some laborers make in a full day’s shift. One Day’s Wages also maintains a calculator online, making it very easy to see what your wages in a single day might mean in light of extreme global poverty.
As important as this personal perspective really is, changing the world through the alleviation of extreme poverty also has the potential to change the lives of donors. This is what we at Lake Institute mean when we talk about the power of understanding generosity as both virtue and practice, where the disciplines of a religious life are manifested in how we relate to money and stuff.
Cho shares very transparently about the sacrifice required of him in leading this work. His book Overrated poses a tough question to those who want to work for transformation and justice. The subtitle asks “Are we more in love with the idea of changing the world than actually changing the world?”
When he formed One Day’s Wages, Cho, along with his family, saved for three years in order to make a leadership gift equivalent to one year’s income. It required humility, discipline, and sacrifice. Cho relates a story about selling a sports car that he loved; he bumped up against his own resistance to change, as it came into conflict with the call on his life toward justice, toward changing the world for the better.
If working for justice stems from our faith commitments, we cannot be surprised or dismayed when that work requires us to be challenged and changed ourselves. In fact, this might be the real gift that we receive from young people who are deeply committed to changing the world. We see the ways in which they will shape the future, and we are eager to form, encourage, and empower them in the practices of faith.
This was apparent to me last week, as Valparaiso students shared their dreams and commitment to action, for a world that is safer, healthier, and more just. This may mean that we, too, in communities of faith, need to be open to transformation. If we understand stewardship to be about care for all of the resources entrusted to us, we must be open to the possibility that we will be made, in some way, less-comfortable as we engage this change-making practice in the world.
Generosity as a discipline and virtue invites us to be changed, even as we work for change in the world.