Many of us belong to numerous “charitable organizations” outside of the KC’s; curative therapies, worthy causes, not-for-profits, nature hugging groups, just to name a few. Some form of CHARITY affects almost every part of our lives. However, we tend to only fund things we believe in. When we hear a really motivating appeal for CHARITY from a recognizable national spokesperson or celebrity, it’s our nature to want to go all out and “fire hose” our way to the solution. Working towards the perceived goal, laid out by the national ad campaign makes us feel good that we can help in the telethon by sending in a little money, without getting our hands dirty. Walk for the cure, run for the cure, bike for the cure; all safe ways to show support, but seaming at arm’s length from the actual cure. A few weeks ago, there was a piece being forwarded around, via email, about the breakdown of costs and net amounts actually making it to the needy in various well known charities, with frighteningly skinny results for everyone except the administrators. (I have a copy for anyone to see) So often we wonder if our charitable contribution of time talent and treasure ends up accomplishing what was initially promised by the visiting bell ringers and tin cup rattlers. So often the media spotlights hucksters who take advantage of our bleeding hearts, making it even more difficult to respond to a seemingly, worthy cause.
I’m going to write about two very different CHARITY events today, neither is going to even scratch the surface of what CHARITY actually is. I could have picked better stories to cover, but I want to stimulate you all to think deep thoughts. Twenty years ago, I helped a local Presbyterian Church parishioner raise money for mission in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. They used it to build special 16 x 20- 4 room plywood shelters for homeless people, outside of their mission town. We raised well over a quarter million dollars and built twenty homes for, what was the lowest segment of the area’s social strata. With all the CHARITY came tremendous jealousy among the townsfolk that were one or two notches up the food chain and living in shipping containers and lean-to’s. The recipients of our homes felt so guilty that their new houses were better than those they deemed to be higher class, that they dismantled and sold the windows, sinks and fixtures as either a self-punishment or for the income. Some recipients abandoned their homes for more deserving classes of people to move in, a few were in fear of their lives. Others’ need for cooking fuel exceeded the need for shelter so they removed important structural wood components, door and window frames, to burn and the flimsy, unsupported plywood homes fell apart. Did CHARITY occur? I covered “blind faith” two months ago, in the Lecturers Report titled “the Woosh of Blind Faith”. How about a little “blind charity”? Did we go wrong by donating homes that caused disruption? It can be complicated. An entire church community got behind this feel good project, but it appeared to have failed. There is no moral to this story. The cultural differences were unforeseen. Charitable people got together and tried to do something nice for other less fortunate folks with their missionary efforts. Maybe it’s not all that different than when some dirt poor person wins the Lotto and self-destructs with lack of knowledge in how to handle their new-found wealth. It didn’t stop them from continuing to try to help the poor people in their Mexican mission project, as it still continues.
In very stark contrast to the last story, I want to share another, more uplifting story about CHARITY, also with unforeseen results, only this time, positive. Sometimes throwing large sums of money and huge resources at a problem isn’t always the best way to provide CHARITY. I heard this story from a colleague, John Deedrick, as he lamented about the loss of his best friend, Chuck Herman, in a freak accident involving his friend cutting a tree down and having it catch, twist, and fall in a different direction than intended and land on his friend, killing him. His friend was a Fire Chief in the Rochester, MN fire district.
Several years earlier, both Chuck and John read a book written by Bruce Wilkinson, titled, “You were born for this”. The two were so inspired, they formed a non-profit entity called, GREAT DEEDS, with the idea of performing random acts of kindness, as often as the opportunity arises, with as little as ten and twenty dollar bills; i.e. lunches or groceries for hungry strangers, books, socks, shirts, etc., “see it, do it” during your daily routine. Many friends and prominent business people from Rochester were recruited to participate and to “fire at will” whenever the occasion arose to thank or help someone in a small way for any reason.
Chuck rode his motorcycle to Sturgis South Dakota for an annual weeklong event. Early Sunday a.m., he stopped at Wall Drug to stretch his legs. He stood in line to buy a twenty dollar “T” shirt when it dawned on him that he already had too many “T” shirts and that he should probably attend a local church an put it in the collection plate, instead. As he got back on his bike, he noticed inclement weather approaching and thought heading north, would avoid it. Several miles out, he noticed a little white church with cars in the lot and people walking in, so he rolled in, parked and took a seat. After hearing a wonderful message, he shook the pastor’s hand and handed him the twenty dollar bill, suggesting to him, to take his lovely wife out to brunch. The pastor handed it back and said he had three more sermons to give at three more neighboring parishes, but directed him to Lily, a parishioner who was about to head to Africa for a two week mission trip.
Chuck introduced himself to Lily and chatted for a spell. Lily was about to go visit an orphanage in the center of a city in Zimbabwe with clothing, donations and bibles. He handed her the twenty and instructed Lily to buy soccer balls for the orphanage kids to play with instead of putting it towards less than fun activities. He then reluctantly shook her hand and left. Lily reluctantly agreed and left with the money, shaking her head, as if it were too weird to figure out, but promised she would buy the soccer balls. The donor doubted the money would end up where he requested, but finished his vacation and returned to Rochester. The woman doubted a soccer ball was good idea when other needs were so great, but stashed the cash and headed for Africa with a promise to keep.
Lily arrived at the orphanage as the director greeted and showed her the latest improvements, including a new, large group classroom. Lily advised that she promised a donor that she would buy soccer balls for the kids. The director balked at the idea of balls being kicked around inside the new orphanage hall. Lily queried about the adjoining, but unimproved lot owned by the orphanage, to which the director chided, “too dangerous”. There were sharp objects, needles, broken glass and things that could cause harm to the kids as well as the potential for nefarious activity and uncontrollable strangers in the poorest part of town. Lily fought back with the argument that Chuck gave her, in the need for kids to play and have fun. Lily volunteered to walk the grounds and clean it up and others joined in.
The landscape was very uneven and weedy, but they cleaned it up as best as possible and drove to the nearest sporting goods store. On the way to the supply and sports stores, they passed some idle earthmoving equipment, parked nearby. Lily asked the director to pull over and she asked the owner if he would smooth out the area, next to the orphanage and create a soccer field, to which he said, “No, I don’t do charity work”. They turned and moved on. The door of the sporting goods store was locked and a sign said CLOSED, but Lily began to knock, incessantly, until someone came and unlocked it. In an unfriendly voice, he pointed out the CLOSED sign and told them to leave, adding that he was about to go out of business. She pled for him to look for soccer balls which she would gladly pay twenty dollars for. He said there was a barrel in the back with equipment in it and told her to help herself. She dug to the bottom and found three uninflated soccer balls, went back to the owner and asked for him to pump them up. He sold her a pump and air needle and took her twenty dollars. On the way back, she asked the director to stop at the earth moving equipment one more time and one more time she was run off by the operator.
She repeated this for two more days and finally the curmudgeon operator said, “if I don’t have any work booked by Friday, I’ll clear your lot for you.” Not only did he clear it, he seeded it with grass left over from another job. Some local craftsmen, living in the area, fashioned simple soccer goals and the kids were excited to begin playing soccer on a real soccer field, once the grass filled in.
Lily returned to South Dakota and began to plan for fund raising efforts for her next trip to Zimbabwe. Nearly two years passed by. As she neared the departure date, she communicated with the director, who was very excited to surprise her with the events that unfolded as a result of her persistency and her twenty dollar purchase from the previous visit. In her absence, word had travelled to neighboring companies, organizations, villages and other soccer enthusiasts wanting to use real balls on a real soccer field and people started to show up. Money offers, to rent the facility for sponsored events, started to flow into the orphanage and the word spread to even farther reaching areas. The director informed Lily that, by renting the facility out, they make enough money to buy all the food, clothing, text books, cleaning supplies, etc. that it takes to run an orphanage, with money left over, thanks to her twenty dollar purchase and persistence to keep a promise.
Since then, teams have formed by numerous villages and games and tournaments were scheduled. Entire villages of spectators began to show up, stimulating a micro economy of trade, concession sales and other positive activities. The nearby sporting goods store even reopened. Local church attendance increased. An even larger economy began to develop. Money, hundreds of donations and volunteer labor to make improvements to the field and school flooded in and, over time, it evolved into a nice soccer facility with bleachers, benches, and grass field, lined with chalk. The church, the orphanage and school benefited, the city benefited, local companies benefited, the kids and families benefited and it all began from a twenty dollar bill.
Unaware of all that happened in Zimbabwe two years earlier, Chuck was back in Minnesota, in a heated discussion with the Rochester Mayor about some politically polarizing views and public events surrounding diversity and religious freedom. They ended the rhetoric with an agreement to disagree. It got uncomfortable, so the Mayor switched subjects and asked about Chuck’s next motorcycle trip. That, in turn, jogged his memory about an email he got from the Minneapolis Mayor, so he retrieved it and asked Chuck, “Is this you?”
When Lily returned home in Wall, SD, the second time, she knew she had to find the motorcycling fireman and thank him. She couldn’t remember his name, but thought he might be from Minneapolis or St. Paul, so she emailed the mayors of both cities and told them of her successful soccer ball story and asked them to help her find her fireman. They forwarded the email to all of the area fire stations, but they reported back to her, no positive results. She asked them to check other nearby cities, so one of the mayors forwarded the email to other Minnesota mayors, wished her well and washed his hands of it.
Shocked, Chuck immediately responded to her email and got “the rest of the story”, as Paul Harvey used to say, this story that I’m sharing now. He used this example to motivate many others who continue to further his dream of GREAT DEED’S and John Deedrick shared it with me to keep it going, too. Twenty dollars can turn into millions or go up in flames. Truly “blind charity” occurred as no one expected these results from a $20 donation turning into a million dollar soccer facility in a poor part of town in Zimbabwe. In the previous story, no one expected the 300k Mexican mission homes project to fail.
Two very unusual choices of Charity to write about, eh? What was Marty thinking, you ask? I’m not sure there can be a moral to these stories, but there are many contemplations, which is what we are supposed to do when praying the Rosary. Some CHARITY is a gamble that takes on a life of its own. CHARITY has to be unconditional. We have to let the Holy Trinity put the final touch on CHARITY as it abounds in and around our lives. There shouldn’t be expectations for CHARITY. Common sense will not always be your friend when it comes to CHARITY. Earlier this month, the daily gospel reading (that reminds me most of the KC’s) from MT 7 15-20 read, “….by their fruits you will know them…”, but who hasn’t occasionally bought a good looking piece of fruit that ends up being punkie in the middle. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t buy fruit anymore. I think it applies to CHARITY as well. To the best of your ability, try to be charitable. God’s ultimate CHARITY of sacrificing His only begotten Son for all of us undeserving sinners is probably a good point to end this with, as we contemplate God’s CHARITY for us, rounding out the last of the three beads near the start of the Rosary. God is CHARITY!