If you’ve been on any type of social media in the last week, you are probably aware of the ice bucket challenge for ALS awareness.
I figured it was only a matter of time before it got around to us, and sure enough, on Tuesday, a couple of people in our church had challenged Jason and I to participate.
ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s, is a horrible, cruel, ugly, undiscriminating disease that preys on young and old alike. One of my favorite high school teachers lost her daughter, a sweet, vibrant girl I loved, and picked up from school a few times, to ALS. Watching her go from a strong, healthy, normal teenager to being wheelchair-bound is the definition of life not being fair.
I am glad that people are learning about, talking about, and spending money to fight ALS. And while there are some legitimate questions being raised about how much this challenge actually helps people with ALS, concerns over what kind of research the money actually funds, and objections from people who support other important causes, like clean water in third-world countries, it’s hard to argue with the numbers: as of yesterday, the ice bucket challenge had raised $31.5 million for ALS research, a 1600-percent increase over what was given during the same period last year.
So it’s good that people are giving to ALS. I’m not saying that those millions of dollars for ALS do not matter. It’s fun and easy to give in ways that seem tangible and concrete like this. In July, our church brought in one of our largest monthly Cause offerings to replace the small, falling-apart backpacks of our school district’s weekend feeding program. Your generosity was noticed by our community, and those who work closely with these hungry kids were moved by our gift.
But when I see pictures of the backpacks we bought, and watch videos of people participating in the ice bucket challenge–things that I think are noble and good and important–there’s this part of my brain that is still ringing with the words that Dick Brogden spoke at the AG Centennial simulcast:
“Dollars for one-time sexy projects can seduce us, that we slide from the greatest impact of missions giving: monthly support for boots-on-the-ground missionaries. And if your church is not regularly, sacrificially, giving to support missionaries around the world, you are not in spirit Assemblies of God. Call yourself whatever you want, but you cannot in truth be part of this fellowship if your budget does not prioritize the mission of God in the uttermost places of the earth.”
I think feeding kids in Ozark matters. I think raising money for ALS research matters. I would never argue otherwise.
Unfortunately, the sobering truth is that a lot of the projects we give to that make us feel that we are helping, and making a difference, do not really have the impact on the needy that we think they do. Robert Lupton, author of Toxic Charity, offers this sobering indictment of our benevolence: “As compassionate people, we have been evaluating our charity by the rewards we receive through service, rather than the benefits received by the served” (p. 5).
However, even supposing that all charitable projects and dollars were achieving everything we hoped they would, it’s hard for me to swallow just how difficult it is to inspire generosity for projects that don’t put something tangible in our hands but matter, perhaps, a great deal more. Because, after all, if we put food in the bellies of hungry kids or save the life of someone suffering with ALS, but never tell that person about the love of Jesus, have we really helped them? And what about the millions of people around the world who have yet to even hear the name of Jesus? Aren’t they worth our dollars, and Facebook activism, and even our lives?
My friends Sam and Lisa Paris think they are. Which is why they are taking their family to Tanna, Vanuatu to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are forsaking the familiar, losing physical comfort, and putting themselves on the line for the sake of the gospel. What they are getting ready to do as a family requires sacrifices that most of us cannot even fathom.
If I take a bucket of ice water and pour it over my head, afterwards, I can go inside and towel off, throw my wet clothes in an electric-powered washing machine, take a hot shower, and snuggle up in a blanket on the couch in my climate-controlled home.
The Parises won’t have easy access to those luxuries in Vanuatu. However, they consider these sacrifices worthwhile. And because I know them, I can say with confidence that they are even a little bit excited about the adventure they’re embarking upon as a family because they know that the things they are exchanging–those temporary, earthly comforts–are worth giving up when you compare them to the importance of adding just one more person to the kingdom of God.
They have taken Paul’s words to heart: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
Our church has the awesome privilege of partnering with Sam and Lisa this month with our CAUSE monies. Not all of us are called to go to Vanuatu. Some of us are called to other places. And some of us are called to stay right where we are and be faithful with the influence God has given us here. But what is wonderful is that even though you and I will likely never see the tribesmen and women of Tanna, we can contribute to them hearing the name of Jesus for the first time by funding Sam and Lisa’s missionary budget.
The single most effective way to engineer lasting change in a community is not through drop-in aid, or one-time projects, but through the consistent, enduring efforts of people who make their homes and build their lives within that community. This is the work of a missionary. That is what Sam and Lisa and their kids are going to Vanuatu to do. Their vision is to establish a long-term ministry in Vanuatu that will continue beyond their lifetimes, providing education, healthcare, and most importantly, knowledge of Jesus Christ to the Ni-Vanuatu people.
Missions is important to the heart of God. It’s important to our church. And it’s important to me and Jason as a family. When we received the ice bucket challenge a couple of days ago, we made a donation to ALS, and we started talking about what it really means to make a difference. As we watched video after video of people publicly participating in this challenge, Jason said casually, “what if people did this for missions?”
His question kept me awake most of the night. What if people did this for missions? What if we did this for missions?
So, since people apparently want to see me and Jason freezing and soaking wet, we offer the following challenge to the people of our church:
If you give $1200 to Sam and Lisa by the end of the month, we will do the ice bucket challenge, at our church building, in front of all of you. Twelve hundred dollars is the equivalent of supporting the Parises at $100 a month for a year, or $25 a month for an entire four-year term. Many of you have given to ALS in the last few weeks. We gave more than this as a church for backpacks last month. We can give this much to see people come to know Jesus. In fact, I cannot think of any more important way to spend our dollars.
Twelve hundred dollars, by August 31, and you’ll get to see your pastors drenched in ice water.
Are you up for the challenge?