He closed his leather portfolio, clasped his hands together and slowly placed them on it –all business-like and leaned across the table and crushed my brave yes with these words:
“You’ve told me your story and shown me a business model you can never sustain. How will you define if Mercy House is ever really successful?”
I had just spent an hour with an investor, spilling out story and words and very non-business like tears because I thought this might be the answer to all my constant money-raising questions. hand-wringing and overthinking. Maybe this was the moment I could let out the breath I’d been holding for years.
But his words knocked the breath out of me and left me gasping and grasping because instead of blank checks and paper miracles slid across the table, there was doubt and discouragement.
For a split second, I almost believed the despair he spoke over our life’s work. We were inexperienced and inadequate; unqualified and unsure. Since that first yes, we have been overwhelmed and in over our heads with broken girls, horrific stories of survival and so much grief and sorrow. It’s been years of two steps forward and sometimes three steps back. So, what gave us the audacity to fund rescues of abused pregnant teens in Kenya and try to create jobs in 24 other countries for oppressed and impoverished women?
Oh, yeah. God. That’s Who.
So, I stacked my papers in a neat pile, took a deep breath and said with righteous indignation, “This isn’t about success. It’s about obedience. It might not look profitable on paper, but most supernatural things don’t. And that first baby born alive in 2011 is how we define success.”
I have thought about that meeting probably a thousand times. Today is the 7th anniversary of that first trip to Kenya with Compassion International. I have marveled at how God has provided money and miracles at every turn. It has been hard and holy work.
But sometimes I think there’s a misconception about Mercy House… and maybe people think we’re this big organization with a lot of money and big donors. It might look that way on paper because we buy so much fair trade product but we turn around and sell it -often only to make a couple of dollars– And this is what keeps women employed and our maternity homes funded when donations don’t cover expenses.
Hundreds of items are tagged and packaged by volunteers who are our life blood every week. The average donor gives $25 a month and we rejoice with each new giver or sponsor. We also grieve every donor who stops giving and mourn every Fair Trade Friday cancellation because we feel the impact and the pressure to fill their vacancies.
We wring our hands and fast on Monday’s and beg God to keep doing the impossible. We keep laying this too-heavy burden down at His feet. We keep rescuing pregnant girls in Kenya, rejoicing at their miracle babies, we keep creating jobs, graduating teen moms and last month, we opened a transition home.
No, we aren’t big, but God is and your dollar and purchases are doing the unlikely: They are changing the world.
So, yeah. We need you. But mostly, we need Jesus.
And most days, it feels like what we do is insignificant. Because for every girl we help, a hundred more wait for rescue. For every baby born alive, there are countless lost. For every job we provide, there are thousands of women who put their children to bed hungry every night. Every success has been built upon the devastation of failure. We are in the people business and it is messy.
Last week, I shared the story about the investor to a couple who made their way to our big red Texas barn to ask me for advice for their own journey of obedience. And if I’m honest, I typically avoid these meetings and long to crawl under the table when I’m in them because don’t people know that everything they see has everything to do with God and very little to do with me? I couldn’t repeat the last 7 years if I wanted to and believe me, I don’t want to. I’ve learned a thousand things –mostly the hard way–and there are still a million things I don’t know.
I’m pretty sure I terrified that little couple.
But I did offer them Gandhi’s wise words that reverberate a deep gospel truth in my bones and I play them on repeat,”Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it matters enormously that you do it.”
And because it matters to the person you do it for. It’s the starfish story again and again. We can’t toss all the dying starfish washed up on the shore back in the ocean, but we can throw a few. And it will seem insignificant–unless we ask those who are alive in the ocean.
In a couple of weeks, I’m getting back on an airplane with my little family and we are traveling back across the ocean to meet newly rescued pregnant girls in Kenya and see with our own eyes the newly opened transition home that will move 6 of our teen moms closer to independence. We will cup the faces of former prostitutes and beggars who have been steadily working for one year now and we will visit the homes they have rented with money they make from little felt tic tac toe hearts. We will visit graduates and artisan groups and homes in the slum and we will see a great ocean of need that we will never be able to meet and we will wonder if what do really matters.
And it will be insignificant, but we will hold babies and laugh with young moms and remember why we do it.
But when I try to close my eyes at night, I will fight off a panic attack because I know that we need 90 more monthly sponsors for our newest girls to return to school and so I will stay up half the night to load pictures of the 6 girls that need sponsors and I will ask you to help provide for their care and education. And you will consider and wonder if $22 can really make a difference at all. . .
And I will look into their eyes and hold their children and I will remember that investor and his question and how the Kingdom of God defines success and I will put my hand on my computer screen and touch this mom’s face and you will do the same thing with an ocean between us, and I will say–yes, it matters very much.
And maybe you won’t wait until I’m on the ground in Kenya, pulling on your heartstrings, desperate for your help. Because you will decide today that you won’t believe for a second that your yes is insignificant and you will do it. You will sponsor a teen mom and her baby for $22 a month and it will matter more than you can ever know.
Friend, whatever you do for others is important because it is done for Jesus. And it might seem insignificant to the world and feel small and unimportant.
But it matters enormously that you do it.