Eugene Cho

fight poverty 3 – a vision of compassion and redistribution

This is the third and final part of a short series entitled, Fight Poverty.  If interested, you can read Part I [An Introduction] and Part II [A Broken World].  We want to do our part so Minhee and I have decided to give up our annual salary next year to join the fight against global poverty.

Global poverty is a very painful and complex situation.  But, it can also be seen in a simple angle:

  1. There are people and countries around the world that are suffering, dying, and in grave need.
  2. There are people and countries with abundant resources that can benefit the “have nots” around the world.
  3. The solution is simple:  Redistribute resources from us to them [since we are part of the same global community] and in that process, help create sustainability and build up/equip local leaders…

I know it’s too simplistic but we must see ourselves as part of the solution.  There is nothing wrong with enjoying the material goods that most of us have access to but we can easily cross the line into gluttony and overconsumption.  My family and I have everything that we can possibly need but there are times I still struggle with wanting more.  When is enough enough?

Minhee and I are average folks trying to live our lives faithfully and passionately in Seattle.  We have three kids that we seek to love and nurture and pray that they’ll turn out as agents of hope in the world.  My family and I are not wealthy by any means.  Yet, in the context of the larger world, we are filthy rich.  We live off my one income of $60,000 as a pastor.  I make another few thousand dollars/year for speaking at other churches and conferences.  Minhee volunteers as an intern counselor.  But we’ve made some sound financial decisions that have allowed us to own 1.5 homes — or at least, have names on the mortgages that the banks hold in our name.  We even have three cars including an old convertible [a weakness!].  I shacked out couple thousand dollars a few years ago on a 1989 Mazda Miata.  You should have seen the look on Minhee’s face when I sold our Toyota Camry Wagon and brought home that Miata during a mid-life crisis moment.  Priceless.  :)

We are certainly privileged and yet we struggle with wanting more.  And goodness gracious, it’s so easy to become complacent.  While God has been faithful in His provision in years past, I am still anxious about how to prepare for our kids’ college education, struggling with the mortgage payments, still checking out “car-porn” when my family visit Barnes  & Noble, buying the next “necessary” item, retirement plans, or even wanting to indulge in my dream toy.   I’m challenged by these verses from 1 Timothy 6:6-7, 17-19:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. … Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

I was also recently encouraged by these quotes shared by a friend:

“Money is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. If it gets on top and you get under it, you will become its slave.” – E. Stanley Jones

“Just the very act of letting go of money, or some other treasure, does something within us. It destroys the demon greed.” If you’re enslaved by greed, you will not lead others with integrity.” -Richard Foster

I cannot speak for others.  I can only speak for Minhee and myself.  We are immensely blessed but we’ve been convicted and challenged in the areas where we need to grow:  Contentment, Generosity, and Vision of Stewardship. 

This is probably why God has really been convicting our hearts recently and after battling some of our fears of trust [and God addressing those fears!], it has given birth to this vision of a humanitarian organization to work with other organizations and individuals around the world to Fight Poverty.  We’re unable to reveal the name of our organization yet but our goals include Awareness and Redistribution.  As we take our sabbatical next summer, we hope to use the bulk of our time to help launch this humanitarian organization.  Some goals:  Raise a minimum of $2 million dollars before 2010, $10 million in the first 5 years, and $50 million dollars within 20 years.  

Sounds naive and crazy, right?  But how amazing would it be to help redistribute those funds to the men, women, and children who are actively involved in the areas of mercy, justice, and compassion around the global world?  As nonsensical as this sounds, we have a simple vision and strategy that we believe can grow to be a movement not only to fight poverty but to create a subversive culture of compassion.

In that purpose, Minhee and I have decided to give away our salary next year [2008] to this humanitarian organization  and additional funds to total $100K in the first five years.  Honestly, we’re pretty scared but we’ve realized that we can make our finances work through these decisions amongst others:

  1. We own mortgages to 1.5 homes.  Sell our home next year and give to organization.
  2. Minimize eating out and the weekly babysitting. 
  3. Stop buying.
  4. Sell excess stuff we don’t need.

We are making this decision not only because we feel “convicted” but because we are privileged.  We are giving up our income next year simply because we can.  I share this post not to sound spiritual or boastful.  My hope is that our decision may resonate with each of you to consider Contentment, Generosity, and Stewardship in your own lives.  And yes, I sincerely hope you’ll consider partnering with us in the upcoming years.  Let me apologize in advance for the excessive spamming you might receive from me. 

The world is a beautiful place but there are many things that are just not right.  But not doing anything when we clearly know something is wrong and evil might be the best example of our human depravity.

Filed under: family, health, religion, ,

37 Responses

  1. Derrick says:

    Okay Eugene. I agree with you. This is crazy but add me to your list!

  2. tony sheng says:

    Hi Eugene,
    I found you via SimplyMissional.com. You would probably be very interested in reading “The End of Poverty” by Jeffrey Sachs, where he outlines some tangible approaches to investment and infrastructure for local, indigenous, sustainable development to eliminate poverty. Dr Sachs optimistically and audaciously believes we can end absolute poverty by 2050.
    I’ve got some notes here
    http://tonytsheng.blogspot.com/2007/04/end-of-poverty-chapter-10.html
    but I think you would love to read it for yourself.
    Blessings!

  3. e cho says:

    Tony: thanks for dropping by. Jeffrey Sachs is someone I respect and enjoy very much. That book has certainly spoken to me amongst several others. There are several factors that need to all converge together in some manner but nearly everyone agrees: it is within our capacity to end extreme poverty.

  4. DK says:

    Eugene,

    Well, I’m looking forward to hearing more of your strategy. Many things sound crazy and naive initially. So, yes…this sounds crazy but much blessings to you and your wife. I think just your decision to give away a year’s salary in itself is pretty darn cool.

  5. rexhamilton says:

    This is the kind of leadership our world desires to follow! It’s amazing what awareness can begin to do in bringing change to our world. Thanks for sharing your convictions…

  6. jklam says:

    you’re crazy…

    … and i kinda like it.

    like we’ve said, carrie and i would be happy to hang with your kids as you + minhee take a break from your gazillion responsibilities.

  7. Jason says:

    Umm, you don’t want me to be watching your kids but I am happy to donate when this gets started. Congratulations on putting a twitch in the matrix.

  8. chad says:

    this is very encouraging to hear Eugene…
    i often look at the church, the body of Christ, and wonder when we’ll realize the amazing potential we have to actually impact the world for God’s glory and neighbor’s good…
    i often look at my own faith and wonder when i will finally realize that i can change “my” world…
    this looks like a step in the right direction…

  9. Peter says:

    my wife will not believe that someone else wanted and bought a old miata. (on your convictions) you have blown me away, eugene. i am challenged much.

  10. Karen says:

    This is a common vision that God must be imparting to us as a body. The word Redistribution has been very present in my mind this past year. I came across a Lexicon in Time magazine Nov 5, 07, today which defined the word “Trickle Up” – Defn. n. The redistribution of wealth from low income Americans to those who are already rich. Here’s a section of the article clip “…the pie is getting bigger for everyone. From 200-2005 pretax income for the bottom half grew 15.5%. The rich just gt a larger cut of the overall growth (a 19% gain for the richest 1%) I know those stats are in America, but considering the world we live in the top 1-10% http://globalrichlist.com/

  11. Eugene,
    Thank you for taking leadership in this area. It is one that we are constantly grappling with both as individuals and as a community. I would love to explore ways together that we can encourage each other in helping those at the margins.

  12. e cho says:

    Peter: you have an ’89 Miata?!?

    dang, i really love that car. i’m gonna sell my books and cards so i can hold on to it a little longer. uh-oh, here i go again…

  13. Dave Swaim says:

    THis is beautiful stuff, Eugene! I am excited to learn more.

    Most specifically, I am eager to learn what you will DO with the 50 Million. When I get energized to make a difference I spent a couple years learning about the causes and consequences of homelessness, including living in a homeless shelter and on the streets of NYC for two weeks.

    However, this process served to discourage rather than encourage me to further action on a macro level. The problems are so complex in the US that it was no longer clear to me HOW to make a difference beyond an individual scale. I could find several productive things to do with $50M overseas, but here I wouldn’t know what to do.

    In the end, I resolved that the best thing I can do is preach the Gospel faithfully and fully so that I can play a small part in raising up a generation of Christians in all walks of life who are able to use their abilities and opportunities to make a much bigger difference than I can.

    All this to say, I’d love to hear about your dreams for the money. Either way, I am blessed by your vision, and applaud you for taking a very costly step in the right direction.

  14. DK says:

    huh? communism what?

  15. la v says:

    eugene! wow! this is so rockin… i am awed by your bravery, humbled by your compassion and totally challenged by your convictions. my prayers are with you and your wife and kids as your prepare for this amazing thing. please let us know how we can support!

  16. Rebecca says:

    This is such a convicting post. I’ve been considering my own finances too lately, just the amount of money that seems to disappear because I am not thoughtful about how I spend. How much more could I do for God with that money?

    Sign me up for babysitting duty!

  17. [...] – fight poverty – a vision of compassion and redistribution (beauty and depravity) The solution is simple: Redistribute resources from us to them [since we are part of the same [...]

  18. Tess says:

    Your heart is undoubtedly in the right place. You also DO live a privileged life as you suggested. Not many of us have 3,000 square foot beautiful homes in spendy Seattle or drive three cars. Not many of us have the opportunity to ask our congregation to step up to babysit our kids which, as I know from personal experience, lots of people want to do that for their pastors. Would that we had people lining up to offer to babysit the truly poor welfare mom’s kids in her ramshackle apartment as we do those who want to care for the pastor’s kids in his beautiful home.

    You’re wonderfully honest. You’re still trying to find a way to keep your Miata and you think you can do it by selling off books. Yes, you are privileged.

    Here’s where I’m struggling, tho. Why are you announcing to the world that you’re giving away your salary for the next year? Why not quietly do it and then after a year or two or however long, share what has happened as a result? You can still launch your new venture, and when you take your sabbatical next year, you could be 1/2 way into your year of giving your salary away.

    I’m just struggling with the oh-so-public announcement which grates me somewhat. Do it quietly. Give it away, but without fanfare or in a way that your congregation all lines up to babysit for you. In other words, it reads as though you’re gonna be able to keep up your comfy life with your Miata intact, and with folks taking care of your kids. Maybe you’ll eat out a little less, but that is how most of us already live.

    I dunno. I’m struggling. And I’m surprised ’cause your words nearly always propel me to action and are clarion shouts for me. This one, for whatever reason, smacks of too much “look at me.” And I doubt that is your intent!!

    Again, thank you for your compassion, for your desire to right wrongs and to give things away.
    Just not yet clear on this.

  19. Frank says:

    (Sorry if this is a duplicate comment…compooter problems!)

    If you truly believe what they teach in Sunday school, that the downfall of mankind was wrought through the recklessness of one man and its redemption through the grace and sacrifice of another, then surely you can believe that you, as one man or one woman, can certainly affect the world somewhere in between. If everyone stood up and did a little something, then the world would be a whole lot better place to live in.

    I commend you on your decision to give up your salary next year, although obviously a commendation is not what you’re looking for. Everyday I see people who are nearing the end of their lives, often prematurely, and it reminds me that I am truly blessed with what I do not deserve…a loving famiy and wife, good health and a job that is more than just a job. But I have to work on giving more back to God. God bless!

    P.S.–I was the emcee at Potus’ wedding. Leo told me to check out your blog (1st time in my life I actually listened to him…bwahahahaha!)

  20. e cho says:

    tim: me a communist or communistic? why not? i’ve been called other things.

    dave: i’ll be in touch with you with some of the ideas in the coming months. i was hoping to swing by boston to share some of these ideas.

    tess: thanks for being a reader of the blog and bummed that the public announcement grates you so much. i’ll write more in a later post but my hope was to inspire and compel others to consider joining the cause rather than what you shared. giving away money is easy – asking others to give their money is hard.

  21. m@ says:

    I have accounts of dozens of former development consultants, and my own research, that confirms that throwing money at a problem essentially perpetuates a circle of bureaucratic goop. Eugene, I am totally, TOTALLY tracking with your altruism here, and I have just as much hope that poverty will be eradicated…

    but. Guard that money with your life and make sure it’s put in a place that directly invests not in band-aid solutions (like Sachs’ proposals likely will) but in organizations that seek out local entrepreneurs (e.g. Kiva, Acumen, Omidyar). I believe that the same amount of stewardship with which we labor to receive money should be used when we give it away. I imagine you have some ideas for how this vision will look, and here’s me offering some opinions on how that might look.

    P.S. if you need someone to help you run the books, just holler. :)

  22. e cho says:

    m@

    good thoughts.

    honestly, i have doubts if global poverty will ever be eradicated. but then again, we gotta try. my hope is to do my part and in that process, encourage others.

    the plan/vision that i have is pretty simple. almost so simple that it sounds dumb. but part of it is to work alongside people that are actually on the field doing good and solid work. people like you and me – while our hearts are in a good place – know about global poverty through the medium of books.

    wish you were here…

  23. Tess says:

    Thanks for your response, and I look forward to your further comments.

  24. Brian Kim says:

    wow…so awesome! just really amazed…i know for sure Nanoh would love to volunteer to look after your kids every now and then!

  25. d says:

    PE, I put off reading this 3 part series because I knew it would be piercing in it’s content. The S.M. video, I remember when you first blogged about it years ago. I lost track of it since and was so glad to have it re-emerge within the context of this incubating vision. Even the video itself speaks so differently to me now that I’m working down here in Tinsel Town. I’m afraid to forward it to my colleagues, I don’t know how they would respond. I hope in future posts you could help cowards like me move into action as well, maybe not in such daring steps as you and Minhee, but in baby-steps towards realizing this vision.

  26. e cho says:

    d

    thanks for writing here.
    the idea that we have [and that we'll be sharing next year] is an invitation for people to take some small steps. it’s cool to think that if enough people take small steps together, we can take one giant leap towards the cause.

  27. [...] Fight Poverty [It wasn’t read by too many people but I would consider this my heart poured out]; [...]

  28. uenomurakami says:

    Do you have an idea of where you are going to do your humanitarian work? When you say poverty, what area of poverty?

    And like someone said early, watch that money. I think it might be amazing to note how many “friends” you gain when you raise 50 million dollars.

    Hopefully people attach themselves to the message and not the money.

    If I were in the States I would really be interested in a chat and some of that fine coffee you speak about.

    Peace, and God Speed

  29. me says:

    By saying we hope to raise 50 million dollars doesn’t mean that we’ll have 50 million. The goal is to distribute funds simultaneously as we raise funds.

  30. Joe Miller says:

    Hi Eugene,

    I am a church planter and also started a separate Non-profit called Restoring The Arts with a vision to build an Arts Center in our community (I don’t want a church building, just a community building).

    Anyway, part of my vision is to do an “Arts for Africa” deal where we could take local Artists into Africa for a cultural exchange and do some aid relief type stuff. The goal is to share this experience with the artists and then open up missions fields here at home through a common passion to help those in need.

    If you would like to talk more, let me know.

    My email is joe [at] ortingreunion [dot] org

  31. Mary says:

    Hi, Eugene,

    I’m a friend of Pam and Jason’s and started to read your blog because of you talking about Jason. :)

    I’ve done some work with Habitat for Humanity in privilaged Howard County in Maryland. After walking away from that to spend time with my kids and husband, not necessarily in that order, I started to really look at the poverty problem. I have found that in order to eradicate the problem, you have to provide a way for the people affected with the problem to eradicate it. You going into the problem with a solution and saying that you have it all worked out will not work it out. I’m sure that you know that.

    I have found that between Habitat and Heifer International that most of the issues can be solved. Get people a way to earn money and have food (heifer int) and a roof over their heads (habitat) and other things will come about because they see that life can be good. Most people live in extreme poverty because it is the only thing that they know. They don’t know about clean water or what to do to get it. Or really that they are sick because of the water.

    So, I applaud that you want to start a new foundation, but given that there are a thousands of aid organizations already doing the work that you are talking about on the ground in Africa and Asia, why not partner with them? Starting foundations takes a lot of money and time, but find one that does what you are looking for, or nearly does what you are looking for and partner with them. Bill and Melinda Gates recently did that with Heifer Int. and will be putting together a huge milk cooperative in Africa. They are leveraging their money to raise more money from the “filthy rich” in the US and I am proud to say that I’ve sent my money in.

    I am very interested in what you come up with through your summer subbatical, it should be interesting.

    There are so many complex issues in this discussion, to talk about one without understanding all of them, leaves the problem on the table. You can not talk about food in Africa without understanding the tribal politics and how the dictators work. You can’t talk about education in Afghanistan without understanding the laws about women and girls. To talk about homelessness in the US without understanding mental illness would be unintelligible.

    There are no easy answers and no silver bullets, but we must find solutions to these problems if we are to create a better world and try to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

    Tell Jason and Pam I said hi. Hopefully, I’ll be out there soon and can meet you.

    Take care,
    Mary

  32. Samuel says:

    Am really happy and excited by the poster note. well am a boy of 18 years old living in Ghana in the West of Africa, i have really really face chanlleges in life and i don’t understand my self up to now.am tatally confused, i wish i could find a helper who will be glad to share a piece of advice with me each day. i will be glad and God will blessed that person. my email address as gyasiman@gmail.com,
    thank you for given me this opportunity to express my self.

  33. Samuel says:

    life is lifeless without a good Teacher, For example one can not do some something he do not know, for example when you come down to Africa, There”s a lot of suffering which is going on each and every day in people life, Young boys and men who are going to continue the good work of our fore fathers left behind due to death which is a universal door for us all to enter, Are now making it worse even now and then, There’s no enough schools to educate us we the children so that we can also learn and follow the good deeds of our fathers after they have left. Us. Am 18 years of age and am saying the fact, I payed my school fees when i was in junior high school and up to now am taken care of my self even in the senior high now, I ask my self a question that why? is it that, Due to poverty our fathers are not able to cater for Us or pay our school fees and prefer been sack Us from school every day, Am just asking a question you can reply me with the answer if you like, Is it some peoples fault why they couldn’t make it in life? first of all WHO should we blame, Our father or the children, Our future depends on us, What if there is no a helper?? I have not seen anybody blaming a father for the cost of his child unsucceed in life, But rather turns to the child and say to the child all sort of unforgettable words, I think this are some of the problem that should been posted to Houses, Workplaces, Churches, etc on how to take your child education very seriously and do all that you can to push us forward for all that you are earning, struggle, -Here and there- is just because of Us the children and nothing more or less, i know i will also grew up to be a father but what if the beginning of the foundation is not strong Imaging the endless the building could be!! we will not take anything out of this world or to any place or anywhere!! or die and take with us all that we came to struggle for.Infact am saying this on the behalf of my self and to the entire world, We stand as we fight poverty and other misfortunes of life. If my life will be better for me is in my hands! what about our parents whom we don’t force them to give birth to Us? are they going to be left out or……… . okey what about those that thay get confuse and dicide to live thier life they way they want it to be such as being a ganster on the road, Robbing, Smoking, Doing all kinds of unpredictable behavior that every good grandmom or parents will not encourage for their sons and daughters, For me am confuse i don’t know if you agree to that, Love one another and live a simple life on earth till your D day comes. I really appreciate each and every one who spend his or her time reading my acticle. God bless us.

  34. [...] from friends, acquaintances, church community folks, blog readers, and strangers that read an earlier post regarding the public announcement of our family’s decison’s to give up this year’s salary and additional funds [...]

  35. [...] However, I’d love [and need] to hear some feedback from you about some elements that we hope will shape the humanitarian organization.  If you’re new to the blog, you may want to read Loudly Fighting Poverty and A Vision of Compassion & Redistribution. [...]

  36. [...] addition, I used this blog to write a three / part / series on extreme global poverty and shared our personal commitment of donating our year’s salary to [...]

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