on an interview with Pamela Gerloff
time, I was just going to walk away from my money and all
that it had brought me. Then a friend said to me, "It's time
to embrace your heritage." That phrase stayed with me and
led me down a different path.
I first had the idea of giving it all away
when I watched
Brother Sun, Sister Moon,
Zeffirelli. The movie portrays the life of Saint Francis
of Assisi. Francis' father had a textile business. His workers
were paid poorly and had poor working conditions. Francis
knew that the money he lived on was made off cheap labor-so
one day he went into the factory and threw the textiles
out the window. When his father took him before the city
court, Francis stripped naked, disassociated from his family,
and started building a church. He built the church into
a thriving community that became a haven for the poor.
Brother Sun, Sister Moon
when I was very young and Francis became, for me, the model
of how to honor God with my resources. I literally went
into my room, took a big handful of clothes out of my closet,
and went to the window to throw them out. We lived on Fifth
Avenue in New York City, in a pre-civil war co-op with a
24-hour doorman, overlooking Central Park. My mom stopped
me at the window and said, "Let's think about this."
The matter was complicated because my mom
is my trustee and she has to sign whatever check I write-so
I had to talk with her about it. She had said all along
that if I wanted to write a check for my entire inheritance
and give it to a shelter, I could do that. She felt it would
be better to wait to make such a big decision, though, because
people's thinking develops over time; I could decide to
do that in the future if I wanted. She knew that throwing
everything out the window was, in part, my response to the
guilt I had of having more than most people, and that I
would eventually think of a better way to give.
What actually stopped me from just giving
it all away was that I didn't know where to give it. I asked
myself, "What's the best way to give this money?" and realized
it was a much more complicated question than I had understood.
I came to the conclusion that throwing it out the window
wasn't the most responsible thing to do.
I went to seminary and got a masters' degree
in New Testament studies, so I was studying the Bible quite
a bit. I noticed that Jesus kept on talking about serving
the poor-the widows, the orphans, and the foreigners-not
just giving to them, but personally
He also told a parable about talents. One of the people
in the parable buries his talents in the ground; one uses
his and turns them into a whole lot more.
As I thought about how best to use my money
to serve the poor, I realized that it wasn't just money
that I had inherited. I had resources available to me by
virtue of the fact that I had grown up with money and the
privileges it offers. I thought, "How can I be the person
a lot with her money?" I decided that writing
a check and just giving it away wouldn't be the wisest way
to use it, but I could possibly be involved with its distribution
in such a way that I knew it was transforming lives.
I now work as a fundraiser for Agros, which
helps break the cycle of poverty for families and communities
in Central American countries. (See sidebar) Finding Agros
has been a very important part of my journey-I feel really
good about giving my time and my life to the organization.
Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,
committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the
only thing that ever has." I think that's true. Christ had
12 people that he gathered around him, and those people
multiplied. I knew that on my own I would flounder, but
I felt that this organization I had found was a mechanism
through which I could channel my giving.
United Nations Development Report, 2000
Guatemala, five out of 12 million people are living
below the poverty line, on one to two U.S. dollars
wealthy three percent owns two-thirds of the country's
of ten farmers don't have enough land to feed
has helped to establish 17 self-sustaining villages
in five countries and expects to increase that
number to 50 villages in the next three years.
has helped 3,700 people break out of a cycle of
Agros because of the character of the people and their commitment
to service. I trusted and believed in the mission of the organization
and the people in it-not only the board and staff, but also
the program participants, who work very hard to make good
use of Agros' services. Everyone works together as a whole
organism to transform lives, to restore broken relationships,
and to help break the cycle of poverty.
as, originally, I had wanted to reject my inheritance, in
the same way, I had wanted to reject capitalism as a whole,
because I felt it was responsible for so much poverty in
the world. Then I heard a talk by Ron Sider, who wrote
Christians in an Age of Hunger
. He brought to my attention
the system that God prescribes for Israel in the Torah.
Each person has his own plot of land to farm, so each family
has its own food to eat. In this way, everyone has enough.
Every seven years, debt is forgiven. Every 50 years, there
is the Year of Jubilee, during which the land is returned
to its original owners (Leviticus 25).
time, I was partial to socialism and thought we should all
just share all that we have with each other. Through Ron's
talk, however, I realized that I wanted to work within the
capitalist system. I believe that what's lacking in our
society is not a different type of economic system, what's
lacking is generosity. The prosperous within our system
must be generous. Everyone needs to have just
as Proverbs 30:8 says: "Give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too
much and disown you and say, 'Who is the Lord?' Or I may
become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God."
to work as a fundraiser for Agros because my job with the
organization is redistribution of wealth. I give people
who have lots of resources the chance to help others increase
their resources by earning for themselves. It's not just
giving handouts. We loan land to farmers; they pay us back.
It's redistributing wealth, at a snail's pace. Statistics
show that people who receive a dole end up poorer afterward.
(It's the same with the lottery.) The Agros model takes
time, but it effectively breaks the cycle of poverty.
day, I am grateful for my job. I've been here two years
and haven't regretted a moment of it. I like being on staff,
because I am part of a team that is transforming lives.
As a fundraiser, I'm able to give back from the resources
I've been given, and provide ways for others to do the same.
Many of my donor contacts are through people my family knows-people
I wouldn't have known if I hadn't been born into a family
I was ready to throw all my things out the window, the passion
to give was in me. At Agros I found a group of people with
the same passion, and with an effective strategy for redistributing
wealth. Agros presented a viable choice that would allow
me to actually do what I had originally wanted to do. When
I realized this option existed in the world, I realized
in an Agros village once said to me, "I used to dream with
my eyes closed, but now I dream with my eyes open, because
I'm seeing my dreams come true." When I stop and think about
my life, I could say the same thing. Her dream was to own
land, and my dream was to throw my things out the window
like St. Francis. I'm doing that now, but in a way that
makes sense for me. My friend was right; sometimes it is
best to embrace one's heritage.
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