Meet seven everyday people who started with a seemingly ‘small’ idea to make a difference in their communities—and are now changing lives in a big way.
It happened to Ali Eastburn at a women’s retreat when the speaker asked attendees how they could change the world. Looking around the room—noticing everyone’s beautiful diamond rings and designer handbags—the answer hit Eastburn like a bolt from the blue. Struck by the divinely inspired epiphany, the California pastor’s wife suddenly had a strong sense of what God’s purpose was for her life.
“Maybe we should really take to heart Jesus’ command to sell our possessions and give the money to the poor,” Eastburn told the women. “What if we sold the things we really like? What if we got rid of that extra car or other things we have?”
As she left the retreat, Eastburn glanced down at her hand and realized how much money was on her finger alone. The next day, she told her husband, pastor of The Well in Orange County, that she felt God was calling her to sell her wedding ring and use the money to help the poor in Africa. Later she learned 1.1 billion people don’t have clean drinking water—one of the world’s leading causes of death. As a result, young children often suffer from diarrhea, malnutrition and other conditions and die.
“It just never dawned on me that’s the way it is,” Eastburn says. “I decided I wanted to sell my ring and put the money toward clean water. I was talking to my friends, saying, ‘Hey, this is what God has put on my heart.’ Then a couple said, “Yeah, we’re in.’ It just started there.”
Eastburn is just one of innumerable people around the globe who are following a heavenly calling on their lives—heeding Jesus’ instructions to take the good news to the ends of the earth and to reach out to the “least of these.” As encouragement to those who feel they’re not making a difference in their communities, Ministry Today has chosen to highlight seven “average Joes” who felt the same way but took a small step toward change that has snowballed into a life-changing ministry.
Inspired to be free of the bondage of materialism, Ali Eastburn sold her 1.5-carat diamond solitaire wedding ring for $3,750 and founded With This Ring, a nonprofit organization that seeks to provide the poor of Africa with not only clean drinking water, but also an opportunity to hear the gospel.
Eastburn, a former hairstylist from Yorba Linda, Calif., used the money from her ring to help dig the first clean-water well in Yendi, Ghana, a village she had previously visited with members of their church. Since the organization’s creation in 2007, more than 180 men and women have donated their wedding rings and other fine jewelry to the organization, resulting in the completion of nine wells. They are getting ready to fund another five. With This Ring partners with Living Water International to dig the wells, which in Ghana cost $8,500 each. Eastburn and her husband have made several trips to Africa to see the drilling firsthand.
“The people were cheering and the kids were jumping up and down,” Eastburn recalls of the first time they watch a well being dug. “When the water shoots out of the ground after you hit the aquifer, it’s one of the most beautiful things you can experience in your life. You’ve never appreciated water until you are in Africa standing on parched ground and see kids sucking on grass reeds. They look like celery stalks, and they chew on them to get little bits of liquid out.”
To pay for the wells, the organization accepts donations of rings, precious jewelry and monetary donations. Eastburn encourages Christians to offer their possessions—even their most precious ones—to God in radical acts of transformational giving that make a difference in the world.
“We teach people about radical giving,” Eastburn says. “Radical giving is not from your leftovers, but giving your treasure. The Bible says, ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’”
For more information about the ministry or to make a donation, visit withthisring.org.
As a veteran journalist who has traveled to more than 40 countries and written about the devastation facing many of the world’s children, Diana Scimone wasn’t prepared for what she saw in Mumbai, India: cages holding little girls—some as young as 5 years old—to be used in the $9.5 billion-a-year human trafficking and child sex trade industry.
Scimone, founder of Lake Mary, Fla.-based Born to Fly International, went to India with a friend who was coordinating disaster relief after an earthquake. One night, the director of a local ministry offered to drive her to a church in the notorious red-light district. On the trip, she was struck by the “hopelessness” on the faces of young prostitutes who stood in filthy doorways. But she was nauseated when he pointed out the bamboo cages visible through second-story windows.
“I learned children as young as 5 years old are kept in those cages for a month,” she says. “They beat them, rape them, torture them—everything until they lose their will to resist, rebel and run away. And then they are ready to be child sex slaves.”
After the illicit drug trade, human trafficking is the second-most lucrative illegal industry on the planet and is largely run by global organized crime. Each year, more than 1 million children—including 100,000 in the United States—are lured into modern-day sex slavery. A trafficker will pay about $300 for a child.
Most children are lured into sex trafficking because they don’t know the deceptive tactics of traffickers. To fight the problem, Born to Fly works to educate the millions of at-risk children who can be lured into slavery by false promises of “employment” and a better life for the child.
“Reaching kids before the traffickers do is one of the most strategic ways to shut down the trafficking pipeline,” Scimone says.
The centerpiece of the project is a picture book—wordless so it doesn’t have to be translated into hundreds of languages—that teaches children anywhere to make wise choices. Scimone wrote the story line for the book along with a companion curriculum that reinforces the concepts in the book.
On Sept. 9, Scimone, who was recently named by The Huffington Post as one of the “Top 10 Women Warriors of Twitter,” held a Twitterthon to raise funds and hopes to start printing in December. Born to Fly will then ship to a waiting list of schools, missions and aid organizations in North America and as far away as Ghana, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, India and Bulgaria.
“I want to encourage people that one person can make a difference,” she says. “I’m nobody special. I wasn’t the leader of a big ministry. I just write. God took what I do and put it into a package where I could make a difference.”
Former professional explorer and adventurer Bruce Ladebu found God’s new calling for his life when he preached to 100,000 people in an Asian country and subsequently learned that young children are forced to work as slaves at brick, textile and rope factories.
“With armed guards, we went into a brick factory and found children as young as 5 years old forced to labor in 115-degree heat and given very little food and almost no water,” says Ladebu, founder of Forerunner Global Ministries and pastor of the 250-member Victory Family Worship Center in Conneaut Lake, Penn. “We learned they are mistreated and many of them die.”
Remembering that Matthew 18:14 says God is not willing that “any of these little ones should be lost,” Ladebu decided to save these children by “buying” them out of slave labor and sex trafficking. So far, the Children’s Rescue Initiative has helped get hundreds of children off the streets and bought nearly three-dozen others for $200 to $500 each. The children have been placed in homes or orphanages where they are cared for and educated. In some nations, the ministry is digging water wells and building orphanages and farms—supplying the farms with cows and chickens to help them become self-sufficient.
Worldwide, one in six children—or an estimated 246 million children—are involved in child labor, according to the International Labour Organization. More than 179 million of those—one in eight—are involved in slavery that significantly endangers their health.
“As the demand for cheap labor and sex slavery increases, it’s only going to get worse,” Ladebu says. “It’s time for the church to launch into action. The Bible says pure and undefiled religion is that we take care of children and widows. We just can’t turn our backs on this. It’s a worldwide epidemic.”
For more information on how to join Ladebu’s efforts to save these children, visit thechildrensrescue.org.
During his life, Joe Wilkey has been a Marine, a production manager at Family Circle magazine and a pastor. Each of those roles has helped equip him for fulfilling his divine calling today of providing relief to people in the most desperate circumstances.
“The very nature of my spirit is compassion,” says Wilkey, founder of the Warsaw, Ind.,-based World Compassion Network, which brings in food and supplies to war-torn and disaster-stricken areas. “I was a pastor for 12 years and I certainly love preaching, but I was not comfortable managing people’s troubles in a society like ours that has everything. I feel much more comfortable going to people who have nothing and helping them meet their physical needs in order to earn the right to share my faith with them.”
Wilkey and his wife, Lynn, founded the organization shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to mobilize and assist local churches in responding to the needs of disaster victims and the poor. During his 24 years working in international relief and development, Wilkey has traveled to 140 countries and provided relief in 19 wars. In Afghanistan, Wilkey helped build a hospital.
With only four employees and 100 volunteers, the organization has responded to most of the world’s worst disasters in recent years: Hurricane Katrina, the Sri Lanka tsunami, the Myanmar cyclone and a mile-and-a-half wide tornado that unfurled winds of more than 200 miles-per-hour upon Greensburg, Kan., and left almost all of its 1,500 residents homeless.
“I think it’s very important to be true to your faith,” Wilkey says. “Otherwise, your faith is of no value. To me, this is my faith at work. I started this whole organization on faith. I didn’t have any money. All I had is some experience and my heart and God has provided every step of the way.”
For more information about how your church or ministry can connect with Wilkey’s relief organization, visit w-c-n.org.
Musician, songwriter and businessman Jeremy Courtney visited Iraq in 2006 during the height of the Sunni-Shi’i clash—and promptly decided to move his family to the war-torn nation. Though outsiders questioned the move, Courtney could not sit idle after learning that 4,000 Iraqi children had holes in their hearts and were in need of life-saving surgeries. Courtney, his wife, Jessica, and their friend Cody Fisher felt called to start an organization to help.
The heart disease epidemic, Courtney says, apparently stems from intra-family marriage, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s chemical attacks on the Kurds and Shi’is, and malnutrition brought on by a decade of United Nation sanctions that deprived people of essential foods and medications.
“These kids broke our hearts,” says Courtney, executive director of the Preemptive Love Coalition (PLC). “We determined to start an organization that would address their need for surgery and provide them with hope and a future.”
Searching for a solution, Courtney found the answer when he noticed a friend wearing legendary klash shoes—footwear that has been hand-knit by cobblers for 3,000 years. Inspired by the shoes, PLC started “Buy Shoes, Save Lives,” a program that opened up international markets to 50,000 cobblers to sell their traditional, hand-stitched shoes.
To save the children, Courtney estimates PLC also needs to raise at least $6 million in international funds over the next decade, as the cost of saving each child’s life is about $4,500. The money is used to send the children to hospitals in other countries or to pay for simpler surgeries at less-developed medical centers in Iraq.
One of the children PLC has helped is Khadeeja, the daughter of a Kurdish shoemaker who comes from a region Hussein bombed with poison gas in 1988, killing 5,000 people. Khadeeja received her heart surgery in Istanbul on Jan. 20 and is now living in Iraq with a clean bill of health.
“You get the sense being around her that she could be a catalyst for change in this country,” Courtney says. “Already she has proven to be a fighter and a survivor. She should have had surgery as a baby. She had been on the waiting list for 12 long years, rejected numerous times by other countries and other organizations, until a kind shoemaker introduced us and we felt compelled to do everything we could to right the wrongs on her behalf.”
For more information on how your church or ministry can help save Iraqi children, visit preemptivelove.org.
For decades, Sedona, Ariz., residents Jim and Dorothy Valcarcel ran an advertising agency that had some of the largest and most respected nonprofit organizations in the world as clients. But their lives were turned completely upside down on Aug. 28, 1997, while returning home from a business trip in California.
On the outskirts of Phoenix, a young man, wanting to commit suicide, drove as fast as he could into oncoming traffic and crashed head-on into their vehicle with a combined force of impact of more than 145 miles per hour. The young man was killed instantly, while the Valcarcels suffered more than 35 broken and shattered bones in what one police officer later described as the “most violent wreck” he’d ever seen.
After four months in the hospital and numerous surgeries, the couple returned home to what Dorothy calls a “very seclusionary life.” The accident left Jim completely disabled and Dorothy mostly homebound. Having lost the ability to continue their work as they had before, they questioned why this tragedy had befallen them and what purpose it served.
Often unable to sleep at night due to her pain, Dorothy would pray, asking God to show her why they survived the accident. She also began reading the New Testament, looking closely at what Jesus did for women. Inspired by what she learned, she wrote a book titled When a Woman Meets Jesus: Finding the Love Every Woman Longs For.
In the book, Dorothy explored the lives of 18 broken, needy, lonely, flawed or empty women whom Jesus went to great lengths to care for, including walking several days to heal a mother’s ill daughter. Jesus never turned away anyone, regardless of her history, Dorothy says. For instance, most people had probably written off Mary Magdalene—possessed by seven demons—as a “hopeless case,” but Jesus healed her and she was the first witness to His resurrection. “As flawed as these women were, they all had a place in Jesus’ ministry,” Dorothy says. “I think that’s huge.”
After the book was published, fans encouraged her to write a daily devotional about women in the Bible. A gardening enthusiast, Dorothy launched transformationgarden.com in early 2007 to explore the lives of every woman in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation by asking two questions: Why did God put this story in the Bible, and what does this story have to say for women living in the 21st century? Dorothy was especially fascinated by the women in the lives of Moses and Samson. Moses wouldn’t have survived to become a great prophet without the six women in his life, Dorothy says. “Moses’ life was enhanced by the strength and courage and the love of the women who were solid in his life,” Dorothy says. “But Samson was brought down by the wickedness and deviousness of the women in his life.”
Sent from her own house, the free daily devotional and prayer Web site now has more than 20,000 readers in 170 countries around the world. To sign up, visit transformationgarden.com.
In a city where 50 percent of the residents have a harder time getting fresh produce than people in developing countries, a church-sponsored program called “Peaches & Greens” is delivering low-cost fresh fruits and vegetables to needy areas of Detroit.
Lisa Johanon, executive director of the Central Detroit Christian Community Development Corporation, says the network of area churches decided to start the program a year ago after a study found Detroit is a “food desert” where more than half the residents must go at least twice as far to reach the nearest grocery store as they do a fast-food restaurant or liquor store.
“In a city of 800,000, there are only 40 grocery stores total,” Johanon says. “That’s one grocery store for every 20,000 people. The grocery stores cannot accommodate the need in the community. So if we can help our brothers and sisters to deal with this problem, we are doing what Jesus would have done.”
Using an old UPS truck, Peaches & Greens delivers the produce five days a week to families on welfare, homebound seniors and others who don’t have transportation to grocery stores in the suburbs. Volunteers drive through neighborhoods like an ice cream truck—playing R&B music on a loudspeaker and announcing the list of available fruits and vegetables—as people wave the truck down and walk onboard to select produce off the shelves.
“People call and say, ‘How do you do it?’” Johanon says. “It’s a risky business. Produce is perishable. You can lose money. We aren’t breaking even yet, but we are hoping to. We have the truck and now we have liquor stores that are carrying produce that never had it before. Those are small steps in a big way.”
To learn more about how the Peaches & Greens program is working, check out centraldetroitchristian.org.
Troy Anderson is a freelance writer and reporter with the Los Angeles Daily News.