Did it really make a difference? Did it really change lives? These are some of the questions that drove me to Africa last summer as I travelled with World Vision to see with my own eyes whether running three Chicago Marathons to raise money for clean water in Kenya had been worth it. I felt the burning need to verify whether my time and effort both in training and fundraising had made a difference. Plus, I wanted to be sure I could confidently tell people who had donated to this cause on my behalf that their financial sacrifice had been well-stewarded.
As I type these words now, I'm uncomfortably aware of another motivation that was driving me: stinginess. What I really wanted to know was whether I should keep giving away my time and money to people I would probably never meet. Running for clean water had cost me a lot, not the least of which was precious time away from my family during the long and intense training seasons.
But God had other answers—and other questions—in mind for me. During our African tour, our group attended a local church. It just so happened that on that particular Sunday, three or four other congregations also joined for worship at this church. Apparently, the pastor needed a new roof on his house, so these neighboring congregations banded together at his church in part to take up a collection to help fund his roof.
To see local churches coming together to help provide for another pastor's personal needs was moving. Would this happen in my community where churches seem to compete more than collaborate? I wondered. I could feel my heart (and purse) strings loosening up. And then the pastor who needed the new roof preached from Luke 21: "While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. 'I tell you the truth,' Jesus said, 'this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has'" (verses 1–4).1