We have a tradition at World Concern. When someone makes a large donation, we ring a cowbell. Everyone comes out of their offices and we gather to celebrate the gift.
I remember a particularly chilly Northwest afternoon last December when the cowbell rang. A man named Doug, a father of two young kids, had just dropped off a check for $10,000.
We've certainly received other big gifts like this, but what made this one special was how it came about. It was a spontaneous gift, given from the heart of a dad.
Doug and his wife Mindy had taken their kids to see a nativity display in their North Seattle neighborhood. As their kids waited in line for hot chocolate, something caught Doug's eye. It was a World Concern Global Gift Guide -- a catalog of gifts people can give to those in need in honor of loved ones. The catalog is filled with photos of children and families served by World Concern in poor countries.
"When I picked up the catalog and saw the pictures of those kids, it spoke to me," recalled Doug. "I got really emotional. I remember crying... just seeing those kids, I thought, we need to do something to help them."
That night, Doug talked with Mindy about his desire to help kids living in poverty. They'd been blessed with extra income that year from Doug's job as a freelance director of photography and had set some money aside. Doug told Mindy he wanted to donate the money.
"When I saw his reaction to the photos, I wasn't surprised," recalled Mindy. "I know his heart for kids and his compassion. But I didn't know he was going to say anything about the money or giving. We had discussed what we were going to do for Christmas -- giving in some way. This just felt right. As soon as he said it, I agreed."
Doug and Mindy shared their decision with their kids, 9-year-old Sophia and 7-year-old Elliott.
"The pictures were sad because they didn't have stuff we have here," said Sophia. One of the photos showed a young boy drinking dirty water from a pond through his T-shirt. "He drank through his shirt because the water was bad and had a lot of germs and bacteria," she explained.
The kids enjoyed learning how their family's donation would provide goats, chickens, clean water, and other practical gifts to children in need.
"We've never given a donation like that before," said Doug. "I'm a freelancer, so some months there's no work and other months I'll be slammed. God has always been so faithful to us in terms of providing."
Mindy said they'd been holding onto the money for some time. "I wish I could say we were just waiting for the right time, but it was holding on for us -- for our needs," she said. "There are other things I know I wanted and could have got for Christmas gifts, but this donation filled that need, whatever it was. I can't even think right now of what I wanted."
"We have such a good life. It just felt selfish not to do something more with our money," said Doug. "Don't get me wrong, I love stuff and buying new things, but we are called to be more than just consumers. It's a test of faith. When our diligence with our money and work benefit someone besides ourselves, that feels good."
The Irvines have been tested in that faith this year. They have a new baby, 4-month-old Preston, and one of their cars recently broke down. The repairs are more than the car is worth, so they'll have to get a new car. But they still feel the sacrifice was worth it.
"When I see so much difficulty in the world... neglect and hard conditions; it doesn't take a lot of money to help a kid's life. It feels cool that there are kids and orphans that I can be like a dad they'll never meet -- that I can provide for them in some way, help in some way.
Photo by Doug Irvine
"There are people around the world who are human, and no different than me, except they were born into these countries and these situations. These families are real and these problems are real and these kids are real and they have real needs and they need real help."
Doug admits he tried not to think about the sacrifice he was making when he brought the check in on that chilly December day. "It takes sacrifice, whether it's a thousand dollars or ten thousand," he said. "But, it narrows the gap pretty quickly when you realize you're changing someone's life."
Mindy agrees. "If someone was considering making a donation, knowing what I know now and the impact that a small amount can have, I would want to say to them, it's a no brainer. Yeah. Do it," she said. "Take the leap of faith. Knowing what I know now about how we've impacted families and children, yeah, it's worth it."
This blog is part of our #GivingTuesday series, produced by The Huffington Post and the teams at InterAction, 92nd Street Y, United Nations Foundation, and others. Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday -- which takes place for the first time on Tuesday, November 27 -- is a movement intended to open the holiday season on a philanthropic note. Go to www.givingtuesday.org to learn more and get involved.