Last Sunday was an extremely special milestone in my journey. It was my brother Joe’s 50th birthday and a reminder of the life-changing power of generosity.
In high school, I became very passionate for God. This passion translated into a passion for study. I started reading the Bible intensely and teaching myself Greek and Hebrew. I discovered books by Bonhoeffer and other authors who profoundly influenced my sense of calling. This came as a surprise to me, because I wasn’t a reader as a child.
A new dream was born in my heart: to attend Wheaton College. Wheaton was the best Christian university in America and the school where some of my heroes had graduated.
There was only one problem, or really three: I didn’t have any money, my parents hadn’t saved for my college education, and Wheaton was very expensive. I knew that God had called me to a life of service for others, and thus taking out heavy student loans didn’t make any sense.
Wheaton seemed impossible. Dream over.
My brother Joe had recently passed through a season of painful hardship in his own life. Out of that hardship, he discovered new vision and started a small business. Joe is an extremely hard worker who sees opportunity where others don’t, and his business flourished. At that time, Joe wasn’t attending a church and didn’t tithe on his profits.
Joe saw my passion and potential, and he made a deal with me. If I went to the community college and did well, he would pay for me to go to Wheaton College. My education would be his tithe to God and an investment in God’s call on my life.
I was blown away by Joe’s generosity and accepted his deal. I went to Waubonsee Community College, took honors classes, earned a 4.0 GPA, and made it onto the President’s List. After three semesters, I applied to Wheaton College, and to my shock — I was accepted.
Joe happily kept his promise, and he paid for my tuition every semester. My graduation in May 2005 was a day of extraordinary joy. I graduated Summa with Honors in Philosophy, Honors in Theology, and Scholastic Honors, Wheaton’s highest award for student scholarship and service. Wheaton is the place where I discovered my passions and gifts in totally new ways.
Joe was at my graduation, and his presence embodied a profound lesson in my life: my success was only possible because of his radical generosity. Joe believed in me, and he made a massive investment in me, which enabled me to be equipped with the training I needed for God’s call on my life. Soon after, I moved to Ethiopia and began serving freely without debt, once again, through the generosity of others.
But Joe didn’t stop there.
When I applied for graduate school from Addis in 2006, Harvard offered me a Presidential Fellowship: free tuition, a large stipend, and a promise to study my life after I graduated. I was humbled and encouraged by Harvard’s offer. But the University of Chicago was my dream school, and UChicago had only offered me a partial scholarship. After serving for free in Ethiopia, I didn’t have any savings and couldn’t afford Chicago’s offer.
But once again, Joe stepped in with radical generosity. He said that if I went to UChicago, kept good grades, and worked to pay for my personal expenses, he would cover my tuition. And that’s what he did.
My M.A. studies laid the foundation for my PhD research, my work as a professor, and the birth of the Neighbor-Love Movement, which Joe has also generously supported.
None of this would have been possible for me without Joe’s radical generosity — Wheaton College, UChicago, PhD studies, becoming a professor, the Neighbor-Love Movement. My potential wouldn’t have been harnessed, and I would be a very different person today.
As I celebrate Joe’s 50th, I’m humbled, inspired, and grateful for my brother’s love for me and his practice of radical generosity. When we talk about this, Joe always says, “I felt like God wanted me to do it, so I did it.” For Joe, it was a simple act of obedience. For me, it was utterly life-changing.
When we obey God and invest in others, the impossible becomes possible. Dreams become realities. Human life flourishes. Joe has taught me this more than anyone I know.
Today I’m giving thanks for my brother, for his radical generosity, and for the example he’s set for me. I want to live a life of radical generosity like Joe, and I thank God for creating him and sharing him with the world.
Have you ever experienced life-changing generosity? How is God calling you to embrace a lifestyle of radical generosity today?