Do you have room in your life for compassion? If your kids asked you to help them Change the World would you say yes? Does the thought of it make you wince and sigh? Or does it get you excited?
I’ve known Stephanie Evans for more than 20 years. In college I was consistently impressed with her unconditional kindness and quick, eye-sparkling laugh. She was on the leadership team that prepared my group do a summer of service in the inner-city. After college she got married, worked at the Mother Ship for Starbucks, and had kids. Her family is committed to growing in compassion and service.
As you read the story below, note the unintentional turning point for compassion in the Evans Family. It has me thinking hard.
Stephanie, tell us about the Evans Family!
Erik and I have three kids, Sydney, 13, Kate, 9 and Drew 6. A couple of years ago, I stopped working full time with the intent to spend more time with my family and take better care of myself. I was going through severe adrenal fatigue, anxiety and depression and needed to slow down.
The byproduct has been more gratitude, deeper relationships with my girlfriends and more “space” in my week to be intentional and focus on empathy, compassion and service. We are working to make “serving” a part of our daily life and it is manifesting itself in big and small ways.
It hasn’t been perfect and not everyone is as excited about serving as I’d like them to be but we’ve connected with some great people and organizations. It’s also been life changing and contagious. Many of my friendships have been deepened as we brainstorm and serve together.
How is your family showing compassion this year?
We’ve connected with a number of organizations in our community: places like Tent City, a temporary homeless encampment, nursing homes, and food banks. We try to keep things very simple and invite friends to join us. The more the merrier. It’s about building relationships, eating together, collecting and donating, playing games/puzzles with people.
I’m really trying to expose our kids to lots of different people and show them they have value, deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and are just like us. Sometimes our goal is simply to bring a smile to someone’s face. Some interactions are mundane and some are more meaningful. Our long-term focus, however, has been HEED Uganda.
Why did you choose to start working with HEED Uganda?
Our relationship with HEED started a few years back. My good friend Kristen, introduced our prayer group to a woman named Julie Secrist. Julie had spoken to some of the pre-teen girls at Kristen’s church about what HEED was doing in Kyakitanga, a remote village in Uganda. Julie had gone to Uganda on a short-term mission trip in 2005 and when she encountered the massive need and heartache, was moved to do more to help the kids there. A mother of 3 boys, she quit her job as a real estate agent and prayerfully started a small school that originally met under a tree. Soon they started housing and feeding orphans, hiring teachers and building temporary buildings.
Today, what started as 13 children has grown into a school for over 600 primary and secondary students with the long-term vision of helping, equipping, evangelizing and discipling kids in their rural and impoverished community.
Julie travels to Uganda with a small team twice a year. The kids in the village call her “Mama Julie”. She inspires me because she listens to God’s voice and does a lot with very little. I have learned so much from watching her live and trust in Jesus (in the short 2 years I’ve known her). The ministry is small and mighty. God is the center of what they do and He always meets their needs. She is an example of faith, courage and gratefulness, as are the leaders on the ground in Uganda.
How did your family get started?
It all started in 2013. A group of us moms were looking for ways to get our kids involved in service to others. Kristen brought Julie to talk to our kids about life in Uganda and had each child carry a 5 gallon jug of water to see what it was like. Soon after, we decided to hold a yard sale to provide one year of medial care for kids in Kyakitanga. We exceeded our goal and raised approximately $2,000 from the yard sale. A donor matched it and we were able to give an additional $2,000 to HEED.
The next year, my 8 year old daughter Kate and her friend Addi (from our neighborhood) were sitting on the grass chatting and approached Addi’s mom, Lori, about raising money for charity. They wanted to call the fundraiser “Looms and Lemonade”….but they didn’t know who to raise the money for. Lori, an accountant and arts n’ craft guru, worked with the girls on a business plan. I entered the conversations fairly late and recommended HEED, primarily because I had begun a relationship with Julie and her partner Barb the previous summer. The girls brought another neighbor girl, Sophie, and her mom Rachel into the mix and a plan was hatched. The three girls spent the entire summer looming colored rubber band bracelets, pencil grips and necklaces on a blanket in the grass.
Their goal was to raise $70 for a goat, hen, Bibles and mattresses. They set a date, made signs, baked goods and promoted the sale (primarily on Facebook). With family and community support, they raised $3,400 (with a match) – enough to cover the original items AND a water pump. The girls were ecstatic and overwhelmed with the generosity of others. The water pump took nearly a year to get set up and working but by late spring of the next year, they were able to pump water 500 meters up a hill to the primary school. We learned nothing comes easily or quickly in Kyakitanga.
The next Winter, the girls asked Julie what she needed for her March trip to Uganda. They immediately began collecting nail clippers, black leather shoes and potato peelers. Our community is so generous. It was another wild success with God at the center. The girls could not believe their eyes when they sorted and counted the donations. We even got to see photos of Julie and her team fitting kids with the shoes in Uganda. They loved seeing the fruit of their labor on African soil.
A few months later, the girls asked if they could do something else for HEED. I personally thought it may have been too soon and asked a few of my friends for their opinion. Everyone encouraged me to move forward so the girls hatched a new plan to make fleece pillows and blankets. Because HEED was waiting on two large rotary grants for water harvesting structures, we decided to help HEED enclose them with walls made with ISSB bricks so they could be turned into dorms. It wasn’t a sexy project but it is what HEED needed to live into their long-term vision (and 9 high school girls are sleeping in a room at the campus pastors house, and he has a new wife and baby, and there are 13 boys sleeping in one room). They sold enough items to be able to finish two dorms and buy additional items such as a bass guitar and TV/DVR for worship and ministry. We also collected flip-flops and lightly used back packs for the kids.
The best part about working with HEED is that we get to connect with Julie locally. She brings Kyakitanga to us. She has brought the girls hand written notes from some of the girls in the village, hand-made gifts from our friends in Uganda and pictures of some of the students. Our local connection and friendship with Julie helps keep us connected to what is happening in Uganda. We also get to hear the struggle and challenges and how God answers the prayers of those who seek Him.
Julie is now a friend and we are walking with her as she battles breast cancer. She has given so much of herself to others. I hope we, her friends, can encourage her as much as she’s encouraged and loved others.
Why are you so committed to empathy, compassion, and service?
I’m passionate about modeling how to love and serve others, especially these days, when so many people are so self-absorbed and entitled (we are no different, we struggle with it too). I know Lori and Rachel would say the same thing. We want to raise adults who are thoughtful and kind to others because of what Jesus has done for them. Our intentions are usually good but we can easily fall into the trap of serving to pump ourselves up. Thankfully God can use us despite ourselves.
It’s also great to see others brought into our story and support us. It’s been neighborhood and community building, too.
Stephanie sensed something wasn’t working in her life and gave up her job.
That changed her focus and provided unprecedented space to seek, consider, and pursue compassion.
She hoped her kids would want to be kind and compassionate, and suggested their first fundraiser.
But after that, her kids ran with it, and she’s trying not to get in the way.
What might you need to change to make room for compassion?
Do you know a World Changer? We’d love to learn from them! Send me a message in the comments below, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn how the Family Compassion Focus got started, read Our Story.
To get ideas for how to start your own Family Compassion Focus, read Getting Started.
To learn about my unexpected Yes, read Chickening Out.
©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2015.