The ripple effect – a spreading effect or series of consequences caused by a single action or event. Have you ever seen a drop of water make ripples, thrown a stone into a lake or observed the wake of a motorboat? Have you ever planted a seed in the ground and watched it grow into a flower, tomato or pepper? Have you ever mixed yeast into flour dough and watched it rise? A single action almost invariably has a spreading effect, sometimes positive, sometimes negative. It all depends on that drop of water. It all depends on the seed and the leaven, doesn’t it?
There is a ripple effect in our country, and it’s not all good. Corporate greed has sent shock waves around the world, contributing greatly to the current recession. Ordinary Americans have bought into a consumer mentality, living beyond their means.
Of the 22 most industrialized nations, the United States was dead last in giving to the poor nations of the world in 2005, and I doubt it’s much better today. Of those industrialized nations, the wealthiest nation on earth also has the widest gap between rich and poor.
Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000, yet it didn’t happen. U.S. military spending now accounts for 45% of the world’s total military expenditures. Because of the ripple effect of overconsumption, misuse of resources and misplaced priorities in our world, 25,000 children die every day from poverty and one child dies every 30 seconds from malaria. The website www.globalissues.org contains even more startling statistics.
Make no mistake about it: there is tremendous power in the negative ripple effect. Yet as disciples of Jesus Christ, we know that there is even more power in the positive ripple effect because we claim the power of the Holy Spirit. Whenever one person opens the door of the church to step outside to serve, there is a ripple effect. Whenever one person welcomes all of God’s children into a transformative relationship with Jesus Christ, there is a ripple effect. Whenever one person shares what they have with a generous heart, there is a ripple effect. But every so often, one person responds to God’s call in such a way that we stop in our tracks, marvel at God’s grace and say, “Wow! A single person can, indeed, change the world.”
Anne Ryckman was such a person. About a year ago Rev. Cathi Gowin, pastor of St. Paul’s UMC in Grand Rapids, informed me that her congregation had been the recipient of a fabulous and unexpected bequest from long-time member Anne Ryckman, who died in April, 2007. Ryckman was an active and committed United Methodist. However, she was also an astute businesswoman who never married, played the stock market well, and had a deep faith, generous heart and a broad vision for ministry.
Not only did Anne leave several hundred thousand dollars to St. Paul’s UMC, but she also left a generous amount of money to La Nueva Esperanza UMC, our Hispanic church in Grand Rapids. That’s not all, though. Anne’s most spectacular gift was $1.7 million, given to St. Paul’s UMC and earmarked for UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief). Can you imagine the potential ripple effect of such a gift?
On April 26 Rev. Sam Dixon, head of UMCOR for the General Board of Global Ministries, traveled to Grand Rapids to attend worship and meet with the leadership and members of St. Paul’s. His role was to help the congregation discern what to do with this amazing gift. Should they spend the entire amount now or form an endowment and expend only the income generated? Should the church let UMCOR decide how to use the entire amount, or should the congregation members take responsibility for deciding how to distribute the money, as seemed to be Ryckman’s wish?
Dixon’s recommendation was that St. Paul’s use the first $200,000 of income generated from the principle to kick off a denomination-wide challenge campaign. The challenge would provide every child under the age of 5 in the African country of Sierra Leone with a $10 insecticide treated mosquito bed net as well as deworming, measles vaccines and education. The campaign to purchase 1.2 million nets would be part of the global health initiative focus area of our denomination and would be carried out in cooperation with the International Federation of the Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation and Nothing But Nets.
The church council of St. Paul’s met a few days after Dixon’s visit and decided that God was calling them to generate a ripple effect that will save tens of thousands of lives in Sierra Leone. They approved the $200,000 challenge grant and will likely establish a donor-directed permanent UMCOR fund, which will be more like a tidal wave of generosity and hope!
The campaign, announced last week, will challenge each annual conference to contribute toward the $1.5 million needed by June 30. Any money given to Nothing But Nets from now until June 30 will also go toward the Ryckman Challenge Grant. In addition, our Saturday morning offering at the West Michigan Annual Conference will be directed toward this grant. Since Anne Ryckman lived in the Grand Rapids District all of her life, it would honor her generosity and vision if each of our district churches would contribute toward the challenge grant by the end of June.
Anne Ryckman was an ordinary person from an ordinary United Methodist church. Yet our churches produce extraordinary people like Anne all the time. Whenever churches inspire people to catch a vision of what could be and then act on that vision, there is a ripple effect. All it takes is the power of one person and one church which nurtures people into faith and discipleship. It is also important to intentionally remind church members that through estate planning their giving can extend far beyond their lives. Do you have a planned giving committee in your church? If not, perhaps now is the time.
Not long before Mother Teresa’s death, a reporter noted that she had labored most of her life for the poor, yet for all her efforts, there was still great poverty throughout the world. He asked how she felt, having been unable to change the world. Mother Teresa quickly answered that she had never thought she could change the world. She only wanted to be a drop of clear water through which God’s love could shine. She then invited the reporter to be a drop of clear water as well. “Then there would be two of us.” She asked if he was married. “Ask your wife; then there would be three of us.”
Have you ever seen a drop of water make ripples? Have you seen how a $10 bed net can save a life? It’s happening at St. Paul’s UMC, and it can happen at your church, too. Can you even imagine what could be possible if each one of us were a clear drop of water through which God’s love could shine? Let’s rise to the Ryckman challenge!
May God’s love ripple throughout this district and around the world!