by Matt Chancey I was born and grew up in the Wiregrass region of Alabama. But for the last several years, I've made my home in Africa, primarily serving the persecuted church and other communities as a director of PPF.
But I'm still a Southern man, which means I always love hearing from my Mama. And she always seems to know exactly when to call. Recently she called to tell me a story about something wonderful that had happened to her.
Mama lives in a little town in Alabama. But her house is the only one on the block without a lawn irrigation system. Mama has avoided installing one because every time she has thought about spending the money, she felt guilty knowing that she's spending good money to water her lawn when so many persecuted people in Sudan's war zones live without safe water to drink.
But after years of hauling around a heavy garden hose to water the grass, Mama finally relented and called her neighbors to get a referral on a landscaper. Several of them recommended Tom Kelly, who owns a local business called Horticolor.
Mama called Mr. Kelly and he came over to have a look and give an estimate. After doing a quick walk around and some calculations, Mr. Kelly was invited to come inside to give his verdict:
It would be a lot of work and not very cheap. Mama told Mr. Kelly that the price wasn't the issue as much as her conscience bothering her. She told him about my work with Persecution Project Foundation in the Sudan, and specifically about our Safe Water program, digging clean wells and repairing broken well pumps for marginalized communities.
Mr. Kelly seemed very interested and asked a lot of questions. The conversation went on a little longer. Mama said, "So you can see it's a tough call for me having to decide to water my lawn or support more safe water projects in Africa."
"My wife and I have wanted to support work like this, but didn't really know how," replied Mr. Kelly. "I want to do this for you."
"Wait a minute," replied Mama. "You want to put in my sprinkler system for free?"
"Yes, I want to give this to you. You and your son know where the money is needed most in Africa, and you can give what you can to where he thinks is best."
Of course, Mama started crying.
Tom Kelly is 38 years old. He's also from a small town in Alabama - a town most Alabamians probably don't know exists let alone the rest of the world. He has a family and owns a small business. He's like millions of regular Americans with normal, everyday issues, challenges and anxieties. And like millions of regular Americans, he probably can't pull out his checkbook and write a fat donation to a charity like mine.
But Tom Kelly did three things that make a life or death difference to thousands of persecuted people: He started where he was. He used what he had. He did what he could.
Mr. Kelly cared enough to get informed. He asked questions. Once he was informed, he used what he had. He had skills. What could he do with those skills? He turned them into a blessing to help others.
Mr. Kelly has never been to Africa. He's not a celebrity or a politician. You will likely forget his name a few days after reading this story. And the people he's helping in Sudan will never get to meet this ordinary man from Alabama, who helped provide safe water to their communities so their kids would have a greater chance to make it past five years old.
The famous French author of "Democracy in America," Alexis de Tocqueville, said that "America will cease to be great when America ceases to be good."
We see and hear a lot of pessimism these days. But America was never great because our economy was the biggest in the world, or our military the strongest, or our political system the most impressive. America was great because so many Americans were good. The Scripture says, "Do not be overcome by evil. Overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:21) Tom Kelly from Alabama just showed us how it's done. As long as America has a lot of Tom Kellys, America will be great.
Matt Chancey is a founding director of the Persecution Project Foundation.