A Willingness to Say “Yes”
By Laura Reinhardt, World Vision photojournalist
As an international development major in college, Loula Merkel thought she knew about poverty. But one book changed her perception — and her life — forever.
Years after graduation, Loula read The Hole in Our Gospel along with the other women in Women of Vision’s Chicago chapter. “I thought I had a pretty good sense of what poverty is and what was going on in the world,” she says “I had no idea. That book was such an eye opener.”
She learned that the traditional “effort equals reward” equation used in the developed world didn’t apply in developing countries. “You see people that work very long hours, put everything that they can into something, and it doesn’t bear fruit,” says Loula.
People remain mired in poverty for a myriad of reasons – some of which include the lack the finances to start a business or expand or no access to a market in which to sell their wares at a fair price. Natural disasters, wars, and conflicts can play a part. Poor or no education only adds to this complex problem.
Diving deep into the realities of poverty made Loula feel guilty. But then a World Vision staff member asked her to consider how she could use that guilt as motivation to provide for those in need.
Loula’s journey with Women of Vision began at her job with a biotech startup, where she met Tracy Mathews, the chair of the Women of Vision chapter in Chicago. Loula found herself surrounded by smart people who openly attributed the good things they had to God.
Raised in the Greek Orthodox Church, Loula’s involvement with Women of Vision led her to learn more about Jesus. She asked herself, “Who is this? Have I heard the full story? Am I missing something?” As she dug deeper into the answers to those questions, Loula accepted him as her personal savior.
She is now on a journey of rekindling her faith. “World Vision has been a part of that,” she says. She felt moved by the message of The Hole in Our Gospel — written by World Vision U.S. president Rich Stearns — that talked about Jesus’ specific instruction about helping the poor, orphans, and widows.
As part of the Women of Vision’s study of the book, individual members were challenged to give sacrificially— and an idea took hold of Loula.
“I decided to give up smoking and redirect the money I spent on cigarettes to World Vision,” she says. To hold herself to this promise, she signed up to run the Chicago marathon with Team World Vision, raising money for clean water as she trained.
“You can’t run a marathon and smoke at the same time,” she laughs. She recalls some revelations from God during the training process. One day she went on a run and didn’t take any water. Thirst overwhelmed her. “That just kind of cemented [it], that’s what these people feel. They don’t have water,” Loula says.
She saw running as not just a physical act, but a means of being obedient to God’s leading in her life. Sometimes when she runs, Loula thinks about the children she sponsored through World Vision as a birthday gift to her son.
“It’s a grueling physical endeavor to run and I think living a life that’s fairly comfortable, I didn’t really know what that was like,” she says. “I’d never really known what being tired and pain felt like. I think that these poor kids, they feel that all the time and it’s not optional.”
As her own life has changed, Loula has seen transformation in her sponsored children’s lives. She holds up two pictures of the same boy. In the first he’s somber, but in the more recent picture he looks happy.
Loula completed that first marathon, but she wasn’t finished. “I thought, OK, it was a great experience for me,” she says. “I’d like to give other folks the opportunity.” So she asked Rusty Funk from Team World Vision to speak at her church. “I was praying for 10 people [to join Team World Vision] and now we have 60,” she says. “God was already working on people and I think he would’ve made this happen otherwise. I feel fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time and say yes.”
She believes that the important part of the equation is the willingness to say yes, which doesn’t come naturally to her. But she said yes to Jesus, to Women of Vision, and to Team World Vision. “At the end of the day, it’s God that’s really doing the work,” says Loula. “He carries you through.”
Right now, you have the opportunity to invite others to join you in the stand against poverty and injustice by starting a Women of Vision Circle. You can gather a new group of women or inspire your current Bible study or book club with a focus that will truly make a difference in the lives of women and children living in extreme poverty. And, like Loula, you’ll find that by taking a step and saying “yes” to Jesus, that God will work through you, the women in your Circle, and the communities you choose to support in a powerful, transformational wayStart Your Circle Today