It was a radio interview Joe Walsh, a 26-year-old housing support worker from Leeds in the UK, happened to hear while doing the washing up which first dropped the idea of donating a kidney into his head. 

“It was all out of the blue…” he recalls. “It seemed a good idea. I suppose, as a Christian, I see everything I have as a good gift from God – even my body – and if I’ve got two kidneys and one can potentially be life-saving for someone else, it seemed like a great thing to do. There’s a sense almost of a parallel of Jesus’ sacrifice for us – whilst we were strangers to Him, He died – and I guess as we love God, we’re also called to love others and live a sacrificial life.”
 40acts1

The Stewardship campaign 40acts encourages people to undertake 40 acts of generosity over. PICTURE: Supplied.

While his wife was initially surprised but then supportive, Walsh, who has a three-year-old daughter, says he received a more mixed reception for the idea from others including one fellow churchgoer who told him he was “taking Jesus a bit too seriously”.

But he says that key to his decision was the encouragement he received via the annual 40acts campaign. Run by UK-based Christian organisation Stewardship, the initiative asks people to commit to carrying out 40 acts of generosity during the 40 days of Lent each year.

40Acts Joe Walsh

Joe Walsh. PICTURE: Supplied.

 

“It seemed a good idea. I suppose, as a Christian, I see everything I have as a good gift from God – even my body – and if I’ve got two kidneys and one can potentially be life-saving for someone else, it seemed like a great thing to do. There’s a sense almost of a parallel of Jesus’ sacrifice for us – whilst we were strangers to Him, He died – and I guess as we love God, we’re also called to love others and live a sacrificial life.”

- Joe Walsh

“It was a real encouragement,” says Walsh. “Each day there is a daily reading from a different contributor and each day there’s a challenge as to how you can live your life. It’s all about living a life of generosity. I found all of it very encouraging but particularly one day, there was a contributor who had given their kidney to a stranger…That was real encouragement to see other people who were really enthusiastic about living generously.”

Walsh sought medical advice and weighed up the relatively low risk the operation carries as well as the benefits to the recipient in terms of increased life span and quality of life. It eventually led to him donating his kidney to a woman that he’d never met in an operation undertaken in May last year.

Having since recovered well from the operation, Walsh – who has been able to exchange a couple of letters with the woman he donated his kidney to – says he would certainly do the same again if he could.

“Definitely…I think that it’s well balanced thing to do once you’ve weighed it up and considering God’s love for us,” he says. “I think it I would encourage any Christian to weigh it up for themselves…If only a small proportion of Christian people were willing to give a kidney, then they would very quickly eliminate any waiting list.”

This year marks the 10th that Stewardship have run what is now its flagship annual campaign. The organisation, which was founded in 1906, is centred on the idea of showing the world Jesus through the generosity of His church and so bring about change in communities.

The idea for the 40acts campaign came about when Debbie Wright, was looking at the season of Lent.

“Debbie just thought, you know, instead of people giving something up…how about we give out instead, how about we take every single day and do one generous thing and sort of spend that of time of reflection of Lent looking at how we could be generous those around us,” says Kezia Owusu-Yianoma, the project manager of 40acts at Stewardship. “It was kind of just a moment of inspiration, really.”

Across the 10 years of its existence, the variety of activities included in the 40acts program has been extensive.

“We do everything from things about the environment to caring for your neighbours, reflective things like thinking about how you can pray for your community or share your faith or that kind of thing, giving blood, creating hampers for people, whether it’s for the homeless [or others],” Owusu-Yianoma says. “So there is just a broad range of ways we encourage people to get involved.”

40acts lending hands

PICTURE: Supplied.

While there are a range of new acts included every year, there are also a few “staples” which are included every year thanks to their popularity. Not surprisingly, perhaps, one of the latter is ‘Chocolate Tuesday’ which involves giving chocolate in whatever form people like to those around them.

Exactly how many people take part in 40acts these days is hard to ascertain. While the initiative could initially be tracked simply by the number of people who signed up to receive the daily email, these days the initiative can be accessed through a range of means including via YouVersion, social media or via the blog. Yet, with the campaign having reached 100,000 people in 172 different  a few years ago, it’s now certainly the case that it’s grown far beyond that.

And while the UK remains the location of the largest number of participants of any country, the campaign now has large number of participants in countries including the US, Canada and Australia.

Feedback taken at the end of each campaign shows that while the majority of those who participate are Christians, others come from different faiths and some from none.

40 Acts logo

 

[W]e’re trying to create a culture where generosity is part of our daily lives going forward.”

- Kezia Owusu-Yianoma, the project manager of 40acts at Stewardship.

“It’s definitely not just [Christians], we have lots of people taking part,” says Owusu-Yianoma.

One of the biggest issues that has come out of the feedback has been that some people can “get quite down if they don’t complete the whole thing”, says Owusu-Yianoma.

But she says that it’s important for all those taking part to remember that the challenge is simply about being generous and fighting those “natural obstacles” which stop us being so.

“I don’t think [being generous] is something we perfect, I think it’s something we continue the journey [on]…The point is to do as many as we can and to keep trying to be generous throughout the year. If there is a challenge, it’s that ‘Yeah, it is difficult to constantly think of others in the world that we live in.”

While Lent is well underway, it’s still not too late for people to take part. The acts to date are listed on the Stewardship website so people can undertake them any time.

Owusu-Yianoma says that while there’s something nice about people taking part in the initiative at the same time during Lent – she tells the story of two people, both of whom were taking part, handing out chocolates on the same train, “definitely we don’t want it to be something that is boxed into…Lent”.

“Definitely, we’re trying to create a culture where generosity is part of our daily lives going forward.”

As for the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the campaign? Owusu-Yianoma says some acts have had to be adapted at keep people safe "as they continue to do Lent generously".

"Some of the acts haven’t needed changing at all and for others we have amended the traffic lights [each act comes with three different ways to complete it, labelled green, yellow and red] but kept the original options in so that people can come back to the challenges when this time of social distancing is over," she says.

"We believe generosity is always important but especially in times of crisis when people are feeling isolated, alone and potentially quite afraid. Generosity really is love - that is care, respect and kindness - in action and at a time like this people need to be reminded that they are worthy of those things. So far the feedback has been positive."

Owusu-Yianoma says Walsh’s story is just one of many of people who were prompted by an “act” to go onto to perform great acts of generosity.  She tells the story of one lady who, having taken part in an “act” last year which was centred on addressing the issue of the lack of access to sanitary products among girls around the world, went on to help girls create their own sanitary products at a school in Kenya.

“And the head teacher at the school broke down basically and said this was an issue they had struggled with for years and…was going to bring so much help to the  girls in [that] community. To think that that moment was inspired by just one day of the challenge is so exciting to hear.”

Joe Walsh, meanwhile, says his decision has opened up lots of conversations about why he donated his kidney with both Christians and those who don’t know Christ.

“When you take six weeks off work, obviously people want to know why and when you tell them you’re giving a kidney, they’re naturally interested and they’re likely to ask questions about it. And the frank answer – and I think people are willing to hear it – is that I feel I’ve been blessed by God and I want to express God’s love to other people and this is a way that I am doing it.”

He intends on continuing to act generously and is encouraging others to do the same. But that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone needs to give a kidney.

“As much as we love God, we’ll be moved to serve in whichever we can to His glory and to help people around us,” he says. “For some people that’s giving a kidney, for some other people it might be serving in other ways, depending what our individual passions and abilities and position in the world is.”

~ 40acts.org.uk