Jessica: Hey, everyone! Welcome back to the Going Scared podcast. This is your host Jessica Honegger, founder of the social impact fashion brand Noonday Collection. Join me here every week for conversations on living lives of purpose by leaving comfort and going scared.
Thank you so much for joining me on this series around difficult dialogue. I have learned so much, and guys we are not done yet. We have some hot episodes coming up and today’s is one of them.
I had the honor and privilege of chatting with Eugene Cho who I have known as the founder of One Day’s Wages which is the grassroots movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty. But he’s also the president and CEO of Bread for the World and Bread Institute which is a prominent nonpartisan Christian advocacy organization urging both national and global decision-makers to help end hunger both in the United States and around the world.
And then, why is he on today’s show? Well because his most recent book is called “Thou Shalt Not be a Jerk,” so we talked a little bit about how to not be a jerk but we actually ended up having a conversation around racism and Asian-Americans right now and it was a wonderful conversation and one that I think you are really going to learn from. So, let’s listen in to this conversation with Eugene Cho.
Eugene Cho: The Art of Not Being a Jerk
Jessica: How are you doing today, Eugene?
Eugene: I am doing okay, all things considered. It’s a crazy time in our world. And if I’m honest, it feels like an emotional roller coaster. But all things considered, family and I are safe and trying our best to be faithful during these times.
Jessica: Well, before we launch into what you are up to now, I’d love for you to just introduce yourself to our listeners so that they can get a taste of who you are.
Eugene: Great. Well, hi, everyone. My name is Eugene Cho. I’m joining you right now from Seattle, Washington. And my wife and I have been married for about 24 years. She’s a marriage and family therapist, which means she wins every argument in our home. We have three children, two in college and our youngest is a senior in high school. I am the president of an organization in Washington, D.C. called Bread for the World. It’s a collective Christian advocacy organization raising our voices for those who experience hunger and poverty in our nation and around the world. I also run One Day’s Wages, a grassroots movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty. And I just recently wrote a book called "Thou Shalt Not Be a Jerk: A Christians Guide to Engaging Politics."
Jessica: I have to tell you that we have spent our last three summers vacationing in the Pacific Northwest, and it has my heart. The Deception Pass, the island area.
Eugene: Now you’re speaking. Yes. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world, especially in the summer. I’m assuming you came in the summer.
Jessica: Everyone keeps telling me that it rains in the Pacific Northwest, and I have not yet experienced rain. And I’ve gone there the last three summers for at least two weeks, and it’s a little taste of heaven, I have to say.
Eugene: Right. And it’s not a realistic dose, if I’m honest, because if you visit in the summer, it is epic and perfect. But if you are here outside of that 10 weeks in summer, you will get a dose of rain, drizzle, and gray.
Jessica: Wow. I will just stay away then from outside of July. How about that?
Eugene: Sounds good.
Jessica: And I know you are moving to Washington, D.C., and I can’t imagine the challenge of that move. But I also have to say, out of all cities in the U.S., I love D.C. as a city.
Eugene: I hope to love D.C. I’ve not been there enough to know. I’ve visited a few times just as a tourist and this will be a little different. There are many things going on, including the fact that in this move, we are not just leaving a city that we love that’s been our only home since we’ve been married, but we are leaving our kids behind as well. And so, it feels like there’s this momentous transition of our lives as we… Obviously, we’ll always be their parents, but we are just kind of releasing them into God’s hands. And so, there are some emotions related to that as well.
Jessica: The parents are flying the coop. You don’t hear about that as often. Well, I don’t know if you are familiar with a man named Gordon Crosby. He passed away several years ago in ’94, but he founded one of the first churches of its kind in Inner City, D.C., Adams Morgan area. And I volunteered with that church when I was in college and in high school, and that is really where my eyes were opened up to the social injustices throughout America and inequalities in America. So, I think that’s why this city holds such a special place in my heart. So, knowing a little bit about you and your heart for justice, I know that you’re gonna connect with that city.
Eugene: Well, I look forward to it. Thank you.
Jessica: So, this, as you mentioned, has been a crazy year of upheaval, and I’d love to hear from you what life has been like since March, since the pandemic spread across the U.S. What have you learned about yourself in the last five months or so?
Eugene: Well, that’s a great question. And it is affording me just an opportunity to pause and reflect over the past five or six months. And the reason why I say that is because there has been so much disruption and upheaval. I don’t know if I’ve had the opportunity just to pause and breathe and collectively look over the past five, six months, which has felt like five, six years. So, a few highlights. Obviously, it was in March that my wife and I made the final decision to make this transition to assume this role of President of Bread for the World now.
That role began in July, but that decision was made in March and I was in D.C. And right after I arrived, I arrived on Friday, it felt like everything shut down around the country, or at least many of the places. And so clearly, all of our listeners here are aware of COVID-19 and the havoc that it has created in our cities and our nations and our families and around the world, and I’ll speak a bit more about that. But I would say around that time, and even a bit before that, when the fear of COVID-19 began to spread around the country, it hit home for our family and I because there was such a rise of anti-Asian racism, both verbally and physical assaults that were taking place around the country and around the world.
And it was very, very disturbing, upsetting. It was painful. Our children, my wife and I had heard a few racial slurs during that time. And it was painful for me to witness, particularly through social media and the news, stories of those that were Asian around the world being bullied and beaten, stories of the elderly being harassed, and such. And so that was part of our reality that hasn’t stopped. It’s certainly kind of maybe been lost in the news of all that’s going on. But because of the work that we do at One Day’s Wages and Bread for the World, we’ve been really busy.
At One Day’s Wages, we’re just raising as much resources as possible. This year, we’re expected to raise about $1.3 million, and we’re investing it in carefully vetted projects around the world, most of it related to COVID projects. And then with Bread for the World, we do our work around advocacy. And right now, it’s quite challenging because there’s so much going on in the news. I think what’s been lost are women and men and children that had been impacted by the hunger crisis in our nation and around the world.
“And right now, it’s quite challenging because there’s so much going on in the news. I think what’s been lost are women and men and children that had been impacted by the hunger crisis in our nation and around the world.” Eugene Cho
There was a recent survey, 40% of mothers with children under the age of 12 have shared that they’re unable to feed their children adequately, 40% of mothers with children under the age of 12. Globally, the World Food Program, they’re estimating that those who are going to experience abject hunger, it’s gonna be doubling up from 135 to about 265 million people. So, we have been working around the clock night and day, basically, urging our lawmakers to pass laws that are compassionate, moral, just, particularly during this time.
And then obviously, there’s been such upheaval right now around racial injustice, police brutality. And I think this is such an important moment in our country, and hopefully not just a moment but a significant season, a movement, if you will, where both individuals, families, churches, organizations, and as a nation might really consider what it means for us to put in the hard work to create a more just, equitable, fair, a society that more deeply reflects the kingdom of God. So, it’s been a very busy, challenging season, at least for me in the past five or six months.
Building a More Empathetic Society
Jessica: Wow. You just said a lot, and I don’t want to gloss over the racism that you and your family have experienced. Has this been one of the most acute times that you’ve experienced that, and how have you walked with your kids through that?
Eugene: I immigrated to this country when I was six years old. And I’m not naive. I think we all know that we live in a broken and fallen world. There are consequences to that broken and fallen world. There’s sexism. There’s racism. And so, ever since we’ve immigrated, yes, I’ve experienced, you know, a steady dose of racism, but I think the last six, seven months have been particularly awakening because it’s been so blunt and so in your face.
And there’s been some documented cases of these verbal and physical assaults so much that the government, the FBI have been involved in trying to address some of these things. And because we live in a home where we have these honest conversations and our kids are also very, very aware, but I’ll just share one story that I think makes a connection with what’s going on around the world right now. In March and April, the first couple months, because of the rise of anti-Asian racism every single time our kids went out of the house, every single time.
Maybe it was exasperated by the fact that we’re concerned about COVID-19, but every single time, we had to have that conversation like, "Hey, be careful. You know what’s going on right now. And even though we’re living in Seattle, that’s often known as "a progressive city." Please be careful. Watch where you are. Don’t walk alone." And specifically, we were talking about the anti-Asian racism.
Our kids had experienced it, whether it’s people that are driving by screaming at them. We’ve had some cousins and relatives that were verbally assaulted in public places and supermarkets and such. But I thought that was so interesting because that conversation happened every single time that they left the home, even for a casual walk around the block. And the reason why I say there’s a connection is because while as a person of color I’ve experienced racism, never in my life have I had that kind of conversation nearly every single time our kids left our home.
And when I’m listening to my black and brown sisters and brothers who are sharing some of their anxiety and pain, maybe it’s not every single conversation they have with their kids, but they do say it is the most pervasive conversation they have with their children. And so, during this time, as we’re talking about justice, even if we may see things with nuances and difference, what we’re lacking in our country is the spirit of empathy.
We just need deeper compassion, deeper empathy. And I think without empathy, this idea of solidarity and taking actions is nearly impossible. In fact, I think it’s impossible. And so, that’s been our experience and it’s helped us to lean in even that much more during this social upheaval as we’re considering what it means to be more racially just as a nation.
“I think without empathy, this idea of solidarity and taking actions is nearly impossible. In fact, I think it’s impossible.” Eugene Cho
Jessica: I relate. I have three kids and one of my kids is Black, and we’re having those same conversations in our home as well. But I appreciate your vulnerability and sharing how your family is also experiencing racism as well, and I think that it’s important for us all to stop and consider that. And how can we walk with Asian-Americans right now that are facing racism?
Eugene: Yeah. Thanks for asking that. I think oftentimes when we’re speaking about racial injustice, it often gets condensed to a black and white conversation. Now, obviously, that conversation has to happen. But I’m also glad that there’s more of an openness to really explore and consider how this impacts the whole society and impacts all of us. And I would begin by story. I think it’s really important for people, in order for us to become more compassionate and empathetic, is to understand story.
There was a social kind of a case, social research done after some recent police brutality issues. And this one that I’m speaking about speaks specifically about some research that was done after the situation with Michael Brown in Ferguson. And it was conducting research about the number of relationships that Americans had outside of those that look like them. And so, they asked White Americans, Black Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans.
And it shouldn’t surprise us, but it was somewhat intimidating just to see on paper how insular nearly all of us are. But particularly, I would say, just to be blunt, White Americans and Asian Americans were among the most insular in terms of our relationships and friendships. And I think it’s really important. As Christians, we’re told the two greatest commandments, love God, love people, and to love our neighbors.
And it’s a simple thing, but I think it’s important to amplify, you cannot love your neighbors if you don’t know your neighbors. So, here we are as a nation trying to have these really emotional, complex, important conversations, and ye,t we don’t really know people that don’t look like us, think like us, feel like us, worship like us. And since we’re in this crazy political season, we really don’t know people that might have different political inclinations as us as well.
“And it’s a simple thing, but I think it’s important to amplify, you cannot love your neighbors if you don’t know your neighbors.” Eugene Cho
So, going back to your question, I would say, learn stories. Get to know your Asian-American sisters and brothers. Learn about their history. One element of history that I’ll just share with you because I think it is important in my opinion, and I’m not necessarily a historian expert, but I would say that the most important modern-day history fact for Asian-Americans is the case of a man named Vincent Chin. And recently for Asian-Americans, his name has been on our heart and minds because of the recent anti-Asian sentiment.
Vincent Chin, I think it was early 1980s, maybe late 1970s, Chinese-American, Detroit, Michigan during the time when the economy was tanking, particularly, the auto industry, and he was in a bar celebrating the bachelor’s party, either for his friends or for himself. And because there was such anti-Asian, specifically anti-Japanese sentiment because of the auto industry, that there were a couple of folks that decided to bully him in the bar during this bachelor’s party, and I do believe it was his bachelor’s party.
And they followed him out afterwards and beat him to death. And sadly, these men were exonerated of their crime. And a lot of Asian-Americans have been thinking about this because of the physical assaults that have been taking place around the world. And so, I think that’s one way. I know it feels heavy. But I think in order for us to be aware, let’s build relationships, let’s build bridges, and let’s learn the story, the narrative of those that we’re speaking of.
Jessica: I love that. And this podcast series is all about recovering the lost art of difficult dialogue, and so so much of what we have been talking about is to build bridges. But when it comes to getting to know our neighbors, let’s face it, a lot of us live in neighborhoods where everyone looks just like us. And so sometimes finding… getting outside of your own echo chamber actually requires effort.
And I loved… I had never heard of Make America Dinner Again, which you share about in your newest book. You also talk about Better Angels. So, let’s talk about some of those ways where people are looking around saying, "I want to know an Asian-American. I want to know a Black person. I wanna know a cop." Right now, we’re talking about friends in our community because I’m raising young people, 11, 12, 14, and with a Black son in our family, there is a very easily held anti-cop attitude in our home right now.
And so, we are trying to show the nuance. In fact, I’m gonna just mention this really quickly. I listened to The Daily on Monday. There’s The Daily podcast, "Who Replaces Me," and it was about a Black cop in Flint, Michigan, and his experience in deciding to become a Black cop. And so much of what he shares is he went back to police the neighborhood he grew up in, and most of his fellow police officers didn’t know anyone on the streets, whereas he grew up, you know, yeah, that’s the guy used to buy barbecue from, and everyone has his cell phone number, and he shoots hoops with these guys on Friday nights.
And I was so thankful for my kids to hear this episode of a Black cop who is giving back and really a police who does know his community and is a neighbor with the people within his community. And that I agree with you 1,000% that our solution is to get to know our neighbors. But if our neighbors all look like us, how do we get outside of our neighborhoods?
Coming Together and Understanding Each Other
Eugene: Yes. Well, I think you nailed it. It’s not the only answer, but I think it is a significant part of the process in order to find the solutions for our society. You mentioned this thing called Make America Dinner Again. It’s not, again, my creation. During the past couple of years as I’ve been trying to work on this book that I quit writing four times because I was really intimidated about talking about faith and politics, and this book is about that, I came across this organization called Make America Dinner Again. And the genesis of this organization is really brilliant.
There were these two Asian-American women who were distraught by the results of the last presidential election. Like most elections, half the nation are, you know, happy and celebrating, and the other half is crestfallen and feeling discouragement and anxiety. And so, after the election of President Trump, they were devastated. And as they processed the results, they thought to themselves, "How could this be?" And as they looked inward to examine, "We wanna have some conversations among our circle of friends that voted for Trump or had inclinations for Trump," and they realized they did not know a single person that supported Trump.
And so, in an effort to try to better understand what’s going on, they put out something on social media and said, "Hey, what if we have a dinner, we’re welcome to gather together. Everyone brings a plate. We’re not here to accuse, to shame, to bully one another. We wanna just have a conversation about thoughts and feelings and why you may have a particular perspective on this issue or that issue." And that was the genesis of this movement called Make America Dinner Again that has really kind of spread around the nation and around the world.
I joined my Make America Dinner Again here in Seattle. It was intense. It was awkward. It was uncomfortable. And we didn’t necessarily solve anything or everything in our nation, but I think it was really important for us to better understand because, frankly, even as a pastor, I wasn’t having these conversations with people that may have different perspectives. And here’s what it did for me and here’s what I think matters. I’m not trying to diminish the importance of policies and laws because, obviously, that’s part of the reason why people have varying views.
But the reason why I think it really mattered was because it reminded me, so simple, that it made me more human. And I think it made others that disagreed with me on certain issues that I’m passionate about also human as well. And I think sometimes in the midst of so much of these volatile conversations, we end up vilifying, demonizing, dehumanizing people that we disagree with and in that process, we end up doing the very things that we criticize in others.
“I think sometimes in the midst of so much of these volatile conversations, we end up vilifying, demonizing, dehumanizing people that we disagree with, and in that process, we end up doing the very things that we criticize in others.” Eugene Cho
Jessica: It’s true. And that’s what we do. And once you have a human being in front of you who comes from a different perspective, a different story, a different point of view, and you actually have a conversation, you’re right. It isn’t everything, but it certainly does humanize all of us. I had never heard of that organization till I read your book and I would just love for all of us to go and get online and go click and see Make America Dinner Again. And you also mentioned another organization with a similar goal, Better Angels. Can you tell us about them?
Eugene: Sure. I mean, I think the concept is very similar. It’s this nonpartisan community organization that just wants to gather people in their communities, creating safe spaces to have conversations about really hard subjects. And right now, you don’t have to be a political scientist to know that so much of the banter around politics is about throwing bombs and screaming at each other and vilifying one another and thinking the worst of one another.
We’re basically headline readers. And so, we really don’t have these conversations. Now, I think to myself, if there’s any place that we should be having these conversations, yes, it should be in our communities, in our neighborhoods, but it should also happen among our Christian friendships, in our churches as well. And it’s really disturbing for me that sometimes, even in our churches, we’ve basically reduced it to people that are just thinking like us.
And one of the most beautiful concepts I think of Jesus’s ministry, when we think about his miracles, obviously, there’s some incredible supernatural things that he does. But to me, to this day, the part that fascinates me the most about Jesus’s public ministry is his willingness to share meals, to break bread with people that he was not supposed to talk with and eat meals with. His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, when he chooses to eat with tax collectors, these things are not supposed to take place.
They’re very countercultural. And so, I think Better Angels is this gathering of people that are self-described, progressives, liberals, conservatives gathering together in their communities in these circles where they can look at one another and they’re having these significant conversations about why and how. I think that’s beautiful, I think it’s important, and we need to do more of this in our families, in our churches, and in our nation.
Pursuing Justice and Changing the World
Jessica: I wanted to ask you about One Day’s Wages because I think that’s when I first discovered you. I run an organization called Noonday Collection and we are a social impact fashion brand. And it started with this very simple idea of you can use your purchasing power for good. We’re celebrating 10 years this year, which is crazy because it started in my home as an adoption fundraiser to bring my third child into our family, Jack, from Rwanda.
And back then I was selling maybe 20 necklaces a week and now we partner with over 3,000 artisans around the world, 30 artists and businesses, and have raised almost $1 million towards adoption. And it’s just been amazing to me how these little decisions that we can make, these little… They are seemingly little, collectively, they end up having this really big impact on the world.
And I know your first book was "Overrated: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World?" And you say that the most overrated generation in history that we have access to so much but end up doing so little in that book. How have you seen that central thesis challenged or affirmed during 2020? Has the last six months changed some of the assumptions that you made in that book?
Eugene: No. I think, if anything, it’s really affirmed it. It’s amplified the importance of this. It’s really interesting, the concept of changing the world didn’t exist prior to the 1950s and 60s. If you look at research at the Library of Congress, as an example, about books that were written with that concept, they just didn’t exist. Now, this is a good thing and a beautiful thing that we want to change the world, but I also think it’s kind of a marketing slogan if we’re not careful.
I love Noonday Collection. I’ve known about you guys for the past eight, nine years. This is the first time you and I have chatted, but I’ve known about Noonday, love what you’re doing. Congratulations on 10 years. But the reality is you can’t change the entire world, I can’t change the entire world when someone says that it’s just a marketing slogan, but I don’t want to be on the other extreme to diminish how we can change and impact the world of a few, the world of one, the world of some.
And the best part of this process is that when we live a life of courage and faithfulness and generosity, hospitality, creativity, when we take these micro-decisions every single day in a marathon of faithfulness, and love, and grace, and hope, when we make these micro-decisions, the best part of this process is, yes, we get to make an impact around the world. And maybe that’s someone on our street, in our neighborhood.
The best part for me is my experience has been that we, I, myself, I get impacted and changed in the process. That’s the part that I really didn’t quite understand until I actually embodied the very values and convictions imperfectly that I write about in the book. We have changed so much. We have been blessed and grown and benefited.
And that’s part of the reason why, I’m sure with Noonday, with One Day’s Wages, we want to invite people to join our collective organizations or others or simply wherever they may be to make that simple choice each day. It might not be glorious or glamorous or spectacular. Even in the mundane, I think if we choose to be faithful, even if it’s not seen or recognized on social media, I think those small decisions collectively create a groundswell of movement, if you will, that reflects the kingdom of God.
“Even in the mundane, I think if we choose to be faithful, even if it’s not seen or recognized on social media, I think those small decisions collectively create a groundswell of movement, if you will, that reflects the kingdom of God.” Eugene Cho
Jessica: Truly. I mean, that is the story of Noonday. Can you tell me a little bit more about the founding story of One Day’s Wages?
Eugene: Sure. Sure. So, we’re about 11 years old. And the concept of One Day’s Wages is that we try to inspire people around the world to consider giving one day’s of their wages at least once a year, maybe it’s once a quarter or once a month, but then it’s also this kind of crowdfunding idea. People have run marathons, people have created jewelry and sold it and given the proceeds to One Day’s Wages. People have built 30-foot ice sculptures in Minnesota.
I mean, people have done crazy things to raise awareness, but the founding of it was about 13 years ago. And I along with a handful of pastors, we were in a country called Burma, otherwise known as Myanmar. And we were in this makeshift village and they didn’t even have a name. They just had a number because their village was constantly moving from place to place as they were fleeing away from basically genocide.
There was a brutal military government at that time that was targeting certain ethnic minority groups. It was so painful to hear what was going on. So, we’re in this village and we visited a classroom. And by classroom, I’m talking a makeshift classroom, 15, 20 unmatching chairs and tables, this greenish, scarred, overused chalkboard. And I walked into this classroom in the jungles, and I was just flabbergasted. I was stunned.
I was terrified by a collage of photos that was plastered on the chalkboard. And to this day, I remember it so vividly. It’s probably one of, if not, the most graphic set of photos I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. And they were a collage of photos of men, women, and children with missing body parts and blood oozing out of some of them. Many of these humans on these photos were dead. I haven’t shared the story in a while, so I’m just even right now kind of taken back by that moment.
And I think my host sensed that I was really disturbed by these photos and he invites me to come closer. And his imperfect English, he says, "Reverend Cho, come closer. Come closer." And he points to this bottom row of this collage of photos, and there was these grayish, greenish metallic contraptions and he says, "These are landmines. We must teach children avoid landmines." And it just hit me.
And that day, we had a chance to meet some of the survivors of these landmines. And as I was meeting with some of the elders that day, I had asked them, maybe not my best question, but I just asked them, "What’s your biggest challenge?" And knowing that I had just visited some classrooms, he had said, "Paying teacher salary is hard." So, I asked him, "Well, how much are their salaries?" And he responds, sticking out his four fingers, he says, "Forty dollars U.S." And so, my instant response was, "Per day?" And he laughed at me. And so, I said, "I’m sorry. Did you mean per week?"
He laughs again. And I’m stunned because I thought, "Wow. Their salaries as teachers are $40 per month." But the thing was, he actually shakes his head again and he says, "Their salaries are $40 per year." That’s the story that really broke me. Not again to make anyone feel guilty, but I think part of the justice work that we do is truth-telling. That’s an important part of justice work is telling the truth. And we live in a world where there is immense disparity, even in the year 2020. Such immense disparity.
And so, with that story, coming back home, sharing it with my wife and our kids, my wife and I just took some time to pray and fast and consider, "Hey, how should we respond to this?" As a pastor, I thought, you know, "I’ll certainly write about it, blog about it, preach about it, do some social media posts about it," but the Holy Spirit convicted our hearts. And I share this not to sound altruistic or holier than thou, but just in full transparency, we felt convicted to give up a year’s wages.
And my year’s wages as a salary as a pastor back then was $68,000. And we didn’t have $68,000 hidden under our mattress, and so it led us on a journey of three years of saving, of simplifying, and selling things that we didn’t need. And during that time, we had this idea, this vision that we felt like was prompted by the Holy Spirit. And so, we started this organization called One Day’s Wages where we’re asking people around the world to consider giving one day’s wages. And like Noonday Collection, we just could not have envisioned how people would take this very simple concept and be a part of what we’re doing.
We’ve had about 13,000, 14,000 people around the world join us. We’ve raised about $8 million. We’ve donated and granted out about $7 million thus far. And part of our concept is we are trying to find smaller organizations around the world. We’re big fans of the large, ginormous organizations that a lot of people know about, but we also want to come alongside smaller NGOs around the world that might not have this huge marketing budget, but we wanna help build agency and capacity, and as a result, do our very small part in ending extreme global poverty around the world.
Impacting Communities and Transforming Lives
Jessica: I love that. I did not know that story. Thank you for sharing. I’m curious, and this is vulnerable for me to ask just because it reveals myself, but working in global poverty as my reference point, I’ve always had to be extra prayerful in making sure my heart stays awake and alive to the injustices that exist in the U.S. And I think that right now I’m feeling so tender particularly about that because I school and the disparity now with many essential workers, kids who they can’t be learning in their homes or teenagers that are now having to raise their little brothers and sisters because their parents are off, you know, in a warehouse job or a job that can’t be done from home.
And then recently, we were driving past our local high school, and we live in an urban neighborhood in Austin, and the food bank line was where they had to shut down the streets because of the food bank line. And I think because I’ve immersed myself for 10 years in global poverty, this truly is a moment of reckoning in America where the disparities are becoming even greater and more visible. And yet, it is easy for me to say, "Well, we’re a well-resourced country. And, where is my place here?"
And maybe there’s even compassion fatigue of, you know, I’m talking with my artisans in Uganda and in Kenya and in these places where, you know, the hospitals have been shut down and public transportation and it’s been a severe, severe crisis of hunger and of resources.
How do you keep your heart? And I know… Well, you could have an easy way out because you just became President and CEO of Bread for the World, which is a U.S.-based organization. But on a personal level, what are some of those heart checks that you have for yourself that you remain open-hearted to the need that exists in your own backyard?
Eugene: Jessica, I feel like you answered the question. I think we have to just name it. When we name it that it can be a challenge, that sometimes even in our pursuit of the capital word justice, we can go about it unjustly or we think it’s a zero-sum game, that it’s one or the other, that it’s binary. “If I’m committed to global justice, I don’t have room or space or capacity for the injustice or the pain that takes place in my own city or neighborhood.”
And I think we need to deconstruct and debunk the myth of the zero-sum game around all things, including justice. And I think it’s true for Christians. And I don’t wanna just pick on Christians, but I think it is possible that we can be so enamored by change over there, and yet we’re unwilling to even cross the street to get to know our neighbors. And so, I would begin with what you shared in, let’s intentionally… Sometimes you have to make intentional choices to get in the way of stories of information, of bodies, of people, of narratives, of pain.
And so, it’s like the concept of someone who is panhandling for money off the on-ramp or the off-ramp on the freeway. This is a moment of vulnerability, but there are moments where I simply want to ignore that moment. And I’m not suggesting that we have to change every single circumstance that we come across, but there have been moments where I just don’t want to look. I don’t wanna look at that person’s eyes.
And, again, we may not be able to fix everything, but we have to acknowledge the humanity of people that we come across. So, when we were driving by that food bank at Austin, same story here in Seattle, the home of some of the largest successful companies, it’s stunning to see the lines that sweep around the corner even now, and especially now during this time when I think the disparities of our nation as we pride ourselves in being the richest, most successful, the greatest nation in the world. And that’s a dissonance. So, I think we have to name it. We have to choose to see it.
And then as we see it, then we begin to pray about, "God, how should we respond? What can I do?" And I love the fact that we don’t have to always have these discussions or conversations alone. And this is the power of community, that we can gather with like-minded, like-hearted people and collectively say, "Hey, let’s pray about this. Let’s discuss this. How can we do something?" And this goes back to what I shared earlier. We can’t do everything, but we can always do something. That’s what I would say.
“We can’t do everything, but we can always do something.” Eugene Cho
Jessica: I love that. And I actually just hopped on the phone with a concerned fellow Austin mom last week and out of the need of seeing that certain communities in Austin, the disparities in these communities, she started talking to local churches in East Austin. And so many more privileged white people here in Austin are able to do community pods, educational pods where they hire a teacher and have six kids come. So, she wanted to offer the same for students in her communities. So, they are gathering at a couple of churches partnering with AISD.
They’re having really amazing tutors come and work with these kids that are being left behind right now. And I was just so inspired by, again, just, "You know what? I’m able to hire a tutor for my kids. I wanna hire a tutor for other kids." And we do just have to simply take those next steps. And sometimes actually, that is what helps me too, is to talk to other people that are doing those little next steps because it shows me, I can do that too because they’re not heroes, right? They’re just people who say, "There’s a need. I can do something about that."
Eugene: And I don’t ever want to underestimate our creativity, and we have ideas. I think the challenge is to implement. We can’t just swim in a pool of thoughts and ideas and good intentions. And those are… Good intentions are good. It’s like exercise. And I’ve shared this a few times. If I’m just sitting in my comfy chair thinking about exercise, I’m not doing anything except thinking about exercise.
I can right now pause for about 30 seconds in this podcast and do 50 pushups in my mind. I think this is the reason why the Bible speaks about faith without works is dead. And so, I don’t ever want to underestimate you, myself, the listeners about some of the ideas and creativity that we have. What if we take one small action, one small step? What if we partner with others? What if we learn about what others are doing to be able to, again, make it that much more incarnational in our respective communities?
Jessica: Well, that is a great place for us to stop. I did wanna ask as we do on the Going Scared podcast, although I think I know your answer, how are you going scared right now?
Eugene: Ooh, man. There’s so many things, and a few things that come to my mind right now is, it’s a season of major transitions. I’m turning 50 next month. And as we’re considering leaving our kids in the next year, as I’m entering into the crazy world of D.C., the last few weeks I’ve been spending numerous significant hours meeting with congressmen, and senators, and congresswomen, and leaders petitioning, advocating for our fellow citizens who are experiencing hunger in our nation and around the world.
And I’m finding myself in places and spaces that I’ve never been in, and it’s been… I’ve been scared. And every single time I’m reminded that this concept of being fearless is actually a myth. No one’s fearless. We’re all afraid. I think faith is what happens when we choose to engage our fear and still say, "Even despite the fact that I’m trembling, I wanna keep showing up. I wanna keep going. I wanna still be faithful. I wanna keep speaking up. I wanna keep pursuing the convictions that you’ve placed in my heart." That’s what it looks like for me to keep going scared.
Jessica: Even though I founded a social impact fashion brand, and we have an international family, I have a child from Rwanda, I am always wanting to be aware of being a box-checker where I somehow think that compassion is a limited-time-only commodity. I’m guilty of that, and I’ve been guilty of that even during COVID-19 as we’re surrounded by such an immense amount of suffering right now.
Eugene’s conversation, but also his life, reminds me that compassion begets compassion. It’s upside-down math, but somehow when we step out to give, even in a little way, somehow, we have more to give. It’s a math equation that only works when you actually try it.
it reminds me of what Ana Colburn wrote on her review of the Going Scared podcast. She says, “When it comes to making big decisions, not doing anything is also a choice! Jessica inspires me to choose to act on my dreams… even if that means taking baby steps until I’m ready for the big move! This podcast will renew your faith in humanity while giving you hope to keep going on a very personal level! Feeling scared to make changes? Feeling stuck? Needing a little inspiration and feel-good stories in the midst of our world’s chaos? This podcast is for you!” Thanks, Ana for that review.
On that note you guys if you haven’t left a review yet on the Going Scared podcast, we’re over a million downloads in, we have around 1,100 reviews, and I would love to hear from you. So, stop what you’re doing. Quit folding that laundry. Walk, don’t run. Just get on your iTunes app and leave a review. I would so appreciate it because it helps other people find these conversations.
Our wonderful music for today’s show is by my friend Ellie Holcomb. Today’s podcast is produced by Eddie Kaufholz. And I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take one another by the hand and keep going scared.