Legacy

Yesterday, Ed Kellner, my 91-year-old father, departed this life. He left behind a few shirts and pairs of pants, a pair of shoes, a pair of bedroom slippers, three Bibles, pictures of children and grandchildren, and a few odds and ends. It doesn’t sound like much.

My father and mother were successful by the standard measurements of American culture. They did well in the real estate business, well enough to retire in their fifties and not worry much about money for the next 35 years.

And yet, it all came down to what could be packed in two boxes. Except, dad left a lot more than two boxes of clothes and memorabilia; he left a rich legacy. Within minutes after I posted his passing on Facebook, the condolence messages started coming—more than 400 by last night.

Some came from friends dating back to childhood and college, others from friends and colleagues I have made as I have traveled the world or people who have heard me tell stories about his life. A number came from people I have never met, people whose lives my father touched. A pattern emerged quickly. Some people are remembered for their sense of humor, or their golf game. The people who wrote to me yesterday talked about the orphans my father sponsored in Haiti, the water wells he helped dig in Africa and the churches he helped launch in the US.

The theme was consistent: Dad was always giving.

When his time came, his earthly possessions fit in two cardboard boxes. But the legacy was huge.

Legacy was not so important to me when I was young. I focused on achievement. And like most Americans, I used hard metrics to determine success. Now that most of my career is behind me, I am much more focused on legacy, the things that don’t fit in a couple of boxes.

Oskar Schindler was not a very good man most of his life. He was a spendthrift, a playboy and a war profiteer. He made a lot of money and threw away a lot of money until he realized the value of an individual human life. Then, he spent much of his fortune trying to save the lives of the Jews who worked for him from the gas chambers of Auschwitz. By the time the Russians arrived, Schindler had saved more than 1,100 men, women and children. In the climactic scene of the Steven Spielberg film, the Jews he saved gathered to say goodbye to Schindler and his wife before he fled from the Red Army. The spokesman for Schindler’s Jews gave him a ring with an inscription from the Talmud, “Whoever saves a life saves the world entire.” Schindler broke down and wept at the realization that he could have done more, much more.

Few people have as dramatic a moment as Oskar Schindler, but we leave a richer legacy when we invest in saving lives.

How to Save Ukraine Now

Yesterday, while walking through Midway Airport in Chicago, I received a phone call from Mark Carrara, pastor of the Highpoint Community Church in Port Saint Lucie, Florida. Several weeks ago, Highpoint launched a campaign to fill a 40-foot container with clothes, blankets and personal hygiene items for the people displaced by the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Mark’s an interesting guy. Trained as an engineer, Mark holds an M.S. in aeronautical engineering and an MBA. He is wired to be strategic. Even though Mark feels deeply, he is not prone to work out of his emotions, and yet when Mark learned of the crisis in Ukraine, he was one of the first leaders to respond.

His church took a special offering to fill a truck with humanitarian goods, and when I told him about Ukraine Survival, SUN’s national campaign to ship emergency supplies to Ukraine, Mark decided to launch his own effort in Port Saint Lucie. He plans to recruit faith communities and civic organizations to the cause. So, I wasn’t surprised when Mark called. I was surprised by what he reported.

“I’m going to need a container right away,” Mark told me. “We have collected enough bags to fill a 60-foot unit and have just placed a storage pod on the church property.”

“We haven’t even taken this out to the community yet,” Mark reported.

Something similar happened in Meadville, Pennsylvania, where Living Waters Church has collected tens of thousands of dollars in medical supplies. A local congregation in Merritt Island, Florida, has amassed more bags of clothes than the number of people in their church. Some listeners to the church’s radio broadcast have driven up to two hours to join the cause.

Most people have never heard of small cities like Port Saint Lucie, Meadville and Merritt Island, but the people there have discovered how to save Ukraine — one person at a time.

When you see the statistics about the humanitarian crisis, it is tempting to throw up your hands in despair. More than a million people have been displaced by the conflict; 1.7 million children need physical or psychological care.

None of these three communities will save everyone threatened by hunger, sickness and disease, but each container will carry enough goods to give hundreds of people a chance for survival. If we combine their response with other churches, synagogues and civic organizations across the United States, we will save many more.

It Takes a Team

Leadership guru John Maxwell has famously said, “If you’re going to do a big job, you need a big team.”

The challenges presented by the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine are staggering — more than 5 million people affected by the conflict, 1.1 million internally displaced persons, 1.7 million children need care and counseling.

Last week, I met with a top UN official in Ukraine. She spent the last 16 years on the ground in war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, the Central African Republic and Myanmar. She is smart, tough and hard to scare.

After the pleasantries were over, she looked at me and said, “We want to be your partners.” Of course, I asked why.

She said, “If you don’t work with us, people will die. It’s that simple.”

Sometimes team is the difference between life and death.

That’s what we have been doing the last few months, building a team big enough to take on the suffering of a nation. Next month, we launch a national campaign called Ukraine Survival to fill shipping containers with emergency supplies for people whose lives are hanging by a thread. Save Ukraine Now is approaching thousands of churches, synagogues and civic associations across the United States to fill shipping containers with emergency supplies and ship them to Ukraine.

Teams have been organized in Chicago and Detroit to mobilize city-wide efforts. Detroit is setting the standard for team building: more than 20 organizations in the Detroit Metro area have joined with us in this effort. In the last few weeks, churches in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana and Illinois have launched campaigns in their communities.

It’s still not enough.

We need you. The people of Ukraine need you.

Will you join a team of people from many different backgrounds and incredibly diverse gifts to help save a nation? Would you organize a campaign in your church or community to fill at least one container?

Over three or four weeks in April and May, you ask the members of your congregation or civic organization to fill at least one plastic bag with clothes, shoes and blankets and bring them to the church to be loaded onto a container we will send to you.

Time is running out for thousands of people in Ukraine. But with the efforts of a big team, we can make sure it doesn’t.

Sasha Turned One Today

Sasha turned one today.

Of course, you have never heard of Sasha. Sasha is not the son of prince or a prime minister. His mother is not a movie star or a rock singer. Sasha’s family has no money. In fact, they do not have a home. Artillery fire took out the house they lived in.

Sasha lives in a bomb shelter. Underground. With no heat, no water, no electricity.

Sasha turned one today.

Sasha did not have a party or a birthday cake. No one celebrated. His mother kissed him and held him close. She stroked his hair and told him what a beautiful boy he is. A tear exploded on her cheek, and she held him tighter.

Sasha’s mother wonders if he will have another birthday, if he will go to school. The kindergartens and schools in their town have been closed for the war, some destroyed. Many of the teachers have fled.

Sasha turned one today.

And he has spent more than six months of his young life under ground. It’s too dangerous to walk to the park. Sasha has never played catch with his Dad or laughed on the merry-go-round. The merry-go-round is gone.

Sasha turned one today.