Why We Give

On the first Sunday of Lent, I visited Epworth United Methodist Church, which is just down the street from my house. My commitment for Lent this year was to walk to a different church in my neighborhood each week, so I thought I’d start closest to home.

I had been in the church building many times before—my son was in an after-school program there, plus it happens to be the polling place where I vote—but not for a Sunday morning service. The gathering was small, diverse, and warm. A congregation member gave a brief talk about Black History Month, reminding us that our past is not divided by group, but shared: “One person’s history is all our history.”

Pastor Lisa Dempsey 99T spoke, not surprisingly, about Lent, pointing out that it is a wholly noncommercial event; there are no cards or gifts, no expectation but to participate as one chooses. After the service, lemonade and homemade cookies were served.

One of the people I met that morning was Samantha Tyburski 14T, a Candler School of Theology student and an intern at Epworth. It was the day after the Emory Magazine president’s column referencing the “three-fifths compromise” was thrust into the ugly glare of a national spotlight, and my email inbox had been filling with words of anger and criticism for nearly twenty-four hours. I wanted nothing more than to step away, just for a moment, and take comfort in this small, welcoming community.

Yet as I chatted with Sam, I found myself telling her who I am and what I do, and watching a shadow of recognition flit across her face. She didn’t say much about the firestorm that was brewing—only that she hoped it would resolve quickly. But I must have looked as upset as I felt, because her sympathy was palpable, and I was grateful.

What Sam did speak about with great enthusiasm was her experience at Candler. A recipient of the Margaret A. Pitts Scholarship, she said she is gaining incredible leadership skills at Epworth, which has a long tradition of hosting Candler student pastors, and that she hopes to help lead just such an intimate neighborhood church someday. (See related stories on pages 11 and 14.)

When I left the church that morning, the world seemed both bigger and brighter than my immediate reality, and also smaller and kinder, thanks to that brief Emory connection. That’s what Emory manages to do for thousands of us every day—to simultaneously expand horizons and draw people and places closer together in unexpected ways. And that, I realized, is one of the many reasons why I give to the university.

I can offer a more dramatic example. Last summer, I visited Uganda with Moses Katabarwa 97MPH to report on his work combating river blindness disease for The Carter Center, an Emory partner. I have traveled to Africa only twice, both times covering Carter Center efforts, the first in 2004 for a story about Guinea worm disease in Ghana. I met and interviewed several alumni on that first trip, including Steven Becknell 00C 02MPH, who was serving as a technical assistant for the Guinea Worm Program at the time.

Last July, nearly a decade later and in an entirely different part of Africa, I pulled up at our hotel in Kampala with Moses and other colleagues after several long days in the field—feeling farther from home than I would have thought possible—and Steven walked out of the hotel entrance, accompanied by his wife, Anne, and two sons, ages three and one. Now working in Kampala for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Steven hailed Moses in immediate recognition, long familiar with his Carter Center work. My spirits were lifted by wonder at what felt to me like an extraordinary coincidence.

And yet I suspect that story is not unique. Emory has a way of making the world both large and small in amazing, sometimes even magical, ways. This special issue of Emory Magazine, devoted to the successful finale of Campaign Emory, is overflowing with examples—from the obvious, such as our feature story on the global reach of the Rollins School of Public Health, to the more subtle, like the Emory connections that brought Washington, D.C., student Julia Highsmith 16C here on a special scholarship created during the campaign.

No one gives money because of a logo or a target number, although those elements are important to a campaign. We give because of a big world made smaller. We give because of personal connections, whether sustained or fleeting; because we feel part of something, whether it’s grand in scale or close-knit; because of stories in which we see ourselves reflected. I hope that you find many of those in the pages that follow and in those to come.

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