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Narrator: Purposely: your life, God’s purpose. Listen at onpurposely.com.
Jeremy Reis: Its life changing for me to know that I don’t have to chase that corporate dream. I don’t have to go start a business and make millions of dollars. Where I can be, have fulfillment in the work that I’m doing, changing lives of people that that we serve, and the people that we serve both on the donor side and the people that we serve out in those communities where we work.
Sarah Taylor: Our guest today is Jeremy Reis. He is the vice president of marketing at CRISTA Ministries. And although I know him for his great sense of humor and his warmth, I also know him as being a nationally reputed fundraising leader for nonprofits like food for the hungry. So, today you’re gonna hear his story of how he even ended up in this line of work and ministry, and why he’s so passionate about it now.
Jeremy let’s start at the beginning. Gimme some of your faith background growing up.
Jeremy Reis: Yeah, so I grew up in a family of five kids, and a single mom. My father left us when I was nine years old. And you know, always went to church. We grew up United Methodist and you know, always really connected well with youth groups and, and youth pastors. And at 12 I answered an altar call and, you know, went up and accepted Christ. And, you know, at the time I thought that was it, but it really, you know, turned out to just be an intellectual decision. Always went to church. This is the thing that you do when you’re 12, until my daughter Emily was born. And when she was born, you know, me not having had a father growing up, you know, becoming that father and really understanding God’s love for us, and God’s love for us is as people really you know, shook me, you know, seeing my daughter and, and, and having that, that first born. And so, that, that was the moment that I said yes to Christ. And, you know, I was baptized as a, as a youth, but then later as an adult, I was re baptized and really baptized by my own decision. Not just as an infant. And, and that was you know, really impactful to, to me. I put it off for a long time saying, no, you know, I don’t need to do that. I was already baptized. And then, you know, when I was, you know, reading through scripture and saying, you know, this is something I need to do, that was you know, a big decision in, in my life.
Sarah Taylor: And I know for the early part of your career, you did the whole corporate America thing.
Jeremy Reis: I did.
Sarah Taylor: Tell me a little bit about your degree, what you went into, because that’s gonna set us up for the big shift.
Jeremy Reis: Yeah. Yeah. So, I, I started out actually in college going for law school. I wanted to be a lawyer, and after one year of, you know, prep for that I said, you know, I don’t think this is for me. So, I shifted over, started working full time. So, I went to a year of college, started working full time. I moved from Florida where part, I grew up for part of my life to Ohio, which is where I was originally from, and got a job there at Cellular One was my first job back in the day when Cellular One was still around, this was the mid-nineties. And, and really enjoyed you know, Learning business and, and learning it, you know, on the ground. And I did that for a few years and then I moved into information technology, which was where I spent a number of years until pursuing my MBA. At which time I was doing consulting. And I remember I was sitting in an organizational management class at the Ohio State University, and the professor was talking about managing a nonprofit organization. And, and in my mind I kind of switched it off and I said, well, nonprofits are crazy. I’m never gonna work at a nonprofit because I had this dream, I was gonna be a millionaire by 30. 30 came around and I was a thousandaire, I wasn’t a millionaire. I might have been a hundredaire. I was certainly not a millionaire by 30, but, you know, by that point in my life I realized that you know, things… that God didn’t have that as a plan for us. And that really wasn’t a good plan anyways, to be a millionaire by 30.
And so, I was I’d shifted in and I started working in a nonprofit, and I found out that they are crazy. But we’re all a little crazy. Right? And so, my first job in fundraising was in 2012 at a nonprofit called Food for the Hungry. And so, I’d worked at a nonprofit and then moved it into Food for the Hungry and worked in fundraising.
And it was about 2013 when I took a trip down to Guatemala. And I was in this little village in Alta Verapaz, which is in the Northern part of Guatemala. And I walked into this home, and I was, I was hosting a trip of bloggers. And so, we brought eight or nine blog, eight or nine bloggers, down to, you know, learn about the community, and learn about Guatemala and our work. And I was with two of them and we were in this little house with Tomasa was the mom, and Marissa was the daughter, and she was about 18 months at this point. And the husband was a, a traveling laborer. So, he was gone for 30 days at a time. He would travel, come back for a couple of days, and then, and then travel again. And this little girl was dancing and singing the radio and, and the translator was telling us the story of, of this family. And when we had entered that community, this girl was 13 months old, and she weighed seven pounds. And, you know, in, in contrast to my own experience, we have a bunch of kids. We have eight kids. None of them have ever weighed less than seven pounds. And this little girl was 13 months old and seven pounds. And so, we got her the medical attention she needed, and we taught the mom Tomasa how to garden and how to, you know, do a variety of plants and food to help feed little Marissa. And now here she is singing and dancing and playing, an 18-month-old and, and healthy.
That moment, you know, really changed me. And that kind of, that desire for corporate success left and a, a different desire for the success came in and, and God really changed my heart to say, you know, what can I do? Like this is the path that I need to be on. I need to raise as much money as possible to help as many people as possible because you know, that is you know, where God was leading me and leading my heart and really saying that, you know, I created these people, and I created you to do something about this poverty. And that really, you know, that intersection of, of where I said, you know, this isn’t a job anymore. You know, this is my career. This is what I want to do. This is where my passion lies.
Sarah Taylor: And now you and I get to work together because you are with a sister ministry of the radio station I’m with, so SPIRIT 105.3 and World Concern. And is the World Concern, you know, kind of tagline still witness the transformation?
Jeremy Reis: It is, yes. Okay. Yeah. So, the, the cool thing about transformation is it’s not just the people that we’re serving. So, World Concern works in 13 countries around the world, mostly in Africa and Asia and, and our work is centered around lifting these villages out of extreme poverty. And, and we do so in about six years.
But when we talk about, you know, when I, before I joined World Concern before I joined food for hungry, I would, I always thought that, you know, when you gave to a nonprofit that it was kind of a one-way transaction, right? You’re giving, you’re helping serve somebody and you’re transforming their life.
And, and what I’ve learned is that you’re not only transferring the life of that person, that we’re serving together, but you’re also transferring the life of yourself as a donor, and you’re transferring the lives of staff. And really when you break down transformation, you know, there’s a couple of things that I’ve learned over the years, that transformation takes time. And really good transformation takes, you know, years of effort to take this community from where they’re at, to where they can be self-sufficient and on their own.
You know, one of the cool things about working at World Concern is, is learning how that model works. And, you know, we spend about nine months in a community, just planning out the next couple of years to help lift them outta poverty. To find out what do they really need, because every community’s different, you can’t come in with a one size fits all kind of package to change that community.
One of the other things that I learned about transformation is that, as I mentioned, it affects everybody. It’s a part of that relationship. So, it affects everyone from that donor giving all the way through to the people that we serve. So, I know a family that every Christmas they pull open the global gift guide, which is a, a list of products that that we can use to help people in the field. So, goats and chickens and. Tuition to school and all of these kinds of things. And every year they take their kids, and they open up this global gift guide and they say, what should we give this year? And you know, what’s the passion of these children. I do the same with our children. We, we open this up and we go, what are we gonna give? And everybody gets to pick an item that, that we give out of the global gift guide. And so, you just see this heart change in children where they can really learn how to have a compassionate heart through something like a global gift guide.
The final thing about transformation, its life changing. You know, your, your life without that transformation, you know, you’re gonna continue on that path of where you’re going. And as I mentioned for me, you know, its life changing for me to know that I don’t have to chase that corporate dream. I don’t have to go start a business and make millions of dollars. Where I can have fulfillment in the work that I’m doing. Changing lives of people that that we serve and the people that we serve both on the donor side and the people that we serve out in those communities where we work.
Sarah Taylor: Wow. I’m just, as you’re talking, I’m thinking I’ve experienced some of what you’re saying. Like with the global gift guide, my mom loves to quilt, and so, I always, the sound of my mother’s house is a sewing machine running. And whenever I call her, I’m like asking her a question, I will hear a little like I’m like, are, can you not multitask for two seconds and actually hear you?
Cuz she’ll sew while she’s on the phone. Anyway, one year I bought the gift of a sewing machine in the global gift guide for a woman in a country, half a world away. Yeah. And I gave that to my mom in her honor. And I wrote, you know, for you, quilting is a hobby, but for this woman, this is gonna bring income in for her family. It’s gonna be life changing. Yeah. And then my mom burst into tears. And so, that started a trajectory for our whole family. And like, my dad loves to fish. So, I get him the stocked pond of fish. Yes. Yes. So, I like, I know all of these items by memory because it is a very powerful thing when you go through that gift guide. Or when your family rallies around something like One Village Transformed, which you, you alluded to a little bit. How the first nine months are planning in a community. Yeah. But do you want to walk us through maybe a current One Village Transformed project?
Jeremy Reis: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So, we’re in a community that is in Kenya. It is called Samburu. And there’s a mother there called Lomudenni, Lomudenni in Kenya. And Lomudenni walks miles every day to get water. And what she used to do was walk miles every day to a dry riverbed, dig down as far as she could dig and then kind of scoop up this really murky water. And so, what we’ve done together with the community, is clean water is one of the things that they’ve said we need. And so, we are able to take and build what they call sand dam, which is a concrete dam where the sand piles up behind the water when it is rainy season, and then that water then stays right there. It raises the water table. The sand filters that water. And so, now when this mother walks to go get water, she’s getting clean water for her family. And that’s just one of the things that happens with One Village. So, One Village looks at a community and says, what, what will it take to lift you out of poverty in five or six years and to put you on a path where you’re self-sufficient? And that’s a really cool thing about the work that we do; is we’re not, we’re not going and doing. What we’re doing is we’re working with local staff that work in the country, in the community, and we’re partnering with the community to both identify what they need, and then help them achieve it, but not do it for them.
And so, that truly in six or seven years, when they walk away, they’re self-sufficient and they have those things like education and healthcare, and they’ve got clean water and they’ve got those things that they need to be able to not only survive, cuz we don’t want people just to survive, we want them to thrive.
The other cool thing is that it’s all integrated with the, the model of the gospel. So, we go in and, and we help them get the clean water and the health and the school, but we also help them build a church. And we help a pastor, you know, plant there and we give Bibles, and we use solar audio Bibles so that they can understand the Bible in their own language, in their heart language.
Which is a cool thing to watch when they actually hear those words. And they hear the words of Christ in their own language. And you see their, their eyes light up and you see that, you know, the difference that we’re making is not just in, in feeding or helping them get the food or grow the food, but you’re helping them get that food of Christ. You’re helping them really, you know, solve that need that’s beyond just a, a hunger or a thirst for food and water, but it’s a hunger or th or a thirst for the gospel.
Sarah Taylor: So, for anyone that wants to find out more about how they can partner on when One Village Transformed, we’re certainly gonna link up to that in the show notes.
I want to highlight a couple other things that I love that World Concern does. First of all, You go into the nooks and crannies. The farthest reaches of the world. Some, some villages that you have been to with World Concern, don’t even have a road. Like you’re making the road as you get there.
Jeremy Reis: Yeah, so we call it, we go to the hardest places in the world, and it’s truly, it’s places like South Sudan or the DRC, or Kenya Haiti. We’re going to places where many times we’ll go to the end of the end of the road, and then we’ll keep going beyond the end of the road.
And, and there’s some villages where we’ve had to build the road. There’s somewhere, you just can’t. And you’ve got people bicycling in or running motorcycles in to these communities. And that’s the really cool thing about the work that we do, is it’s truly to the people. May have never heard of Christ. They have made them have never seen people come in and want to help them in their community. And we’re able to then provide the infrastructure and the help that they need in order to survive.
Sarah Taylor: And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention our friend, Cathy Herholdt, who hosts The End of the Road Podcast. It’s named that for a reason. We’ll link up to that in the show notes as well. But these are gonna be direct stories.
Jeremy Reis: Yes. From people who live and serve in, in these countries.
Sarah Taylor: Incredible. So, you can certainly check that out. Okay, so, another thing we do with World Concern is on the radio, we will often fundraise for something called the 44-cent cure.
Jeremy Reis: Yeah.
Sarah Taylor: Which is, do you want to explain it?
Jeremy Reis: I would love to. So, one of the most powerful things that you can do for a child is to cure them of worms. Worms have a really devastating effect on their life because when a child gets worms, and they can get it simply by walking in unclean water. I mean, it can be transmitted through, a lot of times they don’t have shoes and walking in unclean water. They can catch these worms, which will not only do things like give them abdominal pains, but prevent them from eating and, and eating well enough to be able to attend school. And so, each year we’re able in the communities that we serve, we’re able to give them deworming medication. And the awesome thing is through partnerships, and through grants, we’re able to do this for only 44 cents a child. And so, twice a year, we’re able to go through and provide this medication to these children. And it’s literally one pill. They take the pill, and the worms are defeated, and then they can go to school and they can eat, and they can live without this pain that they’ve been suffering through. But it’s something that has a dramatic impact on their life because they’re able to do things like attend school, which they couldn’t beforehand.
Sarah Taylor: I think it’s just the cost of it that blows my mind. Yeah. Because I think about like when one of my, I have three kids and so when one of them is sick, my world stops.
Yeah. Like when they’re really sick, right. Like I cancel work. I take ’em to urgent care or worst case, you know, the emergency room. And if a doctor ever came in and said, I have the medication right here that could heal your child, I don’t care if they charge me $44,000. Like I am going to do whatever it takes so that my kid feels better. So, when you say 44 cents, and that it’s available… it’s not like we’re just like all scratching our head. Like, I wonder what we can do for these kids. It’s like, no, it’s right here, It’s simple, and it’s 44 cents for each little tablet. I think that’s just one of the reasons that that one works so well when we talk about it on the radio. I just watched the phone lines light up with parents that, all the news stories can seem so overwhelming, and yet, and then you’re like, what can I do? And it’s like, that is the answer to what I can do. Cuz they give $44 and that cures a hundred kids. Yeah. And it’s, they often will say it’s the best phone call that they made all day.
Jeremy Reis: Yeah. It’s really life changing for the donor. Isn’t it? I mean the, the great thing about this is, you know, the, the most important time in a child’s life is those first three years, and they’ve gotta get that nutrition. They’ve gotta get water. They’ve gotta get those things that they need in those first three years of life. And you know, many of those kids are suffering from these worms. And this, this little, I mean, it’s vitamins and it’s this little pill that is safe and effective, been used for decades; you know, it’s really transformed those lives, especially of these younger kids that, that need that nutrition, that they can’t otherwise hold down if they’re suffering from these worms.
Sarah Taylor: What have the parents said?
Jeremy Reis: Oh, the parents, the parents love it because you know, the parents, when, when you’re in one of these villages and your child is sick… I mean, you could imagine, you know, your own story, Sarah, when, when your child is sick, you want to do anything. Like I, when my children are sick, I always wish, just bring that on me. I don’t want it to be on them. I’d rather take the pain and suffering than, than have it go through them. And you can imagine these parents, a lot of times they don’t know what’s wrong. And so, they might go to a traditional healer in their community and, and they don’t have the medicine. They don’t have the tools to solve it. And so, they go, and they give a goat or they spend money that they don’t really have, to find a cure that doesn’t work. And so, we’re able to come in at this very, you know, for, for them, no cost, you know, for us a very low-cost point, and just see an instant change in that child. Because it’s, it’s truly instant. I mean, it’s within a couple of days that that child is back to eating and healthy again. And you can imagine the relief on those parents’ faces when they, when they see their child being able to eat and hold the food down.
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Sarah Taylor For someone who’s listening to this, and they have a heart like your heart, which is where they want to raise as much money as they can to help as many people as they can. You are very gifted in understanding kind of the, the spirituality behind fundraising. You made a statement the other day about how fundraising is a good thing, like asking for money is a good thing. Yeah, it is. Tell me more.
Jeremy Reis: It is. Yeah. So, when I started out in fundraising, you know, that was probably one of the challenges I had. And I have this great mentor and Tim’s his name. And Tim was talking to me and, and I said, how do you overcome that fear of, you know, like asking people for money? Cause even if you are if you don’t have a fundraising career like I do, but let’s say that you are doing a 5k and you want to invite people along on, on the 5k journey, and we do a free 5k for trafficking, and you want to invite them along and ask them to donate. How do you do that without being scared to ask them for money?
And what Tim said to me, he said two things to me. He said, first that, don’t be the holy spirit in their life. And I said, well, what do you mean by that? And he said, It’s not your it’s not you that moves them to give. It’s the holy spirit that moves them to give. And so, all you’re doing is you’re a vessel to ask for the money. And so, you just explain to them what you’re doing. And you explain to them, you know what good this will create. And then let the holy spirit do what the holy spirit does. And the second thing he said was, it’s not everyone. You know, your cause is not everyone’s passion. And so, no, isn’t a, a reflection on you.
They’re not saying no to you. They may just not have a heart for what you’re fundraising for. Their heart might be somewhere else. Which is a cool thing, being a part of CRISTA, because we have so many other somewhere else’s that we can point people to.
Sarah Taylor: We do.
Jeremy Reis: If they have a heart for media, we can point them to these great radio stations that, that we work with to give there. And so, when, when you combine those two things, it really takes away that fear of saying, you know, will you donate to this? Because you know, you’re not, there’s no fear of rejection then, because you’re not the one that’s moving them to donate and, and it’s the cause that’s super important that’s going to move them to, to give.
Sarah Taylor: Tell me a story of when you gave the ask and the answer was yes.
Jeremy Reis: Oh, that’s a great one. So, I’ve got some friends, Brett and Aaron, and we took them on a trip with their daughter, Rooney, to go see some work. And, and part of the, the reason why we took them was you know, they work in the field of she’s a, she writes kids’ books, and biblically based kids’ books.
And so, we took them to work with them and develop a program to, to raise more money. And so, as a, at the end of that trip, that was, you know, part of why we were there, was to talk to them about, you know, what could they do. And, and how could they make an impact? And during the trip, it was so cool to watch Rooney, this little eight-year-old at the time, just so excited to see the area and meet a child there in the community that she connected with, and really understand that the impact that they as a family are having on this life, was going to be life changing for this child and for this, for this village.
And so, you know, to see them get excited and to know the impact and understand the impact of what they’re going to do. Really that, that is one of those moments where, when you’re in the career and you do hear no a lot that, that yes, really kind of rejuvenates you and makes you excited for, you know, what’s to come.
Sarah Taylor: I love it. I know you have another story and we talked about it a little bit. We often have done a fundraising event for World Concern with a 5k. Yeah. It’s very family friendly, kids, dogs, jogging, strollers… like my pastor ran in it once and, and he was like, He pushed me outta the way and laughed.
Jeremy Reis: That’s awesome.
Sarah Taylor: And then a couple other people from my church who were running in it, and one of the guys was like one of our senior elders, and I think he was like pushing 70, and he was faster than me and it, it really kind of lit a fire under me. I’m like, I can’t let him beat me in this race. He beat me. Anyway. It’s such a fun event and you even have signs that are being held by volunteers, like every quarter of a mile, of the face of a child that has been like rescued from a trafficking situation. That is so motivating to be running and seeing the faces of these children that you are saving.
And you have a gal named Mindy that I want you to talk about. She’s been very involved in fundraising, but she went over the top one year.
Jeremy Reis: She did, she did. So, when she turned 40, a couple months before 40th birthday, she had a dream. And in her dream, she saw herself with this big, you know, one of those novelty checks giving $40,000 to World Concern. And she woke up and said, well, that’s odd, because she doesn’t have $40,000 to give to World Concern. And she started thinking about it and she said, I’m turning 40 this year. And people kept asking her, what are you going to do for your 40th? And so, she made a decision that that was, you know, God saying to her, you know, go, go change these lives. And $40,000 can have such a huge impact in the work like what we do with trafficking and save children.
And so, she did. And so, she, every year has been one of our biggest supporters of our Free Them 5k. And she went out and she met with friends and family and talked to people. And, and she did. She successfully raised over $40,000, which at the time, you know, was probably 8,000 kids got helped because of the work that she was doing.
Because you know, she just made such a tremendous impact. And now, you know, it’s her, it’s her, every year near the Free Them 5k, she calls me and she goes, what can we do this year? You know, can we put together a team?
Sarah Taylor: Well, how old are you, Mindy?
Jeremy Reis: I know let’s do 45,000 this year, Mindy. And so, just so, so exciting when a donor sees that transformation. Sees their friends and family get involved. And then they get so excited because they want to come back every year and do something really good for the work that we do with, with trafficking.
Sarah Taylor: These stories are just so hope inspiring. And as we wrap up our time, like share a couple final thoughts just with all your years working in, in this nonprofit sphere. How do you view God differently? How has it shaped your faith? What would you want someone else to know?
Jeremy Reis: One of the big transformative things in my life, coming from that kind of full circle, from that, you know, desire for this corporate success into, you know, working at nonprofits and, and, and also, you know, teaching others how to fundraise and, and spending time investing in people, and, and helping other organizations fundraisers, is I began to have a real shift in my own mind about how I see the world, and how I see other people in the world. So, it’s not like an us, them, kind of thing. You know, it’s not people over there, and people here. We’re all, we’re all one people. We’re all people that God has created. And my desire comes out of a desire to really serve God in what I do for a profession. But then personally, also to serve God in how we, as a family give back. And in understanding that, you know, someone I’ve got a, great story from Rwanda. One time I was there and, and we’re in this little House in this village. And this grandmother was talking about, she had seven children at the time. We had seven children. We have more now, but we had seven children. And our translator, they were talking, and I couldn’t understand what they were talking about. And the translator you know, told this, this grandma that I had seven children, and she like her face lit up. He turned to me, and he told me in English that what he had just said to her, and she came over and she grabbed my head and she gave me a kiss on both cheeks.
And she goes, you are a strong Rwandan man. And she said it in English. And it was like shocking to me because she didn’t speak English the entire time until that moment. And, and I just, I laughed and, and gave her a hug. And I felt that as a huge compliment that I was a strong Rwandan man because I’ve seven children.
But that was a moment where I, I looked at that and I said, you know, this woman and this family and these lives, you know, they are content and they’re happy and they’re excited. And we are as well. And we’re all one kind of people. And it’s not us versus them.
Sarah Taylor: Jeremy, thank you for the work that you do. I love that we get to work together to bring these stories for more people to hear. Where is the number one place that you would want to send someone right now who’s been inspired by these stories and wants to take that first actionable step to partner with World Concern?
Jeremy Reis: Yeah. If you go to worldconcern.org, there’s a couple of different options on there. As Sarah mentioned, there’s an option to help out children; 44 cent cure is a great place. It has a huge impact on lives. There’s also things like in Somalia right now, they’re in the middle of a four-year drought. So, we’re doing a lot of work there. And then of course, One Village, which is a transformative program where we lift villages from poverty to outta poverty in five or six years.
So, some great options there for anyone and everyone. You know, from a child that says, I just want to give 44 cents, to a parent that goes, let’s partner with this village and get updates back about what’s changing in their life over time, for $39 a month. So, there’s some really great options for everyone for whatever you might want to give.
I really appreciate your time today, Sarah, and, and your commitment. Cause I know you have a, a huge heart for the work of World Concern, and love how you serve both here, at the radio station, and through the work that you do with us, at World Concern.
Sarah Taylor: Our thanks to Jeremy Reis and to our content coordinator, Rebecca Beckett, as well as our fantastic producer, Scott Karow with Terra Firma. Of course, thank you to you for listening to the passion meets purpose podcast. I’m starting to get more and more recommendations on people that you want to hear their story, and the line of work that they are in. And so, that’s my favorite way to find new guests, is when you share with us. You can follow Purposely Podcasts on Instagram and we will link up in the show notes for the best ways to get ahold of us. Again, thanks so much. And I’ll see you in two weeks.