Pastor Eugene Cho. Photo credit: Jacklyn Tran.

Three billion people in the world live on less than $2 a day while 1.4 billion live on less than $1.25—under conditions considered extreme poverty. To read such facts is effortless but to see and understand its true meaning can stir others to action.

Eugene Cho, lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, has always known the statistics of extreme global poverty.

“I always felt helpless, even paralyzed by it,” Cho said.

But a trip three years ago created an experience that moved him, made him see more clearly what poverty meant, and forced him to realize that helplessness was not an answer.

During a trip to a Myanmar jungle, he visited with a persecuted group living there. While at the village school, a shack-like building, he was told by an elder that the teachers were paid $40.

“I assumed at worst it was 40 bucks a week, but he shook his head when I asked. It was $40 a year. At that moment, it hit me. We might not be able to change the world, but any one of us can have an impact,” said Cho.

He returned to the states but continued thinking and praying about what he’d learned. With his wife, Minhee Cho, they decided to help in the cause and began a Facebook group called Fight Global Poverty. The Chos pledged to give $1 for every member that joined the group, up to $100,000. Members quickly swelled to reach over 1 million.

Keeping their word, the Chos and their three children initially made the sacrifice of one year’s wages or $68,000, in 2009. One month’s wage will be paid each year for the next five, to make up the rest.

“Last year was the hardest year of our lives,” said Cho. “When you make the decision it’s because you’ve thought about it and it’s doable. But we didn’t know what would happen with the economy.”

The Chos had originally planned to sell their rental home but the state of the housing market proved impossible, putting them in a bind. Instead, they were forced to sell other assets such as Cho’s prized “mid-life crisis car,”—a Mazda Miata. The family reduced spending where they could, even taking loans out to pay for Minhee’s continued studies in graduate school. They did what they needed to and didn’t buy a thing, they said.

“You go out with the intent to change the world but what happens is you go out there and you are changed yourself…All of our family members sacrificed and we simplified our lives,” reflected Cho.

Even with all of those cut-backs, the Chos still found themselves short. In a last ditch effort, Cho posted an ad to sublet their home at a relatively high price, not expecting a response. Within a day, he had an interested party and had to explain to his wife and children with two days notice that they would all have to pack up and leave their home. With the help of friends, they were able to make it through the seven weeks away from home.

“Numerous times I thought about reneging but we went public with it so I couldn’t take it back,” said Cho. “If I had known how hard it was, I wouldn’t have done it. I wouldn’t have wanted to put my wife and kids at any kind of risk…But now that it’s passed, it’s changed our lives and I’m thankful.”

In October of 2009, with funds from their pledge, they launched a grass-roots, global movement with the non-profit organization, One Day’s Wages.

With one day’s income equaling just 0.4% of a person’s annual earnings, the organization hopes that people will join the movement and pledge one day of their own wages, renewing the pledge every year on their birthday.

“[Donors] can choose where to donate so there’s a sense of empowerment there. To stay true to the commitment of donating 100 percent of funds [minus credit card charges], we’ve raised money on the side to take care of the first couple years of administration costs,” shared Cho.

At One Day’s Wages, it’s not about the wealthy philanthropist who gave millions. It’s the story of the little girl that gave her whole piggybank of $71.18 that is celebrated, or the high school student who raised $10,000 to make a difference. It’s about the compassion of each and every person and the positive impact of their mobilization.

“Typically we learn to sacrifice through fear or guilt,” said Cho. “[With One Day’s Wages] we want to instill hope, courage and beauty instead. We want to share stories of people all over the world to inspire. There’s a saying that I really believe in by Mother Theresa. It goes, ‘If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.’ That’s what I want to encourage to people.”

For more information or to calculate your One Day’s Wage, visit www.onedayswages.org.

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