More for the thirsty: The Yoons’ decision to give more than they keep

Before Andy Yoon asked his wife Mel to marry him, he promised to buy her a Ferrari. The young couple wanted to make a lot of money and do something great with their lives, to work hard and live near the ocean. But in 2014, their goals changed, and they started giving more to others than they kept for themselves.

Andy is a dentist. Five years after he’d graduated from dental school, he says, his dental practice was struggling. “I came home every day angry and upset. Family life was terrible. I was super stressed out.” He remembers asking God what he wanted him to do.

That’s when he read the books Radical by David Platt and Crazy Love by Francis Chan.

“Both of those books changed our lives completely,” Andy says.

He remembers driving to work one day, the whole way in prayer. It was a simple one: “I’m going to be completely vulnerable; just tell me what to do,” he told God. The answer he got back was a question: “Andy, what have you done with what I’ve already given you?” Andy’s answer was a hard one to face: “Nothing.”

“If I am taking this seriously,” Andy thought, “I should probably give more to others than I’m taking for myself.” But he realized this was his conversation with God, and he hadn’t discussed it with his wife. “We make decisions together.”

Mel had read the same books, and they had impacted her too. “A book like [Radical] hits you wherever your idol is,” she says. “For us, it was definitely money.” She knew they didn’t own things for the right reasons. “We were idolizing money.”

A radical shift

Soon after that conversation, they committed to giving away 51 percent of everything they made. “I thought it was going to tank,” Andy says. But the opposite happened. “It’s not prosperity gospel,” he explains, “but God allows us to flourish when we want to impact his kingdom.” It taught them a big lesson about stepping out in faith.

“One of the big takeaways is willingness,” Mel says. She and Andy both came to the conclusion that God had blessed them for the sake of others.

And then they got to the practical details of where that 51 percent of their income was going to go.

The Yoons with Neverthirst leaders

They had read in Radical that the gospel might not reach hearts in places where problems were too overwhelming. “How can you hear about eternity when you don’t even know if you’re going to make it through the day?” Mel asks. She points out that sometimes Jesus fed people when he realized they were too hungry to pay attention.

They decided their giving would always meet a physical need and also spread the gospel. They’d heard about people funding wells with Neverthirst, which brings safe water and the gospel to people by working with indigenous pastors. They researched the charity online, but it was meeting the staff that really inspired their love for this organization.

Neverthirst allowed them to bring a three-car caravan of family members for a visit to their office. “It’s one thing to tell people about your love of giving,” Andy says. “It’s another to invite them to be a part of it.” The extended family loves giving together.

Now their kids are not only witnessing their parents’ and extended family’s generosity, they are involved in the family’s giving too. “We are the crazy people who will roll into meetings with all four of our kids and let them ask questions,” Mel says. “Living this out in front of them is important.” Mel sometimes opens Google Maps to show them where Uganda or Nepal is, so they can understand the impact their family is making on the other side of the world.

Spreading the joy of generosity

The Yoons’ giving isn’t just wells. There are other causes they’re passionate about, but safe water projects are important to them for a reason. “Those are the two most important things on this side of eternity,” Mel says. “Eternal life and water.”

Andy loves using his dental practice to spread generosity. Little plaques on a wall in his office show all the projects they’ve supported – a water, sanitation, and hygiene project for a school in in Cambodia; a tap stand in Nepal; a solar-pump project in Chad. Most of them were granted in the name of the dental practice or a specific person. This is another way the Yoons love to share generosity.

Under the little plaques in Andy’s office is a note: “Thank you for choosing to make a difference in saving lives by visiting our practice.”

The Yoons show their support for clean water on the wall of Andy’s dental practice

Andy surprised his lead office manager, Sheila, recently with a project in her name. The office team was watching a presentation from Neverthirst about projects the office had funded. At the end of the presentation, there it was – a photograph of a water pump in Uganda with a plaque: “Donated in honor of Sheila.”

The couple received news recently that their giving has brought safe water to 25,000 people. “It’s WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) programs, kids, and schools – incredible! It’s just one of those moments when you start crying,” Mel says. “We get so caught up in our lives here, it’s easy to forget these people in the rest of the world.”  

What are the next steps for the Yoon family’s giving? They hope to take a trip to Uganda this year to see the work in person. And they’re exploring the idea of opening more dental practices to use as an engine for further funding their giving. When they discussed this idea with their friend Matt LeTourneau, CEO of Neverthirst, he introduced them to NCF’s Boyd Bailey and Maureen Starr, who began helping them think through and plan a Giving Strategy™.

Mel and Andy have asked God, “Why us?” Why has he so blessed their step of faith? Maybe it’s because they asked God how he wanted to use them – not just what they had, but their business and their whole lives. Whatever the reason, seeking less for themselves has led to a life that is more than they could have ever imagined.

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