When I gave my kidney in 2019, it felt like a simple decision: someone might die without a kidney whilst I had a spare. Far from seeing it as the epitome of saintly generosity, I was convicted that it was an effective way of doing good and glorifying God. By giving a kidney, I enabled a ‘chain’ of two transplant operations, helping two people to receive a life-saving operation and saving the NHS up to £200,000 per operation. My recipient wrote to me to say that she was restored to health and able to play with her grandchildren again. What’s more, she was thankful to God. By contrast, giving a kidney cost me little apart from time, discomfort, and a slight defect to my otherwise perfect beach body. (Living in Leeds, the closest I get to the beach is my gravel driveway.) Amazingly, my future health is statistically likely to be better than the average population. Whilst some of my friends worried that I would become an invalid, I’ve been learning to rollerblade.
In the history of kidney transplantation, there have been many technical innovations: The capacity to transplant kidneys from deceased donors, immunosuppressive drugs and living donor sharing schemes. Gradually we have stepped closer to a world where no one need suffer or die for lack of a kidney. Of course, one of the latest developments has been a change in the law to presumed consent for deceased organ donors, a change which promises a small increase in organ availability at best. The truth is we need a revolution. I believe that this final innovation that we need will not be medical, technical or administrative, but spiritual. It originates in the first organ transplant in history predicted in Ezekiel 36:26
‘I will give you a new heart and put a new Spirit in you. I will take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh’.
Through Christ, believers have become recipients of a spiritual transplant, receiving new hearts so that we can better love God, and better love those around us! Throughout history, Christians filled with the Holy Spirit have stood out for sharing the heart of God, caring for the poor and those who are suffering. It is this God-given passion for the stranger that has empowered several Christians in recent times to give a kidney to an unknown person, what is known as altruistic kidney donation. Unsurprisingly the first altruistic donor in the UK was a Christian, and former palliative care nurse called Kay Mason. She was initially turned away by the department of health in 2005 who viewed altruistic donors with suspicion. Such generosity was difficult to comprehend without assuming madness or a covert pay-out. Whilst attitudes have changed greatly in 15 years; such altruism is still profoundly counter-cultural in a society where we hold our individual freedoms so tightly. Currently, only around 100 people give a kidney to a stranger each year. Altruistic kidney donation holds the explosive power to end the waiting list for a kidney, but only if we can recruit a cohort of donors with radically generous hearts.
With a new heart and a new Spirit, the Church can create a movement of unparalleled generosity to end the waiting list. One that saves hundreds of lives and thousands of life-years. One that alleviates a leading cause of catastrophic NHS expenditure. One that dispels the stereotypes of Christians as judgemental, hypocritical and backwards, and instead demonstrates our true colours: Compassionate, counter-cultural and overflowing with universal positive regard. Ultimately such a revolutionary movement would bring glory to God. Yet it hasn’t materialised yet. Perhaps this has not come about because one of the strongest unifying qualities of donors is humility. Donors have often told me that they’ve been unwilling to shout from the rooftops in case they are perceived to be self-promoters.
Equally donors, as well as institutions (including the NHS itself), have been extremely careful not to put pressure on anyone to donate. This is absolutely right and affirms 2 Corinthians 9:7 which argues we should give cheerfully, and never reluctantly or under compulsion. However, I believe there is a compelling factual case for altruistic kidney donation, which has been widely unacknowledged. Consequently, many Christians, and indeed the general public, are unaware that altruistic donation exists or have profound misconceptions.
I’ve recently launched an initiative called Faith in Operation, the first ever concerted effort to advocate altruistic kidney donation to the Church. Through my website www.faithinoperation.co.uk I invite Christians to weigh up donation for themselves and consider the biblical mandate. I also share several stories of Christian donors such as Kay Mason. If you are sympathetic to this cause, please do check out the website, sign up for the newsletter, and share the Faith in Operation outreach video as widely as possible, whether on social media or in your Church’s online service. It’s absolutely achievable for the Church, motivated by God’s heart, to play an instrumental role in ending the waiting list for a kidney. Whether or not you can give a kidney, I wonder how being a recipient of God’s heart will move you to be counter-culturally generous?
Joe Walsh is an elder at Cornerstone Baptist Church, Leeds and founder of Faith in Operation.