"Nellie, I have set aside some money for you and it will become yours when I die," Mae said to her friend.
"Well, Mae, actually I have set aside some money for you and when I die, it will become yours."
Nellie, a schoolteacher, had invited Mae, a widow, to live with her some years earlier. In their late 70s and early 80s, they were thinking about how to be good stewards of their resources after they went to heaven. When they did die and their resources came to the Wesleyan church of which they were members, the total amount was more than a million dollars!
After using a portion of the money to assist with a campaign to build a new sanctuary, the church decided to establish an endowment fund with the remainder, still a million dollars.
Jim Rathbun, a professional fundraiser, remembers visiting Mae and Nellie when he was quite young. In their home, he cut out pieces of cloth for quilt squares and prepared pill bottles to send to missionaries. Even then, he was impressed with the dedication of these two women.
For a time, as an adult, Rathbun served on the endowment fund board. According to the guidelines they had developed, the money can never go toward the operating expenses of the local church that controls the fund. It must go toward outreach endeavors or to new projects. At one point, when the church was not doing well, the board did vote to use some of the money to help fund an outreach pastor for the first year, and then cut back the percentage of assistance over the next two years.
Through prayer about their giving, they are becoming more fully devoted followers of Jesus.
On another occasion, when the church facilities were expanding, the church board borrowed money from the fund, but then paid it back at a higher interest rate than the fund would have earned from the bank. Each year, the endowment fund board guards the principal amount to be sure it never dips below its original level.
Every year the endowment fund board receives requests for grants. They meet and consider each one. To date, the fund has given away nearly a million dollars, but they still have the original amount.
Today in Rathbun’s fundraising efforts, totally unconnected to the endowment fund, he often meets with wealthy people. They are frequently surprised when he does not try to twist their arms to pressure them to give a certain amount. Instead he says, “My job is to help you get closer to God. So I would like you to pray about whether God wants you to invest in this project. If he does, great. If not, I will not pressure you.” Of course, he hopes they will be generous, but his goal is to strengthen their walk with the Lord. In other words, he wants their stewardship to enhance their discipleship. Through prayer about their giving, they are becoming more fully devoted followers of Jesus.
Their faith is becoming stronger each time God answers prayer and supplies a need.
Ben Capshaw is another person who has been touched by the endowment fund. He once served as a children’s pastor at the church that administers the fund. In more recent years, he was pastoring a church in Indiana that needed a new roof. He requested $3,500 from the endowment fund. Remembering Ben’s service to the church, they gave his Indiana church $10,000! Ben’s church replaced the roof, completed some other projects, and still had money left over. Rathbun counseled Ben to give it away on the premise that you can’t outgive God and that God loves a cheerful giver. The church voted to do just that and blessed local agencies in the community. Now the church has decided that at the end of each year, if they have exceeded their budget and all expenses are paid, they will give away the balance.
Through these efforts at improving stewardship, obedient Christians are becoming stronger disciples. They are learning to pray about how to use their resources for God. They are growing in their understanding and practice of generosity. And their faith is becoming stronger each time God answers prayer and supplies a need.
We should not be surprised. Paul told the Corinthians, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).