The “seed money” planted by three people at First Presbyterian Church of Waverly (Ohio) resulted in a harvest of generosity directed toward Presbyterian mission co-workers.
Bruce Henderson and his wife Karen gave $2,500 in support of mission co-workers and so did their friend Nel Huck. The three then invited others in the congregation to join them by giving gifts of any size. After a month-long mission emphasis in January, the 110-member congregation added $8,500 to the initial $5,000.
The result was a $13,500 gift to Presbyterian World Mission for the support of all mission co-workers. This gift is in addition to mission co-worker support that comes from the congregation’s budget. Last year, First Presbyterian gave $4,287 through its budget.
“Frankly, I was hoping that we would get $7,000 to $8,000, including the seed money,” says Bruce, a retired pastor. “When the church secretary called me and said it was $13,500, I was speechless.”
News that a Presbyterian World Mission financial shortfall could result in the recall of up to 45 mission co-workers motivated the Hendersons and Nel to take action. “We began to talk about how churches might help solve the problem and possibly change the downward trend in mission giving,” Bruce says.
Their decision to make the challenge gifts sprang from those conversations, and Bruce, a member of the congregation’s mission committee, sought and received the session’s approval for the offering. Leaders of the effort then worked with the congregation’s co-pastors, Bob Getty and Rick Hays, to develop a timeline to promote the offering. The Hendersons and Nel hope the offering will be repeated at First Presbyterian next year and that other congregations will follow its lead.
“One of our goals is to encourage other churches to do what we did,” says Nel, adding that they will start with congregations in their presbytery of Scioto Valley.
In their own congregation, Nel and Bruce did not identify themselves as the people who made the original gifts, but they urged support for the offering. The congregation publicized it through bulletin inserts, posters, mission co-worker prayer cards, and “minute for mission” emphases.
During a “minute for mission,” Bruce shared that he had studied the congregation’s mission giving and found its mission co-worker support amounted to only 71 cents per member per week. “I think that was pretty eye-opening to people,” he observes.
Giving to support mission co-workers has increased not only at First Presbyterian but also in other congregations and presbyteries, and among individuals. In 2015, gifts for mission co-worker support totaled $8.9 million, which was $1.6 million more than in 2014. “The generosity of Presbyterians, like those at First Waverly, has touched us greatly, and it has been a real source of encouragement to our mission co-workers,” says Rachel Yates, associate director for program for Presbyterian World Mission. “The extraordinary giving in 2015 helped us clear the first hurdle, but we will need to build on this momentum in 2016.”
The improved financial outlook is due in part to people across the PC(USA) who, like the Hendersons and Nel, advocate for World Mission out of a sense of deep personal connection.
In 1997, while Bruce was a pastor in Granville, Ohio, he and Karen made the first of five visits to Khartoum, Sudan. Bruce, who holds a doctorate from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, taught short-term Old Testament classes at Nile Theological College. “The students captured our hearts and kept asking us when we would come back,” he says. “They introduced me to one of their sayings, ‘Whoever drinks from the Nile will return.’” In addition to his classroom ministry in Khartoum, he taught at another school near the Nile, the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, in 2008 and 2010.
While Nel’s late husband, Robert, was a pastor in Pennsylvania, Nel and he were involved in Shenango Presbytery’s longstanding partnership with the Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church. The couple visited Sudan and also hosted Sudanese church leaders when they came to Shenango Presbytery.
At First Presbyterian, the Hendersons and Nel are part of a congregation that is made up mostly of retired people, many of whom live at the nearby Bristol Village Retirement Center. No arm twisting was needed to convince the membership to support mission, Bruce and Nel say.
“In my pastorates, I learned that Presbyterians do not give according to affordability but rather accountability,” Bruce explains. “We didn’t try to put a guilt trip on people. We just told them about the needs.”
Nel agreed, saying, “When people see a need for something and have a heart for it, they will give.”
A group of World Mission donors has pledged to match all gifts sent for mission personnel support now through March 27, 2016 – up to $30,000. Join them by donating here.