In the aftermath of tragedies like the recent mass shootings in a variety of locations around the country, stories often emerge showing the compassion and generosity of the American people. A narrative from El Paso this past week grabbed our attention and our hearts. Eleven-year-old Ruben Martinez, sporting a grin as big as the state of Texas and a heart just a tad bigger, is challenging the community of El Paso to do 22 good deeds for others — honoring the 22 victims who were killed in the Walmart shooting. Random acts of kindness committed to help a hurting community focus on healing. Martinez’ idea has been dubbed the #ElPasoChallenge on social media.
Christians have their own #GodsFruitSaladChallenge, don’t they? Paul tells the Galatians, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22 HCSB). The Message translates the beginning of the verse like this: “But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard.”
Last week, we began a series of articles looking at what some of the churches in our area are doing to make a difference in the community. The church is called not to offer random acts of kindness, but focused acts of kindness committed to demonstrate a Christ-like compassion for the world.
Wander with me this week out Interstate 64 west of Floyd County. Nestled in the hills of Corydon are signs pointing to the state’s first capital building and to the community’s school system. Almost hidden on the road to the high school is a small sign that whispers “First Capital Christian Church” and points an arrow to the right. The congregation is approaching its 30th anniversary.
Early this summer the congregation of about 800 drew national attention to its little sign.
Senior Minister Randy Kirk commented that it all started as the series of sermons were being planned for the year. Wanting to cap off a four-week series on generosity, Kirk sought a project that could apply the teaching and bring the congregation together in its application. What better way to learn about generosity than to be generous?
Some in the church heard about a congregation in Wichita, Kansas, that had given $22,000 to bless their community struggling with medical debt. The venture seemed to tug at the strings of their heart. Was God nudging them in a direction?
Kirk said, “Almost everyone you know has a story of medical debt. It comes on unexpectedly. It can overwhelm a family. It might upend their finances for the rest of their lives. Our people really resonated around that idea.”
Resonate it did. The church initially set out to raise $28,000 to purchase a little over $2 million worth of medical debt of folks in Harrison County. They partnered with a non-profit group, RIP Medical Debt, to help them cover the county’s medical debt. “I still feel like we set a very big, a very ambitious goal for a church of our size. We are not a congregation of wealthy people,” commented Kirk.
RIP Medical Debt was founded by Craig Antico and Jerry Ashton, two individuals each of whom had worked for over a quarter of a century in the credit and collections industry. They formed a 501(c)(3) charity where the donations of people allow them to purchase debt at pennies on the dollar. Using data analysis, they located the medical debt that is in the most critical need for relief. The debt is then bought, and forgiven forever for the people they help.
On the last Sunday of June, the church held a special offering with the lofty goal. Members of the congregation had been looking toward the collection Sunday for weeks. Some sold lemonade on a stand. Others tossed spare change into a jar. Some gave with huge sacrifice. All of them gave understanding the generosity of God.
Can you imagine the emotions as the offering plates were passed that Sunday? Many of us have been there, haven’t we? How much money will we collect? Will we reach our goal? What if we don’t reach the goal? Where do we go from there? Anticipation breeds anxiety. What is God going to do through all of this?
Dollar after dollar was tallied. The $28,000 eventually became $30,000. Then $35,000. Soon $40,000. When all was said and done, the congregation had donated over $70,000 and money continues to trickle in. The additional funds were able to purchase debt in Crawford, Washington and Perry counties in Indiana. Money was often accompanied by written prayers for the anonymous recipients.
Does it remind you of a Mediterranean moment? Paul was collecting money and goods for impoverished and persecuted Jewish Christians in Jerusalem as he was traveling through Macedonia, Galatia and Greece. He writes to the Christians in Corinth and encourages them to give generously. “I am not ordering you to do this [give an offering]. I am simply testing how real your love is by comparing it with the concern that others have shown” (2 Corinthians 8:8 CEV). Paul concludes, “It doesn’t matter how much you have. What matters is how much you are willing to give from what you have” (2 Corinthians 8:12 CEV).
People in Indiana’s four-county area will receive letters in the coming weeks, letting them know their medical debt had been paid in full, an object lesson reminding the Christian of a bigger debt that was paid in full. This medical debt was forgiven thanks to the generosity of a little church whose heart is bigger than its sign.
Our focus Scripture verse for this series of columns is Acts 2:42. The Contemporary English Version translates the end of the verse: “and they were like family to each other.” Let’s be thankful today for our relatives in Corydon.
— Tom May is a freelance writer who has held paid and volunteer ministry positions at several churches in the tri-state area. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.