During this time of financial stress, one church's fresh approach to its budget deficit inspires creative generosity. What did they do? They prayed. Better yet, they listened and obeyed God's surprising answer.
Pondering solutions for his church's budget deficit, Pastor Martin Bownik of The EDGE Christian Fellowship in Maple Grove, Minn., considered finding sponsors to donate money for each pound he lost in a month. Soon he sensed God telling him to "raise that money, but give it to build a church in Sudan instead, and challenge the whole church."
When Bownik called Samaritan's Purse to ask about partnering on projects, Christy Rich, director of donor relations, informed him that only one project needed fundingSudan.
"That was all the confirmation needed," decided Bownik. "We set our goal to raise $10,000." But how could their small congregation meet that goal when its church budget lacked a similar amount? "I felt God saying to give out of our poverty, and He would open the heavens above our church and pour out blessings," said Bownik.
A small group prayed and watched a video on Samaritan's Purse's efforts in southern Sudan. Through decades of fighting, hundreds of Sudanese church buildings were burned, bombed or ripped apart by hand. The systematic persecution of Christian brothers and sisters pierced EDGE members at the heart of their identity: They believe they are called to show Jesus to others through Evangelism, Discipleship, Generosity and Expectation (E.D.G.E.).
Practical discipleship is costly in both time and money. The Edge's generosity toward fellow believers in Sudan substantiates their statement: "All we own is really God's, loaned to us for use on earth. So we give our time, talents and treasures back to Him, letting Him show us the way to use those gifts to help others."
And show them God did.
Challenged with little cash but abundant imagination, people offered their talents along with ideas for "March Missions Madness" month. They distributed faith promise cards. They sold personalized Jones soda bottles. One woman made and sold chocolate truffles. Many sacrificed time to support others. Bownik proceeded with his "Pounds for the Persecuted"-sponsored weight loss idea.
Tricia Bownik donated proceeds from her CD Songs for Sudan, featuring "Out of the Ashes," a song she wrote in response to the Samaritan's Purse video, as God opened doors for a benefit concert at Northwestern Book Store in Maple Grove.
Children participated by collecting coins. As a five-year-old girl watched a dime fall from her father's pants pocket, she said, "Look Daddy, money for kids in Africa." One child lamented that he only had seven cents. His teacher assured him that seven cents can be a lot in God's hands.
Pastor Marty, as Bownik is affectionately called, offered a special experiment to two households, based on a parable in Luke 19. "Put this money to work," he echoed the Master's challenge, "and see what you can earn in a month."
Stacy Schnaare organized "Art for Sudan," a silent auction featuring pencil drawings of Rocky Bakken from her hometown of Hallock, Minn. Schnaare told Facebook contacts that although more than 350 churches have been rebuilt, many Sudanese Christians continue to gather under trees in 120-degree weather. "That's like gathering outside in negative 70 degrees with wind-chill here," Schnaare said.
Also entrusted with demonstrating the parable in Luke, Cheryl Alexandr organized a benefit recital at North Central University in Minneapolis. "African Christians in South Sudan have suffered through decades of war and persecution," Alexandr said. She sent Facebook invitations urging friends to attend the recital or donate to Samaritan's Purse.
She soon realized her inadequacy to put the event together in such a short time. "I couldn't do it. Everything fell apart," she admitted. But God could, and through a series of God-orchestrated introductions, she found a pianist, an amazing gospel choir and wonderful local musicians. The recital raised more than 1,000 dollars. "It's just a testimony to God," she said.
Kirk Nowery, chief operating officer of Samaritan's Purse, thanked EDGE members during the Missions Madness celebration service on March 28. The genocide in Sudan, he said, is of biblical proportions, people killed simply because they were Christians. Concluding his impassioned Palm Sunday address, Nowery's words validated EDGE members' actions: Listen to God. Remember your promises and keep them. Be willing to sacrifice for love. "Sacrifice is giving up something you lovefor something you love more," he said.
"We come to church expecting God to do great things in our lives," says an EDGE brochure, "to change things in us that we are unable to change on our own, and to allow us to be a part of changing our world today."
At last report, The EDGE has raised almost $15,000 to help rebuild a church in Sudan. But God's abundant blessings didn't stop there. He did open heavenor someone's checkbookand balanced the church's budget.