We recently had a party at Bethesda Workshops that took 21 years to plan: a celebration of ownership of our own space! In early summer 2016, we located and “bought” a building near the Nashville airport, which ended our 20-year stint as a homeless ministry. Although we’ve considered the building ours, we didn’t hold the deed until October 17th. On that Wednesday, we officially obtained a traditional mortgage on “our” building and signed all the paperwork that documented the identity we assumed in 2016.
The bank representatives and closing attorneys agreed to come to our building for the paperwork rites. Afterward, a group of local staff, board members, my family members, and a few others who had been instrumental in the process gathered for champagne toasts and a celebration lunch.
My heart has overflowed with gratitude for the generosity of those who made this step possible. Those familiar with Bethesda Workshops’ history may remember the story. (It’s detailed on our website, complete with pictures of the building renovation: https://www.bethesdaworkshops.org/our-space/ ) It’s a God-size story that will encourage anyone who wonders about God’s faithfulness and provision.
A brief summary begins with the Woodmont Hills Church in Nashville, which housed the ministry’s office since the beginning in 1997 and allowed us to use educational space for the workshops from 2008-2016. This gift of free space positioned Bethesda Workshops to become financially stable and thrive.
In January 2015, the board of directors and a few guests held a Visioning Retreat to plan for the next decade of ministry. Our own space was the main topic of discussion, and we outlined specifically what we thought was needed. The question, of course, was paying for it, and at that point, we didn’t have any viable plan.
Almost immediately, the board learned that an alumni couple was making a $250,000 pledge toward the goal of our own space!! I was humbled and astounded by this gift, which was “far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams” (Eph. 3:20, The Message). Two people of faith and generosity chose to pay forward the help they had received through Bethesda Workshops. The couple asked others to join the vision by matching the pledge amount, and we started thinking about dedicated fundraising, which we had never done. In early summer we hired an experienced consultant team to help us with a strategy.
In early spring of 2016, we started looking at properties just to hone the parameters we had identified. Surprisingly we found our space much sooner than we had anticipated and spent a crazy three months conducting due diligence about the building. We also feverishly ramped up our fund-raising and made a lot of progress, but we were still far short of the funds needed as the contract deadline approached. We discovered banks weren’t interested in a business plan called “faith and fund raising,” and it seemed like the opportunity was lost. Disappointed and discouraged, I asked for God’s grace to help me let go of what seemed like the perfect building and for the courage to trust God’s provision.
Within a couple of days, I got a call that changed everything: an angel financier stepped up with an offer to buy the building for us, as well as the arrangement of a long-term lease with a purchase option. This individual invested almost $1,000,000 in a ministry that had not benefited him personally, but that he believed in and wanted to see move to the next level. As another person of deep faith and generosity, he too became God’s heart and hands of generous provision.
Since beginning operations in the building in January 2017, Bethesda Workshops has paid a sufficient amount toward our purchase option to qualify for traditional bank financing. (It’s an astonishing amount, according to our angel financier, who proclaimed “You’re killing it!”) First Tennessee Bank, with whom we established a very positive relationship earlier this year, was eager to help us, and the process was remarkably smooth. The closing date was October 17th, which was my 37th wedding anniversary.
So Bethesda Workshops had a party! My impromptu remarks included gratitude for these faithful people who are blessed with the means to be generous at a level most of us can’t imagine. Sometimes God parts the Red Sea, or provides manna and quail, or sends angels to release a captive from prison. It’s been truly amazing to see God move for this ministry!
The last couple of weeks, though, I’ve been filled with gratitude for the smaller things – the ones within reach of us all. I see the donation report of the faithful woman who has started giving $10 a month to Bethesda Workshops, and the name of another dedicated woman who for probably a dozen years has mailed a $20 or $25 check monthly. Beyond financial gifts, I think of hundreds of ways people choose to practice generosity.
I remember the people who showed up to help assemble furniture or arrange everything for the first workshop in our space, especially those who often stayed until past 10 pm in that final push. I remember the way our staff leans into every workshop and cares about every participant, even those whose woundedness make them difficult. I’m blessed often to get an email or call from someone who attended a workshop and is sharing how much it helped.
I think about the good humor of most of our delivery people and the excellence and dependability of the man who cleans the building after 9 pm every night during a workshop. I picture the flowers Bethesda Workshops has received and the donuts provided for our indulgence. I remember the countless trips my husband has made to the building to help with this or that, or the scores of times he hauled supplies to a hotel in the early years.
Generosity big and small. All of us have the chance to be generous every day. A smile, a hug, a word, a gesture, a favor, a ride, a moment, a lift, a belief in someone or something that feels impossible at the moment – all make a difference.
In a world that feels full of hate and tragedy, a simple act of generosity is a point of light. Life-giving encouragement can spring from one second of intentionality. Where can you provide that gift today?
Marnie C. Ferree