In July 2020, a stalwart man from the Middle Tennessee community was killed in a tragic accident. Ty was a respected, very successful businessman and a person of deep faith and lavish love for people. He was also extremely generous and used his financial means to help many individuals and causes. At his memorial service, every person received a cellophane-wrapped package that contained an envelope with a $20 bill inside, along with a printed card about God’s love. We were instructed to honor Ty’s legacy and to continue the family’s generosity by watching for someone who needed the gift.
Attendees also heard that if we needed the money ourselves, we should know that Ty would be pleased to help us. At the time, I immediately thought that might apply to me, but I quickly dismissed the idea. It wasn’t that I needed the money personally; I am blessed with financial stability. The concern was for Bethesda Workshops.
As regular readers are aware, the ministry took a huge financial hit from COVID-19, and by summer I was feeling increasingly concerned. The combination of the suspension of in-person workshops plus the greatly lowered census for online offerings eventually resulted in a cash loss of approximately $130,000.00. Yikes! We didn’t have that kind of reserve to cover another possible six months before we could return to conducting workshops in-person. Bethesda historically hasn’t done formal fundraising and normally only receives about a third of that amount every year. The financial situation felt daunting.
As I was leaving Ty’s service, I asked God to show me the right beneficiary of the $20 and the encouragement card. Through the following months as I saw a homeless person or heard of some other need and asked God if that was the recipient, I always heard, “No, just hang onto the money. I mean it to bless you. That $20 is my sign that Bethesda is going to be OK.” Each time, I felt peace wash over me and I was better able to trust God with Bethesda’s finances and future. Each time I thanked Ty and his family for providing that encouragement.
In late November, Bethesda sent our annual fundraising letter and an email blast as we always do. To be honest, I didn’t have much hope that it would generate any significant response. I did detail the situation and the tremendous cash loss in a much longer explanation than is recommended by professional fundraisers. I had no idea if people would read the whole thing or be in a position to help.
But they did! Between Giving Tuesday and the fundraising plea, donations started pouring in. Most were $100 or less, some significantly larger. Time and again people who had attended a workshop included a note expressing how impactful it had been. The result? Our accountant told me shortly after January 1st that the total donations for 2020 were . . . wait for it . . . $ 135,059.57 from 177 different donors! Wow! Holy wow!! God had done above and beyond anything I could have asked for in my wildest dreams (Eph. 3:20).
When I heard that final total and saw on paper that God had prompted generous hearts to make up the deficit Bethesda had lost from the pandemic, I thought of the $20 I had been carrying in my backpack or purse since July. I knew the money had done for me what it was meant to do, which was to buoy my faith that God would provide for Bethesda’s needs.
I then began to look for the person who needed the $20 bill and the encouragement card, and God soon pointed out the woman. I often saw her while driving to Bethesda Workshops as she stood at the end of an exit ramp. She was holding a sign asking for help and looked so weary, but she had a warm smile and a wave for passersby. On several occasions I had passed her and thought about the $20, but traffic was always too heavy to get to her side of the road. One recent morning I made the effort and literally turned around to get back to her.
Briefly, I told her about Ty, about his generosity and untimely death, and about the family’s desire that others be blessed by the gifts provided at his memorial service. Her face lit up when I handed her the envelope, and she made the sign of the cross. She said her name is Eula and that she’s been homeless a good while. She was so touched by the gift and the conversation and so appreciative of the money.
Later that day when I took a walk outside the Bethesda Workshops building, I saw Eula a short distance down the road. I had seen her and a male companion multiple times since mid-summer and had wondered about them. I didn’t realize, though, that she was the same person to whom I passed along the $20 and encouragement card until I saw her walking near Bethesda. But God knew. A couple of mornings later I waved at her as she was standing with her sign at the edge of the road and leaned out the car window to speak to her. When she recognized me, her face beamed as she thanked me for the money and especially for the encouragement card, which she said she had put in her Bible.
That $20 went a long, long way. I believe I was much more blessed by the bill than Eula was. For me, it was a daily encouragement for six months, because I saw the envelope tucked in my backpack or purse multiple times every single day. Each time, I thanked God and Ty’s family for the reminder that God was with me in leading a ministry I hold dear and that God would take care of Bethesda.
In the economy of generosity, seemingly small gifts are multiplied.
Marnie C. Ferree