Archive for Giving Stories

Life is a Gift, Not a Guarantee

Mark and Sally brought their 5 week old daughter, Rachel to visit Rachel’s grandparents over Easter so everyone could see their new “Bundle of Joy”. On Sunday night after a great weekend with family, the couple left for the 250 mile trip home. About 45 minutes later there was a knock on the grandparents’ door. It was the Sheriff. The Sheriff asked if they were the grandparents of Rachel. The grandmother said yes and he asked if they would sit down. He said in a solemn tone, “I’m so sorry to tell you, but Mark and Sally were killed in a car accident. Rachel has survived, and we now have to figure out custody for her.”

Mark and Sally had not taken the time to write a will and name Christian guardians. Both families thought they were best suited to raise Rachel. Unfortunately, there was a long court battle that split the two families. When the Judge ruled on the case, he felt it would be in the best interest of the child if a non-relative would raise her.


As difficult as this process was, it became even more difficult when Rachel turned 18. At 18, she received the proceeds from the business, life insurance, and all other assets that were left to her. Rachel had lots of friends who all enjoyed to party on “Rachel’s Dime”. Unfortunately, once the money was gone, so were her friends. A lump sum inheritance isn’t always a blessing.

Giving Stories: Family Feud! Or treasured heirloom?

One day I went to visit my mother, who suffered from dementia. As we began to chat, my mother asked if I would like the old rocking chair passed down from my Great Grandfather. I smiled, and said, “Of course!” She then asked me to put my name on a piece of masking tape and put it on the bottom of the chair. Being the good son I was, I did as mom asked.

About a month later I went to visit her and the conversation came around to the chair. She asked, “Ron would you like that rocking chair from your Great Grandfather?” Once again I replied, “of course!” and she asked me to put my name on it. I said it was already there but she insisted that it wasn’t, so she asked me to do it another time. “Anything to please mom” I thought, and I wrote my name on the tape. Then, I turned the chair upside down and to my surprise, my sister’s name was there, and my name was gone! To please my mom, I removed the tape with my sister’s name and taped my own name once more.

Near the end of her life, my mom could not remember who was there last and what she was doing. Thankfully before this point, she had created a Will and in it she had stated that the chair should go to my sister and the rest of her estate was to be divided equally among all of her children. This was a blessing, because it prevented what could have been a fight amongst the family at a time when we needed each other the most.

Giving Stories: Karen’s Story


Watch this video story about Karen, Tim, and Zach and this touching story about a powerful gift and what the true meaning of giving really can be.


Giving Stories: Melvin & Phyllis

Ron Smith worked with a retired couple, Melvin and Phyllis, to plan their estate. At the time, Melvin had some health issues and they felt he would die first, so they planned their estate accordingly. But as happens life did not go as planned, and Phyllis passed away before him.

Melvin called Ron as he had received memorial money and wanted to do something in memory of Phyllis. Because both Melvin and Phyllis were public school teachers and believed in ministry, Ron thought it might be a good to have District President Arleigh Lutz visit. President Lutz talked about scholarships for teachers and pastors and how it would impact them if they went on to school or seminary.

He shared the story about scholarships, about how pastors are coming out of seminary with too much debt. President Lutz said, “We have teachers who are graduating and they can’t afford to teach because the churches don’t pay them enough.”

After listening to everything, Melvin said he liked the idea of honoring Phyllis through the gift of scholarships. He asked, “How much money do you want Ron?” And Ron replied, “Melvin, would you prayerfully consider $100,000?” Ron showed Melvin how he could take $20,000 out of his deferred annuity and give it to the church each year for the next five years. Melvin would get a charitable deduction, and his income was such that he could deduct the whole thing and put that into the scholarship fund. The first year the District would pay out 5%, or $1,000 in scholarships. Melvin thought that sounded good, as long as his accountant, his attorney and his Lutheran Brotherhood agent thought it was OK.

Over the course of the next year, Melvin and Ron talked several times and the District paid out the scholarships. When Ron went to visit Melvin, Melvin shared that he was upset. Ron didn’t understand why Melvin was upset. Melvin picked up a folder and handed it to Ron. Inside, there were five thank you letters; each one was nicer than the last.

After reading them Ron said, “Melvin, these are beautiful. I don’t get it. I don’t know why you’d be upset with this.” Melvin replied, “You see Ron, that’s the problem with you, you don’t get it. The problem is those thank you notes were for Phyllis and she never got a chance to see them.” Ron asked what he could do to make it right. Melvin said, “You should tell people, it’s OK for them to give money while they’re living. They don’t need it all. They need to see ministry happen today.” Ron promised to do that.

After they resolved the issue, Melvin talked about tithing, what should a person tithe from, net income, gross income or the earnings on all their accounts? He asked what he should give from. Ron said, “Melvin, that’s between you and the Lord.” Melvin pointed out that Ron worked for the Lord, and again asked what he should give. Ron replied it was not his job to say what Melvin should give. But Melvin disagreed, so Ron said, “Melvin, you pray about it and let me know.”

Six months later, Ron had a chance to talk to Melvin, and asked him what he had decided to do. Melvin replied that he had the answer, “Something you’ve got to learn, is you can’t out give God. I give 10% from all of my earnings, from my stocks, my deferred annuities. I know what they are at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year, so I give 10%. You just can’t out give God.” When Ron first started working with Melvin and Phyllis, they were worth about $600,000. When Melvin died, he had given away $100,000 while he was alive. With his generous gifts to the scholarship fund, his tithing from all he had, his estate increased enough that he was to leave $1,750,000 to ministry after his death. It’s important to show people how they can give today, so that they can experience the joy in giving as Melvin taught us.

Giving Stories: Tim & Amy Jenson

Tim and Amy Jenson both were brought to faith at an early age through baptism. God nurtured their faith over the years. Tim recalls how the pastor who confirmed him told his class, “You can never out give God!” How true those words turned out to be for them.

They met at Camp Luther in Wisconsin during the summer of 1947. Tim was there to build and Amy was working to earn money for school. Tim became a building contractor with a sizeable crew, building 20+ homes a year. Amy was consecrated a Lutheran Deaconess and worked as a parish deaconess in Milwaukee, WI for 2 years. “We were married in 1951,” Amy said. “God granted us three children and all died. We feel sure if they had lived our lives would have been so very different.”

In 1965 Tim was accepted through the LCMS Board of Missions to be a mission builder in Papua New Guinea. Before they went, friends asked them how they could give everything up and move somewhere where they couldn’t even speak the language. Amy said their reply was, “But our Lord Jesus Christ is going with us and He is all that matters.”

While in Papua New Guinea Tim built for the mission and trained locals how to build. Amy created lessons to help the women in their every day lives. Their monthly income from the mission was less than $250, plus benefits. After 5 ½ years, the Synod’s mission contributions had fallen short so they could not return.

“Our Papua New Guinean friends knew we and other staff were there because people in America loved Jesus and gave money for His Church,” Amy said. “When we said we could not return, they asked, “Don’t Americans love Jesus anymore? Don’t they give money to Him anymore?'” “Now in hindsight we view our years there as the highlight of our lives,” added Tim.

When they returned to Wisconsin in 1971 they built a home and Tim went back into building but on a smaller scale. Then they were asked to oversee the building of a church and school in Haiti, so in the winter of 1980-81 they went for 4 ½ months. A man whose company built large cement block buildings in the United States gave $90,000 for the project. “He came for the dedication and was very pleased,” Tim said. “He said if that building would have been built in the U.S., it would have taken over a year to build and cost over a million dollars.”

Tim retired in the end of 1984. A year later they learned of Laborers For Christ, the Synod’s new organization where workers go around the country helping congregations build new facilities and are paid minimum wages. “We truly enjoyed the next 15 years working on 26 different projects,” Amy said. Because most of the Laborers For Christ workers are from different professions and Tim was an experienced builder, he was usually asked to be building supervisor. “We usually were the first to arrive on site and about the last to leave,” he said.

In 2001 Tim was 80 years old, past the cut-off age to work for Laborers For Christ. So they retired again. “Our last project with Laborers For Christ was at Camp Luther helping to build a large conference center which included men’s and women’s dorms,” Tim said. The dorm he helped build over 50 years prior was razed.

Since then they have been involved in building homes for Habitat for Humanity. At first Tim helped with the whole construction job and later he mostly made cabinets and trimmed out the inside. Over the years their net income was never over $20,000 a year. “With God’s blessing we always had money with some to spare,” Amy said. “When we realized how much we were worth, we knew we’d never need that much to live on and we had no heirs.” They bought a Thrivent life insurance survivors whole policy, which would be worth a little less than double their investment at the time of both their deaths. That money and the balance of their estate will go into their Endowment Fund. That will be invested in Lutheran Church Extension Fund in perpetuity and the interest goes to LCMS missions. “Our gift will help build churches and church related buildings over and over and the interest will help spread the Gospel message around the world,” Tim said. “If God lets the world remain for some years, our gift to missions will be greater than giving the original amount!”

“When we look back on our lives, we realize how God used us to touch many lives in different places and how He gave us joy and contentment in serving Him and His Kingdom,” Amy said. “We always took to heart the fact that all that we are and have are His and we are only stewards of His blessings. In thinking ahead we decided we wanted to make a difference in the future as well as what He allowed us to do in the past. TO GOD BE ALL THE GLORY!