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.

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