By R. Paige Mathews
You’re kidding me! This can’t be true! I couldn’t believe who was requesting help. Just a few years ago he was a highly visible church leader; in fact, his signature might be on my ordination certificate!
In 1956 we began serving as missionaries on the island of Cebu in the Philippines. We had three children but one infant son passed away while there. My wife also died in the Philippines after receiving an injection that was mistakenly 20 times stronger than prescribed. I returned to the United States with my two small children. After a couple of years, I remarried, and my current wife and I have been together for over 50 years now.
All total, I served in active ministry for more than 64 years as a missionary, minister, and college president. I accepted calls to senior ministry positions at six different Christian church congregations in the United States, and as president of three of our Bible colleges.
I realize now there were some sacrifices my wife and I were making along the way. None of my ministries provided a retirement plan. Although we lived in a few parsonages, at times we were able to purchase our own housing, and at retirement in 2005, we committed all of our equity to purchase our current mobile home in south Florida.
However, over the years the property taxes, insurance, and all other living expenses have increased. This past January we became eligible to receive food stamps. And now the costs of our supplemental health insurance have reached the point where we cannot keep up with payments. We tried to always help others—I never thought of needing help ourselves.
We would like to think that our kingdom servants were appreciated like those who made their living in the secular world. Unfortunately, we know that was not always the case. While the business world provided larger salaries, retirement plans, health insurance, and life-improving benefits, the church often provided minimal salaries, parsonages, and little or no retirement plans.
The Kairos Benevolence Fund was pleased to step in and provide assistance to this veteran of the faith. The question for the future is, who will meet the growing needs represented by true stories like these?
True Stories, Pressing Needs
• From a minister’s widow: “My husband was a pulpit minister for 35 years. We lived in several parsonages, one a well-worn old farmhouse. It had running water if you pumped it by hand. Once, instead of a paycheck, we were given a live chicken! Another time our pay was a laying hen so we could have fresh eggs. The Lord blessed us with wonderful ministries. In 35 years, at six different churches, my husband and I raised six children. We were never paid more than $800 per month, and were provided no medical insurance or retirement benefits.”
• From a retired missionary: “My wife and I had been missionaries in Africa for nearly 40 years. We received word that one of our adult children was terminally ill and needed someone to care for him. Although we had planned to stay in Africa, even into retirement, we returned home. I was 62 years old, with no pension, no insurance, and no retirement, but I was determined to work and care for my family. I soon became aware of age discrimination. I learned that 40 years in Africa barely qualified you to say, ‘Welcome to Walmart.’
“I’m confident in what treasures I’ve laid up in Heaven; I just never realized the extent of my earthly sacrifice.”
• From a retired minister: “I decided in high school to go into the ministry. After college, I preached in only one state, at six churches, over a period of 50 years. I served one congregation, in two separate ministries, for 27 years. It was the final ministry location from which I retired. I cannot say I was ready to leave, but one day the elders came to me and mentioned that the church had been declining, and they needed someone younger to move things forward.
“They told me they were going to take the better part of a year to find a new minister; I had that long to make my retirement plans. There was a sense of panic as I realized I had lived in a parsonage at every church I had ever served. Over the years, my wife and I had managed to purchase a little cottage by a river for a summer house, but it was not winterized. We did not have the resources to purchase anything else, so we spent most of our savings to purchase materials, and with a few family volunteers, managed to convert the cottage to a home just before the cold weather began.”
Many, many more stories could be told about our faithful colleagues from the past generation. Many of them are without Social Security benefits, housing, pension, health insurance, and even family who are capable of meeting their needs. Theirs is a daily struggle for survival with no one to answer their pleas for help.
God’s plan beginning with the tabernacle was for his priests to exist from the generosity of his people. Various kinds of sacrifices were brought by the thousands, only a small portion of which were burnt on the altar. The greatest portion was given to the Levites for their benefit and the benefit of their families.
The apostle Paul told Timothy, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages’” (1 Timothy 5: 17, 18).
We came to know Christ through the teaching and preaching of these leaders. Our values and ethics were formed at their feet. And now, Paul’s words become so pertinent and relevant: “And now, friends, we ask you to honor those leaders who work so hard for you, who have been given the responsibility of urging and guiding you along in your obedience. Overwhelm them with appreciation and love!” (1 Thessalonians 5:12, The Message, author emphasis).
It is perhaps easier said than done. Many churches are finding it difficult to compensate their current staff, much less those who have retired. Yet how are we to provide compassion and care to these ministry leaders who have sacrificed so much? It will be possible only if we work and give together.
A comprehensive plan to address the benevolence needs of our retiring ministers and missionaries involves:
• Raising the awareness of the need.
• Providing churches and individuals with a system for assisting and honoring these faithful yet struggling ministry servants.
• Raising gifts to be used immediately for grants to meet needs and create an endowment fund to provide for future, ongoing grants.
• Identifying ministry leaders facing serious financial hardships.
• Managing an efficient process for receiving and evaluating grant applications with timely distributions and accounting.
An Attempt Has Begun
An attempt to address all of these concerns has already begun through the Kairos Benevolence Fund. The fund was introduced to the independent Christian churches at the 2012 North American Christian Convention. The NACC even committed a percentage of its offerings to assist with the fund’s first grants, a number of which have already been finalized. The NACC session included a compelling video that can be viewed at www.kairosbenevolencefund.org.
The quality of life for many aged and retired ministry colleagues depends now on our individual and collective selfless sense of commitment to a common cause: to give honor to our fathers and mothers in the faith; to acknowledge those to whom God has given oversight for our spiritual development; to overwhelm them with our appreciation and love by tangibly participating in their care.
The Kairos Benevolence Fund was able to help the retired church leader whose story started this article. In response, he wrote: “My wife and I are overwhelmed with the news of this grant. It is more than a blessing from the Lord, it again confirms that the Lord does indeed provide for those who have faith in him.”
R. Paige Mathews is vice president of Kairos Legacy Partners, Irvine, California. He lives in Firestone, Colorado. Learn more about this ministry at www.kairosbenevolencefund.org.