1.5 million blessings
Pulpit minister Don McLaughlin made that request of the 1,400-member North Atlanta Church of Christ last fall as he revealed astonishing news.
A donor who asked to remain anonymous had given $1.5 million to be divided among all present that Sunday — from first-graders up — and spent on good works in the Lord’s name.
“The most amazing thing to me was that if you were at the service that day, even if you were a visitor, you could get a voucher because the elders felt like God had placed that person there for a reason,” said longtime member Cari Thornton, who has taught children’s Sunday school classes for more than 30 years.
But please, McLaughlin asked, no Facebook posts, no Twitter messages, no mass e-mails about the news.
“We recognized that God was the one guiding every step of the process up to that point, and the story was just getting better and better,” McLaughlin told The Christian Chronicle. “It seemed to us that at such a critical moment in the development of the story, we should wait on the Lord to show us what he would do.”
But now the story — God’s story — can be told.
“The reason we are willing to share it now is because we are able to tell some of the wonderful things God is doing,” the minister said.
Brent Adams, 28, paralyzed and nearly killed in a dirt bike accident two years ago, got to know church members David and Mendie Hogan while undergoing rehabilitation in Atlanta.
When David Hogan called to see if Adams needed help with bills, Adams thanked him but said he had them covered.
The next day, a $4,000 medical bill arrived in the mail. Adams called Hogan back.
“I am forever in their debt and so grateful,” said Adams, a member of the West Orange Church of Christ in Winter Garden, Fla. “The story behind how everything worked out is just amazing. It is definitely no coincidence, and I know God was behind everything.”
THE FIRST CHAPTER
Let God write the story.
In 2008, McLaughlin delivered the Thursday night keynote at Lipscomb University’s Summer Celebration lecture series in Nashville, Tenn.
After sitting down, McLaughlin was surprised when the big screen flashed his name as the speaker, too, at a teen gathering later that night.
Unprepared and unsure what to say, McLaughlin orchestrated an impromptu discussion on tackling world problems.
Four girls from an El Cajon, Calif., church described the poverty they witnessed on a mission trip to the City of Children in Ensenada, Mexico.
Touched by the girls’ experience, fellow teens agreed that they wanted to help the orphanage.
“Well, then, get in your purses and your pockets and put your money on the table,” McLaughlin told them.
The total given: about $40.
While that might not sound like much, McLaughlin stressed how far it could go in a Third World country.
Later, students returned to their rooms and brought back more money. By night’s end, the total topped $100.
But the teens didn’t stop there. The students made an appeal at the next morning’s large-group gathering for adults to join the cause. By the event’s conclusion, the change and dollar bills added up to $4,000.
Excited, McLaughlin shared the story at North Atlanta.
The following Sunday, members placed cash on the communion table after the regular offering and sermon.
The collection raised funds for orphanages in Kazakhstan, Mexico, Nigeria and Ukraine.
The total given: $46,000.
INSIDE THE ENVELOPE
Let God write the story.
After the special contribution, a brother in Christ called McLaughlin and told him he was moved by what God was doing.
“I want to help with this,” said the man, who explained his desire to put money in members’ hands and let them find needs. “I want to give $1 million.”
“Let’s pray about it,” McLaughlin said.
While the idea excited the minister, the North Atlanta church has a thriving recovery ministry and counts hundreds of former addicts among its members. Handing large amounts of cash to recovering addicts was not an option.
“The bottom line is, we were not going to get up and say, ‘Everybody that doesn’t have a history of addiction gets to do this project,’” McLaughlin said. “That’s just not going to fly with the DNA of our love for each other.”
Leaders came up with a plan whereby members — including those in recovery — would receive vouchers that they could use to help people with rent, medicine, groceries and other needs. Members would decide how to spend the voucher, and the church would take care of the actual financial transaction.
But in September 2008, the stock market crashed. And the benefactor asked to meet with McLaughlin. “I’m not going to be able to do it,” he told the minister.
End of story. Except that this was God’s story. Last summer, the man called McLaughlin again. He explained that he had just met with his corporate board and repented for his lack of faith.
“Did you use the word ‘repent’ in a corporate board meeting?” McLaughlin asked.
“My mom taught me to live by faith and not by fear. Last fall, I lived by fear. I am repenting,” the man said. “I want you to come over and pick up this check.”
McLaughlin gave the envelope to a church accountant without opening it. “Did you look at this?” the accountant asked minutes later. “It’s for $1.5 million.”
‘A MIRACLE FROM GOD’
Let God write the story.
It’s a story of third-graders feeding the homeless and fourth-graders providing school supplies for girls in Afghanistan.
It’s a story of teenagers supporting mission work in Honduras and adults covering rent for out-of-work, soon-to-be-evicted apartment dwellers.
Before disclosing the donation, church leaders engaged members in a 40-day Bible study called “Open Eyes, Open Hearts, Open Hands.” Leaders dubbed the experience a “journey toward a life of compassion.”
McLaughlin taught on the parable of the Good Samaritan and urged members to see themselves not as the Samaritan, but as the innkeeper entrusted with someone else’s money to help a person in need.
Adults were given $1,250 vouchers. High school students received $500, middle school students $100 and elementary school students $50.
After praying, Bethany Bagwell, wife of youth minister Justin Bagwell, asked to receive her funds in the form of gift cards.
On a Friday, she enlisted the help of youth group members Shelby McVey and Mary Mayfield and went in search of strangers in need.
At a pharmacy, they met a woman named Debra who was waiting for prescriptions. The prescriptions were $270 and not covered by insurance. Bagwell and the teens stepped in to pay.
“Both Debra and the pharmacist just stood there with their mouths open,” Bagwell said. “We just told her that we were wanting to help someone and show God’s love.”
Thornton, a paraprofessional in a preschool special-needs class, paid a colleague’s $300 medical bill, bought a $250 supermarket gift card for a relative and donated $400 to Rainbow Omega, an Alabama ministry that serves adults with developmental disabilities.
She also helped a part-time custodian at her school. The custodian, named Carolyn, works two jobs during the day and cleans a hospital operating room at night.
Thornton knew that Carolyn often drove her small car close to empty, and sometimes slept in it to avoid using gasoline to go home to sleep between jobs.
Tears came to Carolyn’s eyes when Thornton explained that she wanted to buy gas for her.
“She said, ‘I can’t believe this is happening. I didn’t know if I was going to get to work this morning. I didn’t know if I had enough gas to make it across town,’” Thornton said.
Besides buying a $250 gas card for Carolyn, Thornton also took her grocery shopping — and paid for it out of her own pocket. The total bill: $260.
“Is there anything else that you would like to eat or have around the house?” Thornton recalls asking after an hour and a half of shopping.
“No,” Carolyn replied. “This is more groceries than I’ve ever had in my cart in all my 58 years. It’s like a miracle from God.”
FeedbackThis program was revealed to inspire more people to take up the work of Christ with the resources they have to glorify God. The program was not about money, it was about living as the Innkeeper to use the two silver coins to care for the wounded man we found in our community. It was a mission to glorify God by acting as Christ who worked through the Samaritan and the Innkeeper. Just as the bible study created predicted, we were challenged to rise to Gods calling to recognize needs of a stranger and use the funds to their best benefit, keep it anonymous and let the story tell itself. The 40 Day Journey was a life changing experience which gave our family eyes for the road of living a Life of Active Compassion we will walk for all our days.Troy BurnsNorth Atlanta Church of ChristMarietta, GA
USAApril, 20 2010Great story but: whatever happened to. . . Matthew 6:1-4
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.John JenkinsGreat Smoky Mountains Church of ChristGatlinburg, TN
USAApril, 20 2010What a powerful story. Amazing what God can do when we step out in faith. The people who are touched by this man’s faith will be never ending. Not only did those who were helped see Jesus, but those that share their story with others will see Jesus also. I believe the angels and God are rejoicing in Heaven over this.Pam EllisS. Main Church of ChristWeatherford, TX
USAApril, 14 2010When stories like this are shared, they attract more positive responses to that regard. Brethren should endeavor to learn things like this – that the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ will not only be a place of teaching and learning, but also a place where hope is given to the hopeless. May the almighty father bless this brother who has done this deed.Kingsley OdogwuChurch of Christ,University of IbadanIbadan, Oyo
NigeriaApril, 13 2010Wow! What wonderful news to hear through the agency of The Christian Chronicle. We read in the Bible that the first century brethren sold their possessions and kept it for the Lord’s work. Apart from the Bible, once again we heard the great news about North Atlanta Church of Christ. They overwhelmed in living the doctrine of the first century brethren.
May God Bless you!N.V. Jeevan JessyCentral Church of Christ.Hyderabad, Andhra pradesh
IndiaApril, 13 2010What a beautiful story. I imagine you could fill a book with all of the stories of where this $1.5 million went. I would LOVE to hear more of them!JemaTrenton Church of ChristTrenton, MI
USApril, 12 2010Wow, when we see history of Church since the 1st century many gave away all their property and money for the growth of Lord’s church. I appreciate such a great man of God who poured out his money for His work.E.JayarajChurch of christHyderabad, Andhrapraesh
IndiaApril, 12 2010WONDERFUL STORY.
May I suggest a group of people within a congregation could form a group of say 50 members that would agree to pay $50=$2,500.00 to start. $50 monthly for a year or less ir order to recoup receipts to rebuild $2,500; these funds would be used only to assist members of your congregation. from this group slect 5 to serve as those to interview & select who will be helped that month. those 5 could serve for a month or two; then another group of 5; could serve for a month or two.DICK ROBEYPARK PLAZATULSA, OK
USAApril, 10 2010Wou! At first I was shocked to see church Splipt and then money split what a provision of God’s love to people.
Thanks for sharing this news. May God bless us all in doing good specially in the ministry of Gospel.Krishna Gopal khadgeeKamal Pokhari church of ChristKathmandu, Nepal
NepalApril, 8 2010I AM HAPPY FOR ALL THAT WERE THERE TO RECIEVE THAT FINANCIAL BLESSING FOR THOSE WHO NEEDED IT FOR THEMSELVES OR FOR THOSE WHO BLESSED OTHER WITH THEIR.RebeccaHaigler St. Church of ChristAbbeville, SC
USAApril, 8 2010I wish I were present that Sunday worship service of the Atlanta Church of Christ. Even as a visitor,I would imagine I could have also received a voucher worth $1250 and it would enable me to provide light snack to 100 disabled and aged inmates once a week for one year in my prison ministry in the national penitentiary of the Philippines. It’s truly practicing 1st century Christianity in the 21st century.Felix R.GarlitosCentral Church of ChristQuezon City, Metro Manila
PhilippinesApril, 8 2010The Church’s children’s home here in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, has desperately needed a vehicle as we care for some 15 children. With help from North Atlanta, we will now be able to purchase a small but much needed car! We praise God for the generosity of our Christian brethren!F.H. GATESCentral Church of Christ (Igreja de Cristo Central)Belo Horizonte, MG
BrazilApril, 8 2010What a wonderful gift — one man using his blessings to honor God, but impacting so many individuals in the process. The beneficiaries are much more than those who directly received gifts…for the church members to be able to think through and handle their vouchers in responsible and touching ways is a benefit as well. What lessons everyone learned about stewardship and generosity and using the talents/gifts God has given. A fantastic endeavor. Kudos also to the church leadership in coordinating, trusting, and implementing this phenomenal project. Praise to God. Maybe through the eyes of the inn keeper, we will all become better Samaritans.Lisa IrbyBismarck church of ChristBismarck, ND
USAApril, 8 2010This was a *wonderful* opportunity to meet needs. My family pooled our vouchers and gave a donation to our son’s speech therapy place, to be used for people who can’t afford speech therapy. Our son has autism, and while our insurance pays for his treatment, many families aren’t as fortunate. They are blessed by our unknown donor!Tina SewardNorth Atlanta Church of ChristNorcross, GA
USAApril, 8 2010What an amazing story! This is a demonstration of real Christianity in the real world. Thank you for sharing. Inspirational!Jeff GardnerDel City church of ChristOklahoma City, OK
USApril, 8 2010Just a few lines to tell you that one point five million dollar story is the most wonderful true story. It made me feel overly joyed to know that the Church Of Christ is doing things that helping other people in this world. This is what its all about, sharing with other,not only the word of God but helping others with their phyical problems as well. And letting God give the increase. I thank you so much for sharing that with me and who ever read this artcial. My God bless you and the church
Don WallaceDon WallaceLaPuente Church Of ChristWest Covina, Ca.
USAApril, 8 2010God Bless the individual that gave the money. And may those who received this blessing honor god by obeying Him and making Jesus their Lord. It is real great to hear this. I hoped and pray that more congregation would be committed to giving as this individual was.Joe ScaliaMidValley Church of Christ.Tulare, Ca.
USAApril, 8 2010Reading this made me cry tears of joy and praise God–we need to look into this!Jon BoxFairfax Church of ChristFairfax, VA
USAApril, 8 2010