Stories told by Covenant members in worship services during the month of October demonstrate how our church community inspires, encourages and sponsors adventure and generosity. These members have recognized where they were locked in anxiety and inaction, and have listened to God to have the courage to stand up in faith and choose adventure. As we all face the decision of how much to pledge to Covenant in 2016, these members remind us that we are called by God to be extravagantly generous.
Sharing a Generous Spirit
Dr. Patrick Beckham, a plastic surgeon and doctor for more than 50 years, grew up watching his parents help others. When he recalls planning and developing an orphanage in Vietnam in the mid-’60s, he said, “I thought that was how you were supposed to behave!
“I’d seen orphans during my time in the military serving in Korea and then in Vietnam, and recognized the need for housing.” said Dr. Beckham, who was then a surgeon in the Air Force. Working together with the Air Force chaplain and the local missionary, the three determined they needed a long-term support plan and set out to raise enough money to start the orphanage and ensure that it could operate on interest. “We didn’t do anything dramatic. We eased into the solution,” he said.
Fast-forward seven years to the fall of South Vietnam, and again, Beckham participated in developing a plan to get the orphans to America, where 90 kids ultimately ended up in Dallas. (The details of this story are amazing!)
“My part was so small; all I did was take a small step,” Dr. Beckham said. “My parents, my church upbringing and my circle of friends planted that spirit. They’d all done those kinds of things. I couldn’t help it! It’s just how I am.”
Dr. Beckham’s spirit of extravagant generosity continues! About 30 years ago, he helped start Austin Smiles, a nonprofit that provides reconstructive plastic surgery, primarily cleft lip and palate repairs, to the children of central Texas and Latin America. He has given countless hours, traveling to Central America more than 30 times.
“Austin Smiles is a continuation of the attitude I learned at home. Opportunities are just another way to bloom where you are planted,” he said, quoting a line from a favorite book that demonstrates how he’s lived his life.
Using All Our Gifts
Adventures come in many forms. Sometimes, God calls you in unexpected ways.
Such was the case for Ann Brown, who usually leads Walking the Mourner’s Path in the fall, but opted to teach the spring session. She planned instead to do a mission that reached outside the church and thought that would be teaching ESL. However, she was unable to make the two-times-a-week commitment.
Ann kept hearing stories about the refugee crisis and wished she could help. She felt she was just one person, so small, in the midst of such a giant problem. She prayed for God to show her what she could do. She was on Facebook when Beth Bishop posted a note pondering how Covenant could help refugees. A number of people responded to Beth’s post; they met that week to discuss what Covenant could do. Ultimately, the group decided to partner with Refugee Services of Texas in Austin to help provide support for refugees as they transition to a new life in Austin.
Paul Mowry, a mission committee member, said the group needed leadership. Members emailed back and forth. Jeanne Ditta said she could only travel north—where the refugee apartments are—on weekends and some evenings. Paul said he could be the financial support and recommendation guy, but he did not want to be the spokesperson.
“I only have hours during the day and I live in north Austin. I can easily get in front of the congregation to ask for support,” Ann said. “Leadership is big and scary, but I felt called to take that step.”
Ann and Jeanne are co-chairing the committee. “We were very much listening within the community. Each of us was already sensing a call and we listened to how God might use our gifts,” Ann said. “I don’t feel equipped. I know little about refugees or leading in this manner, but God will take care of that. God uses the whole body of Christ. All you have to do is say yes and act.”
Moving Your Perspective
Monique and Brian Penner have been married for 11 years, and together for 17. They have moved 12 times.
For most people, the thought of moving is riddled with anxiety. Not so for the Penners, who view their moves as adventures. Monique established this positive attitude after a particularly anxiety-ridden move from Albuquerque to El Paso when she was pregnant for the first time.
“I was moving toward a whole new lifestyle,” she said. “I was leaving my job, my friends and all the people and routines I knew. We were moving to a place where many people didn’t speak English. It brought a lot of anxiety.”
But Monique said the couple quickly found a church community in El Paso that changed their attitudes. “We got involved; the people were encouraging and it was a really good teaching moment.”
From then on, Monique said she never again felt anxiety about moving. Now when facing a move, the Penners think about their future church and new friends. While there is still some moving stress, it’s from a different perspective, Monique said.
Her anxiety-free attitude was tested this summer when the family planned a move to Doha, the capital of Qatar. Brian moved at the beginning of the summer. They registered the kids for school in Doha and sold their house. The family was excited for the move.
But Monique said the people closest to them were anxiety ridden. “I wanted to keep the kids happy. I was nervous inside. Doha would be completely different. I would have to change my dress. The workweek is Sunday through Thursday. Churches are different.
“We have loved and learned something in every place we have moved. Through church and the way that we are together, each move has brought us closer. We were excited to see what would happen in Doha. We were approaching it like we did our other moves.”
In the end, the move didn’t happen due to a number of circumstances. Staying in Austin almost caused more stress than the move across the world. The family decided to move to a new neighborhood (which they love) and changed their perspective … again.
“You never know what’s going to happen. Whether it’s a move across the world or across town, you have to decide that it’s something new that you can do and have fun with. I’ve always viewed life that way.”
For now at least, the Penners are in Austin, giving their time and talents to Covenant’s children’s program and more.