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.
Finding Peace by Redirecting Funds
Dustin Johnson spoke at two worship services on Oct. 18. He recounted the uncertainty of an investment deal his company was involved in and how that affected his entire life.
As his day job, Dustin runs a real estate investment fund. His company was in a dispute with a large tenant in a building the company owned in Houston. The stakes were high: Dustin’s company would either lose…or make…a great deal of money.
“This work issue was causing a tremendous amount of anxiety. My anxiety was affecting my family. I couldn’t sleep. It bothered me how much it was impacting my life,” Dustin shared.
He realized he needed to surrender to God. He talked to his wife Amy and decided he would pledge the profits of the deal to a local mission. “At once, I felt peace,” Dustin said, further explaining that it was not a heroic act, but one that helped him to put his anxieties before God, to trust God.
“Money is a very real piece of us. We use our intellect, time, energy, effort and more – all in exchange for money. These things constitute who we are. And we are asked to give it to the church to further the kingdom.”
But Dustin said that it makes sense that our money should go toward God. In the Gospel, Jesus mentions money more than heaven and hell combined. “We don’t bring anything into the world and we don’t take anything out,” Dustin concluded. “The question is: How much of this will we give to God?”
Hearing an Obvious Answer
Three years ago, Noel Durrant heard a sermon that seemed like it was preached just for him. Covenant’s then-interim pastor Paul Parsons was preaching on the call of Abraham and, at the time, Noel was facing a big decision.
Two weeks earlier, Noel’s company offered him early retirement. He was young, 57, and had spent 34 years in high tech. He was conflicted, wondering what he would do if he wasn’t at his current job practicing his lifelong profession.
That Sunday at church, the message was, ‘If you are not sure, pray about it.’ And, in only the service that Noel attended, the preacher went further, telling congregants, “Pray for God to make it obvious to you.”
Two days later, Noel got a phone call. The person on the line asked if he was considering retirement. The caller then asked if he would consider using his skills to do something completely different: Would Noel be willing to work for schools in far-away places, helping kids to become better learners?
“I was convinced that I should choose this new and completely different path for my life,” Noel said. “Because of that experience, I look at stewardship a different way. I ask God to help with big decisions. I know that what he sees and plans for me can be vastly different from what I envision.”
Overcoming Fear to Help Kids
Fear. That was Claire Kurio’s initial reaction when her parents told her the family was going to serve dinner to homeless families staying at Covenant as part of the Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN). “I had the stereotypical image of a disheveled, dirty person on the side of the street,” Claire said.
The first few times she helped, Claire was cautious, only doing what she was asked. That changed when she decided to look at each guest as more than a homeless person. Interacting with the families and especially the children, Claire realized that the families staying at Covenant were no different than her family. “Little did I know, these people were just like me. I realized that I wanted to do more. As the kids opened up, I saw a great need for positive peer role models in their lives. The children were longing for attention, attention many of them weren’t receiving from their parents in a time of great distress from lack of housing or financial stability.”
But Claire couldn’t do it alone. She created a plan to add a youth volunteer component to the IHN. Now, when IHN families stay at Covenant, highs school volunteers mentor, tutor and play with the kids during their stay. Club 56 kids get involved too, creating welcome signs and banners.
“As cliché as it sounds, I look at people so much differently thanks to my work with IHN. I’ve realized that everyone has their own story and that unfortunate things can happen to good, hard-working, conscientious people,” Claire said, adding that this experience has motivated her to seek out other opportunities to serve others.
Meeting Men in Need
Monroe Talley is a member of Covenant’s Men in Transition, a group formed in 2005 to help men struggling with the emotional transition of divorce. At worship services in mid-October, Monroe said the group has morphed into a group that supports each other during any transition – aging parents, job losses, and family and sibling issues.
“This diverse group is open to the needs that men have, men who are typically not prone to sharing things,” Monroe said. “We talk about what we struggle with.”
Monroe said that about a year ago, Men in Transition took on a sideline effort. The group now prepares tacos once a month for Street Youth Ministry (SYM). “We cook and assemble the tacos, wrap and bag them, and put in them in the freezer until they get picked up for SYM.”
While those things are all great, Monroe said he struggles with what it means to have extravagant generosity. We buy the ingredients for the tacos, but those resources are not a strain.
“Our strength comes from our camaraderie,” Monroe said. “Each person is involved in giving of himself. We meet where men are stressed and that is the extravagant generosity of the group – to meet others where they have needs. Sharing feelings is not something men come by easily,” Monroe said. “This is an endeavor in itself. Men in Transition is a real refuge for the men – guys who are being themselves. This group has no bounds. That is the extravagant generosity.”
Monroe added that he feels that the church does this well, as long as you are ready and willing to step out in faith and seek God’s adventure.
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.