In a well-known Biblical parable, a rich man gives three servants various sums of money to safeguard. These “talents” are distributed to the three men “each according to his ability.”
During services on the last Sunday in October, about 600 members of Redeemer Lutheran Church were each given a $20 bill.
Take that money, Pastor David Noll told them, and give it away.
On this Sunday – in the darkest month of the calendar year, as Inland Northwest residents endure another harsh weather and a third straight holiday season in an economic downturn – something big is stirring in the Spokane Valley.
You’ll find it in this $20 modern parable, worth a million bucks in hope.
• • •
Redeemer Lutheran Church, located at the intersection of University and Dishman-Mica roads in the Valley, once owned a building on Mullan Road. In the 1970s, the church leased it for $1 a year to a nonprofit that helped people with developmental disabilities.
Keep it as long as you need it, church officials told the nonprofit, but if you ever go out of business, we’ll take it back.
The nonprofit eventually folded its outreach into the work of similar agencies, and the building returned to the church. The church sold it last September, making a profit of about $200,000.
Church board members told Noll: Figure out a way we can tithe $20,000 of this profit.
He prayed about it. Paced at night about it. After about a week, this idea came to him: Give each person attending the three services on Oct. 31 a $20 bill with some instructions on how to use it for the greater good.
He told board members his plan. A little out there, yes, but they are used to Noll’s creativity. Every Halloween, for instance, the church drops a 600-pound pumpkin from a 10-story-high crane.
The project remained a secret, though Noll enlisted the help of Lynda Hall, the church’s director of operations, who showed up that Sunday with stacks and stacks of $20 bills.
At the beginning of his sermon, Noll simply hinted at what was coming.
Pam Patricio, a church member for 15 years, remembers: “He had three or four $20 bills in his hand and was passing them out to a couple of people while saying, ‘It’s your responsibly to make (something) happen.’
“I’m sure some of us were thinking ‘I don’t know if I want this responsibility. I’m glad he didn’t give them to me.’ Then all the ushers came down with plates full of $20.
“Adults said, ‘Kids, don’t take one.’ He said, ‘No, let the kids take them, too. They may come up with great ideas.’ ”
Noll quoted this verse from Malachi 3:10: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse … test me in this and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
Then he said, “Hey, that’s a check that’s God’s asking us to cash. Let’s not just learn about it, let’s try it. Let’s see if God will turn this into $20,000 into maybe $200,000 worth of ministry going out of here.”
Those gathered were told the $20 “rules”: Use the money for an organization or cause outside the church that serves the church’s mission, Noll said, and tell people the $20 story.
In the talent parable, which Noll also talked about that $20 Sunday, two of the servants invest wisely and increase the talents given to them. The third servant, afraid of his master’s wrath, buries his talents and incurs greater wrath for wasting them in the ground.
“God’s telling us take a chance, take what I’ve given you, multiply it,” Noll said. “He rewards that creativity.”
• • •
Multiply it has.
The original $20,000 has likely generated about $200,000 in community donations so far, Noll said.
That’s not the end of it, either. Church leaders didn’t put a time limit on multiplying the money.
“We don’t know all the stories,” Hall said. “Some are still being written.”
Word of the $20 project is spreading on a blog on the church website and on social media pages.
Hall, for instance, created a gingerbread castle for the Gingerbread Build-off today at the Davenport Hotel, a fundraiser for Christ Kitchen, a job training program for women living in poverty.
“We’re asking people to buy a little steppingstone in the entryway. We’re calling them ‘castle stones,’ ” she explained.
“I put it out on my Facebook social network. I have people sponsoring me from as far away as California and Arkansas.”
Today, Hall will present an envelope with more than $800 to Christ Kitchen, along with 10 12-pound turkeys, also bought with donations.
Church member Pam Patricio is an accountant with the Shoedel and Shoedel CPA firm in Spokane. She and a co-worker who is also a Redeemer Lutheran Church member told their entire office about the $20 project.
The reaction, according to Patricio? “People said, ‘Seriously, your church is doing this?’”
Co-workers then raised $300 to buy Thanksgiving dinners for three low-income families.
One young church member, 9-year-old Roka Brovick, bought hot chocolate and coffee and enlisted the help of his Cub Scout troop to bake cookies. They sold the items on a Spokane Valley corner one recent Saturday.
“His mom put it on Facebook,” Noll said. “He raised $273, and gave it to Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery.”
Noll said church leaders throughout the Inland Northwest sense a lot of free-floating anxiety and fear among people in their congregations, grappling with unemployment, illness and uncertainty about the future.
Noll says the $20 project is an antidote against the fear. Indeed, church members often choke up telling others about the project, but their tears stem from joy, not despair.
“This is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard of,” Patricio said.