RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Southern Baptist missionary Gretchen Brown doesn’t mind dropping $250 for a stuffed guinea pig and $700 for a vase made from a “certified mammoth tusk.”
Brown’s no mindless shopper; it’s her way of giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. At the recent annual meetings of International Mission Board workers in West Africa and Central and Eastern Europe, missionaries shelled out hundreds of dollars for cans of root beer, cheese puffs and other items at auctions raising money for this year’s Lottie Moon offering.
A bag of Cheetos could run you as much as $300. In West Africa, one missionary paid $1,200 for four cans of Dr. Pepper.
“We decided beforehand the amount of our offering and thoroughly enjoyed choosing what to bid on in the auction,” said Brown, who wanted to take home the big box of oatmeal cream pies (another missionary got ’em). “We are so grateful for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.”
Missionaries in Central and Eastern Europe region raised $77,000 at their auction, shattering their previous record of $50,000. West Africa workers raised about $52,000 at their meeting in Ghana — an amount missionary regional leader Randy Arnett said was more than enough to put a new missionary on the field in their region.
So where do missionaries get that kind of money? Rodney Hammer, regional leader for Central and Eastern Europe, pointed out that many of them save for the entire year to spend like crazy at the Lottie auction.
“It’s just a fun way to do it,” he said. “If they don’t get the item they want, they give the money anyway.”
The event has become so popular in the region that it has kind of “taken on a life of its own,” he added. In addition to the live auction, missionaries also can bid on hundreds of items in a silent auction and turn in their money to a row of folks standing by with laptops to calculate every cent collected.
Missionary Debbie Inselman, who paid $500 for a clay model church from Lithuania, always looks forward to the event. “Instead of just writing a check, it’s fun to be able to participate in the auction,” Inselman said. “Without everyone [in Southern Baptist life] giving to this offering, our work on the field would be very limited.”
Earl Hewitt, a missionary in Ghana, was hoping to put down $500 on a Butterfinger candy bar, but the bidding went late into the evening and he had to put his kids to bed. Hewitt left the meeting without his favorite candy bar, but not without turning in his offering.
“It’s fun to bid,” Hewitt said. “But bottom line, we know that this is going to support the work we are there to do.”
Even if it is for missions, the event can become pretty competitive. Just ask Selena Bedwell, a missionary in Central and Eastern Europe.
“I learned after the first year that as a single [missionary], I just don’t have the financial clout to keep up with the big rollers in the live auction,” she said. “You can’t get a cup of coffee for $100.”
But Bedwell isn’t complaining. She knows she wouldn’t be on the field without the support of people like the “big rollers.” Through salary and ministry funds, “Lottie pays our rent, our telephone bills, our Internet access, our electricity and our groceries — plus often astronomical fees for work visas so that we can live in the countries where we serve,” she said. “And it is our privilege and joy to give back part of what the Lord gives us.”
Some fellow missionaries felt sorry for Bedwell. So they pulled together $1,000 to help her purchase a “duduk,” a musical instrument that is “first cousin to the oboe,” she said.
“When school starts this fall, I plan on making contact through one of my English students with someone who can help me learn how to play it,” she said. “However the Lord wants this particular duduk used, may He be praised.”