SBC Life Articles

A Heritage of Sacrificial Giving

Sitting at my grandmother's kitchen table didn't seem the same without the smell of fried chicken and hot biscuits in the air. But I knew I wouldn't enjoy that inviting fragrance and warm feeling again, at least not there. We had attended Grandmother's funeral that morning, and now sat at her kitchen table going through an old trunk that had rested in her bedroom for years.

It was an emotional time for me on more than one level. Just a few days earlier, I had received an invitation to come to the newly formed North American Mission Board and join Southern Baptists in the work of evangelism and church planting. Though I was a bivocational church planter and a Director of Missions' son, I was struggling with the thought of moving away from my loving parents, my exciting new church, and my rewarding career in the Chicago suburbs. Georgia, missions, the task of reaching the peoples of North America – all seemed very far away.

As if she knew what I was thinking, my mom slid a small piece of paper across the table to me. "Thought you might be interested in this," she said softly. "It was in Grandmother's trunk."

I picked it up and read the faded ink, aged onto a yellowed paper card. Across the top it read "The Baptist 75 Million Campaign." It was a pledge card dated June 23, 1923. In even more faded, hand-written ink the amount of $25 was filled in, payable over a five-year period. It was signed by Effie Hooks – my great-grandmother.

"I don't know if you can fully grasp the sacrifice that card represented for my grandmother," my mom said. "That pledge probably came from her 'milk and egg' money." She went on to explain that the only real spending money that rural women like her grandmother had in those days was the pennies they'd receive each week from the extra eggs they would gather or the milk their family's cow would give. "That was her commitment card," my mom continued. "For years, most or all of any money she would have had to spend on herself went instead as her personal sacrifice to the cause of missions."

A personal sacrifice to the cause of missions. This was hitting pretty close to home for me. I thought, maybe I could keep what I was feeling more on a level of intellectual curiosity: "What did this 'Baptist 75 Million Campaign' have to do with the Cooperative Program?" I sidestepped.

I should have remembered that my mom was not only a school librarian who loved to research things, but a blue blood WMU leader from way back. "Well, this campaign was really the foundation for the Cooperative Program. It came right after World War I, when thousands of Baptist soldiers were returning from Europe and the Near East. It was as if the war bond drives and the mission to Europe had given everyone a glimpse of what was possible when shared convictions focused shared resources on a shared mission. It became a time when faithful people were motivated to do their part, often at great sacrifice, for the greater good of spreading the gospel."

"So, when was this campaign, and how did it lead to the Cooperative Program?" I asked.

"Well, it ended in 1924, so it must have been 1919-1924," my mom continued. "The Cooperative Program began the next year, in 1925. Remember the marker out in front of your grandma's church?"

I recalled that the First Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky, where my other grandmother – on my dad's side – attended for over sixty years, had a historical marker in front of it commemorating the beginning of the Cooperative Program – in 1925. My parents had pointed it out to me many times when we attended church there with my grandma. Suddenly I was feeling surrounded by faithful, missions-minded family members both past and present. I decided to keep the interview with my mom going, perhaps hoping that this light dose of missions education I was receiving would appease the missions call I felt stirring. I guess I didn't realize how often one precedes the other.

"Mom, this pledge says 'paid in full June 23, 1923,' more than a year before the end of the campaign. I wonder why she paid off her pledge early – maybe times got better for them?"

"No, I don't think so." My mom's tone was serious, almost reverent. "You see, in March of that same year, their house burned to the ground. This trunk we're going through now, her dowry trunk, was one of the few things they rescued from the fire."

In the deepest part of me, I was overwhelmed. I pictured my great-grandmother's hard-working hands collecting eggs, milking a cow, and setting the pennies from her labor aside in a special place. I pictured her tear-filled eyes and strong but trembling chin as she stood watching her home burn. And I pictured a very proud moment – for her, and now for me – as she wrote "paid in full" across her pledge card.

I thanked my mom for sharing the card and its legacy with me, and humbly asked if I could keep it. A few weeks later, I came across the card again, while unboxing some hand-packed treasures. It was just after our move to Georgia, to be on mission through the North American Mission Board – one of the places Effie Hooks would have been proud to send her milk and egg money.

I can't believe it was by coincidence that as I wrote the words of this article, the following song lyrics came through my stereo speakers:

After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone,
And our children sift through all we've left behind,
May the clues that they discover, and the memories they uncover,
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find.

Oh, may all who come behind us find us faithful.
May the fire of our devotion light their way.
May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe,
And the lives we live inspire them to obey.
Oh, may all who come behind us find us faithful.

Nor can I believe it a coincidence that my ten-year-old son came to hug me goodnight as I wrote and listened, and asked me why I was crying. All I could do was look down at Effie Hooks' 75-year-old pledge card and tell him, "Son, I just want you, and your grandkids, to find me faithful." And so I will be on mission – praying, giving, and going – until my pledge, too, is paid in full.

Officials of the Baptist Convention of New York give a "big" check to Morris H. Chapman, right, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee. The check is symbolic of an amount given by the New York convention over and above its budget amount channeled through the Cooperative Program. It was the first time in more than ten years that the New York convention was able to share extra CP gifts, over and above its budget, with the SBC Cooperative Program. BCNY officials are Terry M. Robertson, left, pastor of Amherst Baptist Church, Amherst, N.Y., former chairman of the BCNY executive board, and Eddie Hatcher, pastor of Central Hunterdon Baptist Church, Flemington, N.J., president of the BCNY.

    About the Author

  • Nate Adams