Norma Friend needs to cover the basic necessities of life: groceries, medicine, utilities, and other bills.
Idell Austin actually went to bed hungry because money was in short supply.
The Rev. Archie Chapman needs help meeting insurance and the phone and water bills.
Norma, Idell, and Archie are just three of more than 2,500 ministers and their widows who receive assistance from Mission:Dignity, the relief ministry of GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
"It is a true privilege for GuideStone to care for these dear soldiers of the cross," GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said. "These ministers and their widows have insufficient retirement incomes; most pastored small, rural churches at the crossroads that provided only a modest salary and little, if any, retirement contributions.
"It is through the generous support of Southern Baptist churches and individuals that these faithful servants can now buy groceries, pay for utilities and prescriptions, and get much-needed medical care."
A History of Sharing
It was the call of Nashville pastor William Lunsford in 1916 that breathed life into what today is GuideStone. Witnessing the pension plans in government and industry that cared for aged workers, Lunsford led the charge to create an entity that would care for retiring Southern Baptist ministers who had little, if any, savings of their own. The relief ministry remains part of GuideStone's mission, even as it has developed over time.
In 1981, GuideStone — then the Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention — created the Adopt An Annuitant ministry to operate side-by-side with the relief program. While SBC Cooperative Program funding undergirded the relief ministry, an endowment fund and individual contributions funded the Adopt An Annuitant ministry. The two programs merged in 2002, and in 2007, GuideStone released its Cooperative Program allocation back to the Convention. The ministry today is wholly supported by earnings on an endowment fund and the faithful support of Southern Baptist churches, groups, and individuals.
The very first Adopt An Annuitant recipients in 1981 received $25 each month. That supplement was doubled in 1984, and then grew an additional 50 percent in 1998 to $75. In 2002, GuideStone's trustees raised the guidelines for the monthly assistance to $200 for single recipients and $265 for married recipients.
Reflecting its mission to provide dignity to Southern Baptist ministers and their widows, the ministry's name was changed to Mission:Dignity in 2008. Guidelines for the supplemental assistance also changed: the neediest couples with at least thirty years of ministerial service are now eligible for as much as $530 each month.
A Ministry of Caring
Bud Peters and his wife Polly spent more than thirty-one years serving churches in east Texas. Most were rural churches that couldn't pay much or provide benefits, but the Peters trusted God's provision. When urgent medical needs meant an early retirement, they turned to GuideStone for help and were approved for assistance from the Mission:Dignity ministry.
"It's hard to accept help because we've always given," Bud Peters said. "But, so that we wouldn't take a blessing away from someone, we accepted the additional funds with gratitude and praise to God."
The help means all the difference to the Peters.
"It's really the difference between eating and not eating; having medication or not having medication," he said. "We're really grateful for the people who care enough to help us and others like us. They make all this possible."
Idell Austin is another who has been helped through Mission:Dignity. Her husband Wayne pastored small churches in North Carolina for almost forty years. When he died, there was no burial insurance and hospital bills piled up. Idell had to work in a local textile mill until she was 73 years old just to pay off the bills. When she retired, her $700-a-month Social Security check was all she had.
"When you draw $700 a month, you pay your light bill, telephone, taxes on your car, gas, and medicine. There's nothing left," she said.
A local pastor heard about her plight and suggested she seek assistance from GuideStone. She is grateful to those who help her live in dignity and security.
"I was going to bed quite a few times eating only a slice of bread and drinking a glass of water," she said. "And I have gone to bed hungry because I want my bills paid and I have to pay for my medicine."
Speaking of all those who support the ministry, she says one thing: "Lord bless them! I got something to eat tonight-and it wasn't just a piece of toast."
Almost daily, thank you cards arrive from Mission:Dignity recipients who tell how the monthly support makes the difference between having food or medicine, or doing without.
"The help that this program gives me is certainly a life-saver," said Eunice Alderman. "It frees me of concern when I have to visit my doctors or have tests made from time to time."
Betty J. Nail says the ministry's support helped with the cost of her late husband's treatments and medicine as he fought chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
"I am sincerely and deeply grateful to the SBC and GuideStone for honoring and caring for their retired ministers and for your concern for me as his widow," she said. Her husband pastored for more than fifty years.
Another ministry recipient, Norma Friend, says the assistance means she is able to pay her bills and live with dignity in her remaining days. When her husband Ed passed away, the assistance meant she was able to afford her medications and keep a roof over her head and food on the table.
"Being approved for the Mission:Dignity program means so much more than receiving a check each month," she said. "The discouraged and lonely feeling I had experienced was swept away through God's love flowing through Southern Baptist churches and individuals. It is part of God's provision for taking care of me."
A Time for Preparing
With daily reminders that economic uncertainties abound, more retired Southern Baptist ministers and their widows need help. Mission:Dignity has been blessed with generous donors who continue to undergird its ministry each month. Even with the uncertainties in our world, GuideStone continues to provide monthly payments to each recipient — more than $6 million was paid out in 2008.
If you would like to join with others in caring for these precious men and women — or if you or someone you know might be blessed receiving assistance — please contact Mission:Dignity. Call 1-888-98-GUIDE (1-888-984-8433) or visit the Web site, www.MissionDignitySBC.org.