loren Eric Swanson: kingdom Assignments and Crawford Lorrits

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

kingdom Assignments and Crawford Lorrits

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Newspaper

Church members hold cash in hands, charity in hearts
Elders split $30,000 among members, challenge them to do good

Published on: 11/24/06

During a Sunday service last month, Jessica Gilbert opened a sky-blue envelope emblazoned with the words "Kingdom Assignment." Inside was a $10 bill.

Gilbert and about 1,450 worshippers at the Fellowship Bible Church in Roswell received money that October morning; every person 10 or older randomly received $10, $20, $50 or $100. Some tore into the envelopes on the way home, but the church's pastor, Crawford Loritts, watched several open them in the pews in stunned silence.

Marilyn Stafford of Roswell used her $20 to buy enough material to knit about 60 hats and make several blankets for preemies. She got enough donations to make many more.

The congregation received $30,000 with instructions to use the money for good.

At first, Gilbert, a 28-year-old Woodstock mom, considered spending the cash on a care package for a soldier. But the $10 would only cover one gift box and that wasn't enough, she decided.

So Gilbert tapped into one of her talents making jam. With canning jars already in her pantry, Gilbert bought ingredients for cranberry spice jam and pumpkin butter.

She whipped up several batches of jam, and sold them for $4 a jar (or three for $10). The $10 seed was now $140 enough for a dozen packages teeming with goodies requested by soldiers homesick for American treats Ramen noodles, Skittles, Sports Illustrated and lavender soap.

Loritts said Gilbert's experience like that of so many others reflects how much can be accomplished with a generous heart and a little ingenuity.

"We give money to causes all the time. But we do it in a corporate way," Loritts said. "But to put it in the hands of the people is an incredible opportunity to meet the needs of people that we may not know anything about."

Before elders of the church, an independent Christian fellowship, distributed the blue envelopes last month, Loritts recited Christ's parable of a wealthy man who gave three servants money and asked them to take care of it while he was gone. Two of the servants doubled their fortune. But the third one merely hid the money in the ground.

According to the New International Version of the Bible, the master replied to the third servant, "You wicked, lazy servant ... you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it with interest."

Gilbert said the story inspired her to dedicate sweat equity into the project.

"If I just bought the one package I felt like I would be like the servant that buried the money instead of helping it grow," said Gilbert.

Idea spreading

The Kingdom Assignment movement was popularized about six years ago by Denny and Leesa Bellesi, founders of Coast Hills Community Church in California. After plans to use $10,000 for a charity fell through, the Bellesis handed $100 bills to 100 church volunteers. The couple had just seen the movie, "Pay it Forward," which is about a boy who does good deeds for strangers and starts a chain reaction.

The original $10,000 reportedly turned into more than $1 million as volunteers held shoe drives for needy families in Mexico and helped build a battered women's shelter.

The Bellesis' book "Kingdom Assignment" serves as a template and inspiration for other churches. The North Point Community Church in Alpharetta did a similar project before the "Kingdom Assignment" in which the church gave its congregation $35,000 in a program called "Stewards R' Us."

In late October, Oprah Winfrey gave audience members $1,000 each with a similar assignment.

Fellowship Bible Church members were told they had until January to spend the money. But during a Nov. 19 service, when Loritts asked the parishioners how many had completed their Kingdom Assignment, about half the church members seated in padded burgundy chairs raised their hands.

Marilyn Stafford of Roswell who discovered a $20 bill inside her blue envelope back in October immediately went to work.

The 63-year-old grandmother, who recently underwent knee surgery, decided to knit hats and sew blankets for babies and kids at a children's hospital. With donations from yarn stores, and her fellow quilting buddies, Stafford has enough supplies to make 80 hats and 50 blankets.

Her original $20 will cover the "Fellowship Bible" labels.

Her goal is to knit one hat blue, pink or yellow every day. She's also sewing fleece blankets, which take more time to finish, while watching sports.

"I have always liked the personal approach," said Stafford. "I knew it was a time commitment and it would be easier to write a check, but that's not what I felt compelled to do."

Her husband, James, a skilled woodworker, is planning on using his $20 to craft either wooden Christmas ornaments or fountain pens. He plans to sell his creations and then use the money to send a child to summer camp for a week.

Alecia Owens got her kids 7-year-old Calvin and 5-year-old Gigi involved. The family assembled Christmas packages for needy kids overseas. The couple received $20, and they matched that to buy 10 baby dolls. The helping hands of others plumped up the care packages.

"I asked my dentist if he would be willing to donate some toothpaste, and he didn't hesitate. He just grabbed a case and gave it to me," she said.

Her kids also made Christmas cards, and they kissed every doll before placing them into the shoeboxes.

Gift for client's problem

For Don DeLoach, an attorney who lives in Roswell, the Kingdom Assignment served him a surprise lesson in humanity.

Just a few weeks ago, DeLoach was asked to write a demand letter for a client whose tenant's rent check bounced. A few days later, his client, who had visited the tenant, told him the woman who bounced the check was a single mom struggling to make it.

It made him feel "lousy." And then, on the very next Sunday, he received $20 in an envelope. His wife also received a $20 bill.

They both had the same thought send the money to the single mom. They bought a $40 Kroger gift card and wrote the woman an anonymous letter wishing her well, and hoping the money could help make a nice Thanksgiving dinner.

"People say God has a sense of humor," said DeLoach. "But he also has a sense of irony. I had just sent this woman a letter saying 'Pay up or terrible things will happen to you' and then here I am sending this woman a Kroger gift card."

Generosity carried on

Charity went full circle. The church also received a surprise.

A couple of days after the church's cash giveaway, church administrators opened up a white envelope. Inside was a $30,000 check signed by an unfamiliar name without a note of explanation.

Loritts and other church officials declined to name the donor, but said the person is not a church member. They believe the donor heard about the project and decided to reimburse the church.

Loritts said the check has been cashed, and church staffers plan to use the money to start a ministry to help people in poor neighborhoods find jobs in the Roswell area.

DeLoach, the lawyer who reached out to the single mother, believes the lesson will stay with him long after the last drumstick and slice of pumpkin pie is gobbled up.

"I have a job to do and sometimes it requires being firm," said DeLoach. "But it helps to remember the person on the other side is a human being with their own struggles and wounds."


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