“Building the kingdom $100 at a time”
August 23, 2010
By RJ Walters, Editor
Just as the parable of the mustard seed is about the potential of a towering tree, it was the discreet slip of an envelope that opened people's eyes to the marvels of God's work at Ypsilanti First United Methodist Church.
Through several projects dubbed the Kingdom Assignments and with the help of numerous partnerships, the congregation has raised more than $375,000 for local people and programs since 2006.
And now Ypsilanti FUMC Rev. Melanie Carey and her colleagues are spreading the wealth through knowledge and grants, hoping other churches will jump on board with an initiative that has transformed the way some Methodists view outreach.
The first domino to fall was a donor who wishes to remain anonymous, to everyone except Carey.
Four years ago she came through the greeting line after a service and told the pastor to expect a visit from her the next morning, after having some time to digest the information in an envelope she gave her.
"And then she came in the next morning to see me and she came with a check for $5,000 and said she would like our church to do the Kingdom Assignment and she was willing to give the money to do it, but didn't want anyone to know who she was," Carey said.
The donor was inspired by an ABC News piece on an Iowa pastor who got his church involved with the project and she thought it would be appropriate for Ypsilanti FUMC to be the next in line.
"I was like wow, okay, without a clue to what it was," Carey said. "It was my first encounter with it and I wasn't really sure about it to be honest. I was sort of like hmmm, I don't know."
Little did she know it would be the mission that helped her realize that far too often Christians underestimate God's power.
Following the call
The purpose of the Kingdom Assignment, which originated at a California church eight years ago, is to provide $100 to Christians, with a focus on growing that money for whatever type of ministry is near and dear to their heart.
In Ypsilanti those ministries have included everything from providing health insurance to cancer patients to donations to the Boys and Girls Club to funds for organizations like Meals on Wheels.
It has been an unequivocal eye-opener for people involved, but that doesn't mean it's been easy.
Viviana Urrutia shared how difficult it was to give her $100 to others because she could have used it to pay for a class she really wanted to take at Washtenaw Community College. Nonetheless she was a faithful steward of the money and made good use of it.
Little did she know that the morning she was to present her Kingdom Assignment testimony to the church would be the day another church member followed their own heart.
That Sunday Carey had a lady approach her before the service, saying she felt the Lord calling her to give $100 to the church — adding she felt it should be used to help someone who needed an education.
At the end of the service Carey shared what had transpired and she said there was not a dry eye in attendance.
Urrutia was able to take the class.
The first Kingdom Assignment was so successful the church decided to start a second project in 2008.
The goal was to get people to look at all the "stuff" they had that might be standing between them and a deeper relationship with Jesus — and sell it.
One hundred people came forward and made over $10,000 which they put to good use at some of their favorite agencies and organizations.
By project's end over $20,500 was donated (thanks to matching grants) to 21 organizations and two individuals.
One beneficiary was Camille Uroda-Ziegler, a 49-year old woman who was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in January 2007.
Her husband Bob lost his job — and the family's insurance — in the summer of 2008, and paying for Cobra insurance has caused financial duress ever since.
Ypsilanti FUMC was alerted to Ziegler's story by staff members at St. Joseph Mercy Cancer Center, and the church donated $2,000 to help pay her insurance premiums that pay foe her chemotherapy treatment and regular testing.
Less than four years ago Ziegler lost all her hair, as well as her finger nails and toe nails, but now she is on the road to recovery, thankful for people like the members of Carey's congregation.
"Thank you very much for thinking of me and helping out with the insurance," Ziegler wrote in a letter to the St. Joseph's staff and Ypsilanti FUMC. "(I) feel good for the first time in a long time, what my family and I have prayed for so long. Something was working. And, here I am. Curly hair and all (I used to have to get perms but not anymore!)"
Spreading the Good News
With stories like that to share, Carey and her congregation aren't willing to just to be heard and go on with their lives as usual.
A group of Ypsilanti FUMC lay members pooled together $15,000 last September to provide matching grants for other United Methodist churches interested in doing their own Kingdom Assignments.
So far 12 matching grants have been given out to other ministries, including several youth groups who have done the project.
Ypsilanti FUMC still has $8,000 to give out and Carey said all churches need to do is fill out a grant application by contacting the church via e-mail at email@example.com or giving them a call at 734-482-8374.
Carey said the project is extremely self-sufficient and anyone can implement it quickly and painlessly.
"It wasn't all the difficult, the biggest part was just getting out of the way. Speaking as a pastor, this is a very de-centralized model of ministry," she said. As pastors we're kind of used to being in the center and controlling things, but with this model you just let it go and let your lay members take charge. It's a neat thing to watch."
"Start your own Kingdom Assignment"
Ypsilanti FUMC still has nearly $8,000 in matching grants to hand out to churches who want to do the Kingdom Assignment. E-mail the church office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call them at 734-482-8374. Also, check out the official nationwide Kingdom Assignment website at www.kingdomassignment.org.