Nothing to Something: How $30 we didn’t have became thousands we did have

On a warm spring night in 1998, Phil and I sat side by side in one of the front pews at a church in Bend, Oregon. It was the final night of  the Oregon District Council, a gathering of all the Oregon pastors in our organization. The farewell service of this conference is always a missions-themed service, and as the speaker geared up to take an offering, I pulled out my checkbook and looked at Phil. He shrugged and looked back at me. “Give whatever the Lord tells you to give,” he whispered to me.

Exactly one year prior, at the same conference, the Lord had spoken clearly to each of us. We had always known that some day missions would be in our future, and that eventually the time would be right for us to take our children’s ministry experience outside of the US to a place where churches were hungry to minister to their children. That year had been our moment. After the missions service that year, we each spent some time in prayer, and when we came back together, we both said the same thing. “It’s time.”

So we began the process. First the application to be missionaries through our district organization. Then an interview with the district officials. Then a detailed application to the national organization, extended essays delineating our spiritual histories and backgrounds, home interviews, psychological evaluations, orientation meetings at the national office in Springfield, MO, and finally, a personal interview with the missions board.

We’d come a long way in one year. Just the week prior to that service in Bend, we had gotten a phone call. Congratulations! You have been formally approved as candidate missionaries to the children of West Africa. Now go out and raise your budget. It’s $40,000 in cash offerings and $5500 in monthly pledges. You have 18 months to do it, soliciting donations from churches and individuals, before you can leave for language school in France and then on to children’s ministry in West Africa. Ask everyone who might be willing to help you. Schedule at least ten services per month in your district, and tell them about your vision. And pray. God will provide for your needs. 

So there we were at this conference surrounded by all the people with the potential to support us. And we didn’t know any of them. We had been in Oregon for four years, but we had been Children’s pastors. We knew other Children’s pastors, but we knew very few Senior pastors. Plus, we were so newly appointed that our names didn’t appear on the district’s “Itinerating (fundraising) missionaries” list. Nobody knew us either. We felt a little bit like spectators, watching this event from the outside looking in, not even knowing where to start.

But as we sat there in the pew, knowing the time was drawing near to give to the cause of missions worldwide, the Holy Spirit spoke to us. If we were going to ask others to give to us, we needed to be willing to give. So I took out the checkbook and sat there, looking at the blank check, conflict raging inside.

The honest truth is that in that moment, we had NO money. I mean nothing. We had been given a per-diem from our own church to attend the event, so we had food, lodging and gas for the event. But our own personal account had a balance of $15 and change and we didn’t have a penny anywhere else. No savings, no backup. Not even a change jar at home. Payday was at least a week away.

I swallowed and said a silent prayer and $30 came to mind. I couldn’t push it out of my mind.

“Lord,” I said. “We don’t have it. The check will bounce.”

$30 was the only answer I got.

I told Phil, “I feel like we should give $30.”

He shrugged and said, “Do it.”

I am the keeper of the checkbook. Typically Phil and I touch base every few days about our balance, but he trusts me and we don’t always talk about it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Phil didn’t know that we only had $15 in there. So this whole conflict was just between me and the Lord. Finally, I mustered up a shaky spirit of obedience and began scribbling out a check for $30. In my mind, I was calculating– how long before this check clears? Will it make it until our next payday? What if we race home tomorrow and borrow $15 from someone? How will this work?

I was halfway through filling in the written dollar amount “Thirty and. . . . ” when the District Missions Director got up to the pulpit and made an announcement.

This is the actual check!

This is the actual check!

“They don’t know this yet. But 100% of tonight’s offering will be going towards the initial support of the newest Oregon District Missionaries, Phil and Robin Malcolm. Most missionaries start their first fundraising $10,000 in the hole due to start up costs. Maybe we can offset their costs a little through this offering.”

I was stunned. In fact, I’m pretty sure I started to cry. The offering was going to us. I didn’t need to complete the check. I was ready to give $30 we didn’t have and as soon as I stepped out in faith, God was there to meet me.

The offering was taken and the service continued. Somewhere in the few minutes that followed, I was paged by the nursery and stepped out to retrieve Grace, who was 8 months at the time and inconsolable. I was pacing the foyer with her in my arms, listening to the speaker through the intercom system when suddenly a group of pastors serving as ushers stepped out of a back room and quickly crossed to the sanctuary, throwing the main doors open wide.

Surprised by their curious behavior,  I followed them and stood at the back of the sanctuary with Grace in my arms. They strode up to the platform and INTERRUPTED the speaker. I have never before OR since seen the speaker INTERRUPTED mid-sermon. But that night, they did. One of them asked if he might say something. He turned and faced the audience and said, “We just feel like we have unprecendented news and we couldn’t wait to share it with you. Our missions offering tonight has set an all-time record and we are so excited to tell you that over $14,000 was raised to help launch the Malcolms into ministry. We’ve never had an offering that high.”

Phil was still in our seat up front and I was standing at the back. I don’t even know if he knew I was back there. In the middle of the applause, I was frozen with astonishment. Did they call us up to the platform or ask us to stand? Did I go join Phil at the front or did I stay at the back with a fussy baby? I don’t remember. My memory of that moment is focused down to one irrefutable truth. My God will provide all my needs, according to His riches.

Following that service, we were overwhelmed by pastors who wanted to say hello, schedule a service, or just rejoice with us. We went from being completely unknown to being the subject of everyone’s conversation. We went from being on the outside looking in, to being acknowledged, supported, and launched, by the same pastors and churches that continue to support us to this day.

My $30 that I didn’t have, for His $14,000.00. What an amazing jumpstart. I still have that half-written check. In fact, I keep it where I will see it every now and then. It is the New Testament equivalent of a memorial altar, reminding me of a specific time and a specific place where I experienced a personal demonstration of God’s faithfulness.

When you support missionaries, you support people. We are real people with real flaws, real challenges, and real worries. We have fussy babies and empty bank accounts. We are learning to rely on God the same way you are. We are just the face of this cooperative effort called “the Great Commission,” and we can’t do it without you.

If I can share anything I have learned from this story, and from others that followed it, is that God is ultimately and undeniably trustworthy. He’s proven it to me time and again. And He will prove it to you too if you muster up even a shaky spirit of obedience and trust Him.

Be blessed,

Robin

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