Abundant Love

Four years ago, The Espino family welcomed their beautiful twin girls into the world, 15 weeks premature.  Due to complications at birth, one of their girls, Gabriela, suffered a severe brain injury resulting in a diagnosis of cerebral palsy.  The doctor’s initial prognosis was that Gabriela would not be able to see, hear, talk or walk.  Thanks be to God, she can see and hear.

 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

Genesis 12:2

So began the opening sentences of a recent fundraising campaign organized by Church of the Good Shepherd for a new member family.  Those words, written by Gabriela’s father, Damian, paint a grim picture with brushstrokes of hope—hope that God’s glory would once again be made known through the blessing of his daughters, Gabriela and Angelina.  In just a few week’s time, that hope became reality: the campaign, promoted solely through Facebook and the church’s newsletter, raised over $7,000–double its initial goal of $3,500.

At the time the campaign launched, I had not known the Espino’s for very long.  They had only joined the Good Shepherd family as members about one year prior.  What was clear to me from the beginning, though, was that they were people of peace, who loved God, and who humbly and quietly sought to bring him praise no matter the circumstances.  It was also clear that they had been dealt a significant curve ball upon the birth of their twin daughters.

As the Ministry & Operations Director at Good Shepherd, my job was ostensibly simple: to combine the ministry of the church with the operational framework of the church, so that what we do might be maximized by how we go about doing it.  In other words, my job was to connect the resources of the church to the people in (or not yet in) the pews, so that God might be most glorified.  One word is really all that’s needed to describe the job: stewardship.

In my short, 7 year ministry career, I’ve noticed a common error that churches often make when it comes to stewardship: they think too small.  “Stewardship” equates to “Stewardship season”, that time in the year, usually the fall, when the minister has to force an uncomfortable conversation about money as the church struggles to make budget for the year.  Quite simply, this definition is too narrow, and it limits the effectiveness of the church, the hands and feet of Christ.

For our congregation, stewardship is something much broader.  It’s a means of operating day-to-day, understood in terms of Genesis 12:2—we have been blessed, so that we may be a blessing, for the glory of God.  Yes, stewardship incorporates an annual pledge drive, but beyond that, it frames our daily ministry.  What has God blessed us with, and how can we glorify God by blessing others with it?  Our budget may be small, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle; how can we leverage the other gifts that have been uniquely bestowed on us for the greatest possible benefit of the kingdom?

In the case of the Espino family, the solution was obvious.  Damian and Melisa have devoted their lives to honoring God in the way that they support their family.  They have put off their own desires and ambitions to offer the best quality of life that they can for their daughters, and they have done so quietly, often avoiding attention for fear of stealing the limelight from God.  When Damian mentioned to me that they were contemplating throwing a fundraiser to help with an upcoming medical trip for Gabriela, I knew that Good Shepherd could help—not because our people possessed the financial means, but instead because our church possessed a broad platform.  Damian had a story to tell, a story of God’s faithfulness that included an opportunity for others to partner together in the joyful, sacrificial, overflowing abundance of the love of Christ.  Good Shepherd simply provided the megaphone for that story to be told.

Of course, there were some details to work out: we needed to create a means of legally receiving, handling, and acknowledging the donations, and we needed to devote some manpower to organizing, launching, and publicizing the campaign.  Being a church with an annual budget and pledge drive, these were not difficult tasks for us.  Without the church’s partnership, though, these same tasks were nearly insurmountable for Damian and Melisa when balanced with the complexities of their everyday life.  In seeking to leverage the church’s resources to be a blessing for others, Good Shepherd opened a channel to the Espinos that otherwise would have taken much more time, effort, and sacrifice to obtain.  On top of that, the family received the guidance and oversight of the church, which was a comfort to them as they sought to steward well the donations that they had received, and the church received a new ongoing ministry opportunity to give medical assistance to future families in need, called the Espino Fund.

As my time working at Good Shepherd draws to a close, I’m thankful that God provided one last opportunity to usher his kingdom this one step closer.  Recently, I was asked what I felt was my greatest achievement over the past 7 years in ministry at Good Shepherd. The Espino Fund is my answer.  My hope is that the broad vision of stewardship that it represents, combined with a willingness of the church to take risks and think creatively for the sake of the gospel, would not only endure at Good Shepherd into the future, but would take root throughout the diocese.  To God be the glory.

This article first appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of the Jubilate Deo, the newspaper of the Diocese of South Carolina.

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