Planned Giving and
Jeffery K. Wilson
ydia Worldsnorth Smith prepared a will years ago. When she died early in this quinquennium, her executor turned in to the Belize mission BZ$256,000 (US$128,000) and a house valued at BZ$80,000 (US$40,000).
Smith had left specific instructions in her last will and testament to bless her church with her assets after death. The BZ$336,000 (US$168,000) bequest in her will became the single most outstanding contribution aiding the Seventh-day Adventist mission in this Inter-American Division country to transition from mission to conference status. Rapid church growth, to the point where 1 in 10 citizens is an Adventist, necessitated church leaders’ attempts to locate and finance a larger and more functional headquarters facility.
Mission president Dennis Slusher and treasurer Abilio Cima dreamed of having a new headquarters with better accommodations. A significant portion of the cash came from Smith’s unexpected gift left in her will. The building supplied the needs of the mission and was instrumental in the transition from mission to conference status (the conference has now attained union mission of churches status). This has impacted the lives of more than 31,000 church members and opened the avenues for greater impact in the entire country.
Tragically, the majority of people fail to execute Christian estate plans, thus leaving their family in the lurch and neglecting to return to the Lord a portion of the material possessions (whether much or little) that He has loaned them for their lifetimes.
The newly constructed Belize Union of Churches Mission headquarters in Belize City, made possible by the bequest of Lydia Worldsnorth Smith
In some divisions, Planned Giving and Trust Services (TRS) brings in millions of dollars in gifts each year, but the totals could be larger. In other divisions a TRS department is virtually nonexistent, resulting in few, if any, gifts. Some of the discrepancy occurs in still-developing countries, but it also has to do with promotion. In regions where TRS men and women have preached, promoted, and modeled this vital act of Christian stewardship, significant progress has been made.
In many countries in the three divisions on the continent of Africa, Adventist lawyers have established professional organizations whose sole purpose is to work with departmental leadership to promote Christian estate planning among Adventists. They do this by preaching, holding Christian estate planning seminars, and preparing legal documents for church members at no cost when the member includes charitable considerations in their will. Significant progress has been made this quinquennium in the West-Central Africa Division under the leadership of Priscille A. Metonou; in the East-Central Africa Division by High Court Justice Mary Ang’awa; and by Priscella Ben at the Botswana Union Mission in the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division.
Practically all gifts are nontithe and go for the unrestricted or designated outreaches of the church. Figures vary from year to year depending on maturities and the work done 15 or 20 years ago. During the past quinquennium, more than US$367.1 million of nontithe income came into the church through bequests, trusts, charitable gift annuities, and other special gifts through the ministry of Planned Giving and Trust Services. Between 1968 and 2009, more than US$1.3 billion in gifts was donated. A person can visualize how large a billion is by calculating that not too much more than a billion minutes have passed since Christ fed the 5,000!
(From second from left): P.J. Jesurathnam, South Andhra Section president; Kim Wilson, daughter of Jeffery Wilson; and Jeffery Wilson, TRS director; cut the ribbon in the dedication service for the Gokarajupalli Adventist Church, one of 10 built through a bequest by Esther Bruck Hartman.
Esther Bruck Hartman, a church member in the Carolina Conference of the North American Division, wanted to honor her late father, Carl Adolph Bruck, an Adventist pastor for more than 40 years, by financing the building of a church in India in his memory, and directed her attorney to draft a will including a line providing “$50,000 for the building of a church in India in the memory of my father, Carl Adolph Bruck.” How thrilled Esther and her father will be when they discover in the kingdom of God that not one church but 10 churches were erected in 2009 in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India, through Esther’s single bequest.
Ellen White said in Counsels on Stewardship, p. 325: “It is utter folly ?to defer to make a preparation for the future life until nearly the last hour of the present life.” TRS personnel see this as the challenge for our work. Everything we do is predicated on helping remove impediments so church members will prepare wills and other estate planning documents.
TRS is a specialized ministry of the church whereby individuals and families may give their support to God’s work through wills, trusts, annuities, and other planned gifts of assets. Our goal is to facilitate members making investments in heaven.
This article was published June 24, 2010.