From Financial Ministry Leader Travis Shelton

Generosity is my absolute favorite topic. Many who know me, know this is true. But it wasn’t always the case. There was a time in the not-too-distant past where generosity was quite foreign to me. In its place was selfishness and a false sense that I was the rightful owner of all my money and possessions. I had not yet come to terms with what it meant to give joyfully and sacrificially.

Then something awesome happened. It wasn’t something that happened to me, but something that happened around me. It was a Saturday morning, and my wife and I decided to go on a little coffee date (#pre-kids). As we’re standing in line, there was a conversation in front of us between two ladies and the barista. After a few seconds, I gathered what was going on. They ordered their drinks but immediately realized their purses were back at the hotel. They were stuck. No money, no coffee.

This very moment was an opportunity to say “yes.” Call it me wanting to be a gentleman, or call it me feeling bad for them, or call it the Holy Spirit giving me a nudge that felt more like a two-handed shove to the back. I interrupted their conversation and asked if it would be ok if I just pay for their drinks. It was maybe $10….not a big deal. However, both women fell silent, their jaws dropped, and one asked “Why would you do that for us? You don’t even know us.” I don’t remember what my response was (it was probably lame), but by the end of this brief exchange one of the women started crying. In my own head I’m thinking “It was only $10, it’s not a big deal.” To her, though, it made an impact.

That moment also made an impact on me…..a huge impact! To see how God can use such an innocent encounter, such a small gift, such a chance meeting, for amazing things. Something changed in me that morning. A switch was flipped. To experience what is looks like and feels like to exhibit joyful, God-led generosity. That moment was a turning point in my life, and it’s been an amazing journey of generosity ever since. All because of one little opportunity to say “yes.”

People in my circle probably keep an ongoing tally of every time I use the phrase “Giving people an opportunity to say ‘yes’.” So late last year when a fellow Ridger approached me with a wild generosity idea, of course I was going to listen. He shared with me his heart for people struggling with medical debt and how it pained him to watch people financially suffer long after overcoming their medical affliction. At the same time, he had recently witnessed other communities rally around this same issue by partnering with an organization called RIP Medical. RIP Medical raises money and uses it to purchase medical debt for low-income and struggling families. They use their scalability, their resources, and their expertise to purchase the debt for just pennies on the dollar. Each dollar raised has the ability to purchase $100 of debt! Here’s the best part: After purchasing this debt, they immediately forgive it and send a letter to the family explaining their burden has been lifted. No strings, no catches, no expectations…..just forgiveness and grace. Sound familiar?

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.”

-Ephesians 1:7

Fast forward to mid-2020, in the midst of a global pandemic, racial unrest, a shaky job market, and political unrest, we launched this initiative and gave people an opportunity to say “yes.” Our goal was to raise $15,000 to pay off $1.5 million of medical debt for struggling Central Iowans. It was a huge goal, but we believed in it and we trusted God. So how did it turn out? By the November 1st deadline, we had eclipsed $17,400! Wow! $17,400 that will be used to purchase more than $1.74 million of debt and immediately forgive it. Thousands of families in our community are about to open their mailboxes to find a bright yellow envelope sharing the good news. There may be confusion, or smiles, or maybe even some tears. But there most certainly will be forgiveness and grace. Some families really need that right now, and we’re so humbled we get to play a small role in God’s awesome story in their lives.

Thank you so much to everyone who said “yes.” Whether it was $10 or $1,000, your gift made a huge difference and the world will most certainly be a better place as a result of your generosity. We’re so grateful for you and your generosity and heart to serve others!

As I reflect on this RIP Medical initiative and how it’s played out, I’m really excited about the $17,400 raised and $1.74 million of debt we’re about to pay off. I’m equally as excited for all the people who said “yes” to an opportunity. I’ve experienced first-hand how one simple “yes” can change my heart and my life. I’ve also walked along dozens of families who have been transformed by one simple “yes.” What excites me is the potential of what God can do in the hearts of everyone who said “yes” to this one opportunity. That little $10 gift may not seem like much, but we have a God who can use it for profound change. Not a change for the recipient, but for the giver. A change in our desires. A change in our perspective about money. A change in our hearts. A change in our faith.

Which brings us to the truth about generosity. When we give a gift, it’s not really about the person on the receiving end of the gift. Rather, it’s about the person staring at us in the mirror. God is funny like that.