The Check Is in the Mail

It's a story from my college days that I've been telling around the dinner table for years. Unfortunately, my journal was rather sketchy back then, and an account of the exact event cannot be found. At various times I've thought that maybe it was all just a dream.

Stop reading if you've heard this.

It happened in late Autumn, 1974...

I was attending a night class at Virginia Commonwealth University. As I took my seat near the front of the room in Hibbs Hall, I glanced down and found an envelope on the floor beneath me. It was torn open. It could have been mere trash but what caught my attention was that it was addressed to the Foreign Mission Board. This entity, now called the International Mission Board (IMB), is located in Richmond, not too far from the school. But, still, a great distance from where you would expect to find a stray letter like this. Since it was already opened, I decided to take a peek inside. There I found a check made out to the mission’s agency from the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention—for a cool $1 million! My hands shook as they held the largest check I had ever seen in my life.

Of all the students on that thoroughly secular campus, I was probably one of the very few who would even know what either of these organizations was. Or care.  I was a lifelong Southern Baptist, after all, and was already a pastor, serving a small congregation in Farmville on the weekends. It seemed strange that the huge check would land under my desk and not someone else's.

I thought it must be a prank of some kind—but chose not to disregard it. I carefully tucked the check into my notebook and took it back to my dorm room after class. The next day I drove out Monument Avenue to the Foreign Mission Board building with a friend, Stuart Hanchey, and presented my findings at the front desk.

The receptionist looked at the check. Her eyes grew big. Then she got up and went into the back and stayed for a long time. Finally, she returned and said effusively, "Thank you very, very much.”

Remember: A million dollars was a lot of money 47 years ago. And this was the way Cooperative Program funds were distributed to convention agencies so that work was funded. This check would be supporting a lot of missionaries and their ministries.

I have called it "the day I saved the Foreign Mission Board!”

But was it just a "preacher story" that started out as a dream?  Too strange to have actually happened?

Well, as I mentioned Sunday in my sermon, I have started getting rid of most of the hundreds of books I've been collecting throughout my life. There just isn't any more room and, if I'm not going to read them again, why hold on?  Thanks for the advice, Marie Kondo.  But I'm first checking them for letters and notes, pictures and newspaper clippings hidden within their pages over the decades. Little surprises I've planted for myself for rainy days when their encouragement might be most needed.  The other night a letter from The Foreign Mission Board fell out of one of them. It was dated December 3, 1974 and was written to me by their treasurer, E.L Deane. It was a follow-up word of heartfelt thanks. They had cancelled the check when they first realized it was missing, he explained-- but they were still very happy to have it in their possession.

Written confirmation that this really did happen after all!

I have always been a big supporter of our denomination's missions’ program and a champion of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in every church I have served--but that may have been the largest single contribution I ever made to the effort!

We all do what we can.

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