Our Money Story: Generosity Reflection

Over the next several weeks, members of our Shawnee Community family will be sharing their generosity story. This week’s reflection is from Emily Sterk. Thank you for sharing with us.

Growing up I knew adults would tithe and give financially to our church. I understood why, I knew the scripture and theology. I was taught that kids and teens shouldn’t be expected to give financially but to be encouraged with service and time. 

As I got older and processed through my faith and the role finances played, I rebelled. I thought it was silly for churches to ask their congregation for so much money and I thought it was lazy that missionaries sent letter after letter asking for donations. I would give financially here and there but felt pressured to do when I, myself, struggled financially through early adulthood to put gas in my car.

In 2018, I landed in the hospital with emergency surgery and for a full seven days with no insurance. Months later we received the medical bill and instantly fell into $111,000 of medical debt, which is double the cost of my student loans. I had no idea where to start, our insurance wasn’t retroactive and I had been let go from my part-time youth director job (the day after I received the bill). The only escape I could think of was to file for bankruptcy. 

I had reached out to a family friend who was a lawyer and after talking with him he told me under no circumstances to file for bankruptcy, not because of the stereotypes or shame that come with bankruptcy, he shared with me how it has helped millions of people but because we didn’t have anything to our name anyway. He advised us to call, negotiate a price, and pay $10 a month until it’s paid off.

I had called the hospital to start this process and the woman on the phone could not find my file anywhere, $111,000 had just vanished. After two hours on the phone, she finally found my case and the reason it was lost was everything had been paid in full.

This is when my money story started. She couldn’t tell me who, but shared with me that a church chose my case, saw the need, and covered the bill. Our bill was paid through the tithing of that church. The church was able to set money aside to support their community because they put a plan together based on pledges and projections. 

This is why it’s important to pledge and help the financial team set up for 2023. If they have a solid idea of how much giving Shawnee Community will bring in, they can plan how to best support the church, but more importantly the community. Aaron and I were in our first six months of marriage when this happened and like many people, got slammed with something out of our control. I tithe now, it’s still not a lot but now instead of paying $10 towards debt, I can give more in tithing and stewardship. 

Emily Sterk