DALLAS (BP) -- Ten dollars a month. That's all Gordon and Alice Burks had left from his salary after paying rent of $65 for their little place in Home Gardens, Calif. The small church Gordon had agreed to pastor couldn't pay them more than $75 a month, but he followed the Lord's calling in spite of the hardships it might entail. Ten dollars went a lot further in the 1950s than it does today, but it still wasn't much to buy groceries and pay other bills.
The Burks' story is not unlike that of nearly 2,000 retired Southern Baptist ministers and their widows in financial need. June 24 is Mission:Dignity Sunday across the Southern Baptist Convention. Like the Burks, many of those who depend on Mission:Dignity served small rural churches with meager salaries and little, if any, retirement contributions. Today, they struggle to pay for food, utilities and medications.
"We didn't have a refrigerator or a stove," Alice Burks said. "We cooked on a little hot plate. Then, finally, one of the members gave us a stove. It didn't have any handles on it. We turned it off and on with our pliers. But it cooked."
Though times were hard and money scarce, Gordon and Alice never complained. Through more than 40 years Alice worked alongside Gordon as he pastored churches in California, Oklahoma and Texas. She fondly remembers Gordon's love of preaching.
"He preached and preached," she said. "He really loved to preach. At one of the churches that he pastored, they said, 'Gordon, if you don't quit preaching so hard you're going to drop dead in the pulpit.' He said, 'I don't know of a better place to drop dead than preaching God's Word.' He was always studying and reading and praying."
After Gordon's death in 1993, Alice started receiving $75 a month from the Mission:Dignity ministry. Through the years, as the program changed, the assistance amounts increased, and she now receives $400 each month.
"I feel especially blessed that I have been privileged to receive the Mission:Dignity grant," Alice said. "It helped me pay for my first hearing aid and also to get my teeth. Receiving this money has helped me to not be a burden on anyone."
Mission:Dignity receives no Cooperative Program gifts. Most support comes from churches, Sunday School classes and individuals -- 100 percent of which goes to help those in need, with nothing deducted for administrative expenses. One of every four recipients is a pastor's widow age 85 or older. Qualified recipients are eligible to receive grants of $200 to $530 each month.
"GuideStone was founded on the idea of serving those who gave sacrificially to spread the Word of God," said O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources. "It's easy to look at GuideStone and see a broad-based financial services organization, serving more than 200,000 people worldwide. While that is an important part of the ministry, the DNA of GuideStone rests with dear soldiers of the cross who served out at the crossroads, ministering, many times in anonymity. It is these very people this ministry was founded to assist some 94 years ago. We gladly join in caring for these faithful servants, helping to provide some financial dignity in their retirement years."
To request a Mission:Dignity DVD and other resources, visit www.MissionDignitySBC.org or call 1-888-98-GUIDE (1-888-984-8433).
Judy Bates is the financial assistance department head at GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.