A Southern Baptist church in Florida will pay off over $7.2 million in crippling medical debt impacting over 6,500 individuals and families living at or below the poverty line in five Florida counties. Additionally, the church will also fund three foster homes for the next year.
Senior Pastor Dan Glenn of Stetson Baptist Church in DeLand announced to his congregation during a July 7 service that the church of about 1,000 members raised over $153,867 as part of its "53rd Sunday" initiative that will be split between two separate causes.
Since the church’s fiscal calendar ends in June and begins in July, Glenn told The Christian Post in an interview that the church’s calendar in 2018-2019 was blessed with 53 Sundays instead of the budgeted 52 Sundays like most calendar years.
With that extra Sunday service, Glenn said that the church’s council voted to approve a plan to collect offerings during its Sunday, June 30th service for the express purpose of giving that money away.
In early June, the congregation was told about the initiative and that the church would split its June 30 offerings
Half would go to an organization called RIP Medical Debt in order to pay off medical debt for people in poverty living in the church’s home county of Volusia.
The other half of that money would be donated to Florida Baptist Children’s Homes to support a foster care home for an entire year with funding to pay for things like diapers, groceries and utilities.
As medical debt is one of the leading causes of financial difficulties for thousands of families across the U.S., RIP Medical Debt works with organizations and donors to buy up the medical debt of impoverished families for just pennies on the dollar. And in return, the organization forgives the person or family of their debt giving them a reprieve from the financial burden.
What happened, Glenn said, was that the church’s initial goal of raising $48,000 combined for both programs was vastly exceeded.
He said enough money was raised to not only pay off medical debt for impoverished people in Volusia County but also those in neighboring Lake, Putnam, Marion and Flagler counties as well.
And while the church planned to support just one foster care home for a year, enough funds were raised to support three foster care homes for a year.
“This was something that really struck a chord with our church,” Glenn told CP. “Medical debt is something that I think everyone can get behind. But our church is unique in that we have an undercurrent in our church of fostering and adoption, both from the perspective of families that have fostered kids and adopted children but also through adults who were foster children or adoptees.”
Glenn said that at the end of the June 30 service, $144,000 was collected in the offering. But over the course of that next week, nearly $10,000 more was raised.
“God’s people just really were very generous and poured their hearts out into this opportunity,” he said.
“In Jesus’ ministry on Earth, that's what He did. He helps people. And so for us to be the hands and feet of Jesus means that we’ve got to use the resources that God has given to us, both individually and corporately, to make a practical difference in people’s lives.”
The pastor said that it is crucial for Christians to “put their faith into action.”
“I think it’s a responsibility that we have to show people in a practical way that God loves them,” he added.
According to Glenn, he became aware of RIP Medical Debt through news about how a Kansas church paid off about $2.2 million in medical debt instead of paying to promote its Easter services in April.
He noted that the $7.2-million estimate was based on the initial $144,000 offering collected on June 30. But with the extra nearly $10,000 donated through the course of that week, he expects the amount of medical debt to be paid off by the church to exceed $7.2 million.
While Stetson Baptist has about 1,000 members and an average Sunday attendance of about 550, Glenn said that about 350 donors gave to its “53rd Sunday” initiative.
“Obviously, this calendar anomaly of a 53rd Sunday is not something that is going to be available to us for quite a while,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that we won’t continue to seek out other opportunities to serve people in our community … We want to do that in multiple ways and consistently. We want to continue to be a church that is about reaching outside of our walls and making a difference for people who are not necessarily coming to church every Sunday.”
In the past few years, a number of churches nationwide have partnered with RIP Medical Debt to pay off the crippling debt facing thousands upon thousands of families.
For Easter 2018, Covenant Church in Carrollton, Texas, paid off medical debt for over 4,000 families within a 20-mile radius of its campus. The amount of debt paid off by Covenant Church was over $10.5 million.
Earlier this year, a church in Maryland’s capital city of Annapolis paid off over $2 million in medical debt facing 900 families across 14 Maryland counties.
In May, an Indiana church paid off $1.5 million in medical debt facing people in the Evansville area with a $15,000 donation to RIP Medical Debt.