Jeffery K. Wilson

Recently I visited with Pastor Minner and Evelyn Labrador in their Clearwater, Florida, home. Pastor Labrador, of Cuban extraction, owned a trucking company in New Jersey before entering the ministry 11 years ago. Evelyn, born in Puerto Rico, assists her husband in ministry and is an investigator for Pinellas County Child Protective Services. The Labradors shared three significant events that impelled them toward the ministry of Trust Services, spurred them to create their personal estate plan, and invite Trust Services into their church.

"We discussed retirement planning with our financial adviser," Pastor Labrador said. "The first question he asked came as a shock. It wasn't about money, investments, or pension plans. He asked: 'Do you have a will?' It made us think. If anything were to happen to us, there would be no plan to protect our children, provide for other dependent family members, or to remember God's work.

"Then, a beloved deacon had a stroke. When I got to the hospital, he was near death. The family was trying to decide whether they should discontinue life support. They asked my advice as their pastor. I realized I hadn't thought this issue through.

"I wished I knew what my deacon's wishes were. He had never signed a living will, and now he couldn't communicate with us. All I could do was to suggest that we ask the Lord for wisdom. Our deacon's immediate family wanted to terminate life support, but other relatives opposed it. The argument ended when he died the next day--but the bad feelings remained.
I realized that a health directive--a living will--can free one's loved ones from unnecessary stress."

Evelyn added, "A little later we received an early-morning call from an elder. His wife's sister and husband had been killed during the night in an automobile accident. They left two small children. The couple had no will, and they hadn't named a guardian for their children. So the court had to decide. Much of the insurance money the children would need for their Christian education went for legal fees and probate costs associated with settling guardianship issues."

"God is aware of our needs," Pastor Labrador interjected. "The same time these events occurred, we attended a pastors' meeting. Featured was a presentation from Trust Services. Our conference director, José Le Grand, explained how Trust Services can benefit local churches and help people put their lives in order. I was skeptical. Then Elder Le Grand explained, 'We want to be of service to you and your churches. How can we help? Please be honest, and tell us what issues might keep your church from responding?'

"I raised my hand and said, 'José, some of my members assume Trust Services just wants their money--that you will tell them what their distribution should be. And some of my members feel they have too little property to need a will.'"

Pastor Le Grand clearly answered the questions. He explained that the conference helps church members learn about wills and other estate planning documents, such as the all-important health-care directive, without cost or obligation. He explained how even people with few resources need a will. He noted that Trust Services has a legal and moral responsibility not to influence how church members distribute their estates.

After the pastors' meeting, Pastor Labrador recommended to his church board that Trust Services be invited to hold a wills seminar over a Sabbath and Sunday. That weekend proved to be a beneficial and spiritual time for the church. An attorney prepared 35 wills for church members, and everyone felt positive about it.

Mrs. Labrador concluded, "As the pastoral couple, we wanted to provide the right example, so Minner and I had our wills written first. We feel good about the protection this gives our children. I am relieved as a mother to know my sons will be raised in the Christian home of our choosing should something happen to Minner and me."

Pastor Labrador had the last word, "Recently, just when we needed it, we received a large bequest from a former member of our church. Our platform and sound system had not been updated since the 1960s. Our board had bids for the work, but we didn't have the funds. Then this unexpected bequest came along. God anticipated our need and impressed this dedicated woman to remember our church in her will with an unrestricted gift. So I praise God for Trust Services. We plan to organize a wills seminar at our church every other year."

Trust Services is a specialized ministry of the church whereby individuals and families may give their support to God's work through wills, trusts, annuities, and other planned gifts.

Trust Services' mission is to assist members and friends of the church in making investments for an eternity in the New Jerusalem. The reason for making bequests is found in the words of Jesus, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:21, NIV).

During the past quinquennium more than US$264.7 million of nontithe income came into the church through bequests, trusts, and gifts from the ministry of Trust Services. Between 1968 and 2003 more than US$1 billion in gifts was donated. If you were to convert the $1 billion into pennies and stack all these pennies in a single pile, one on top the other, the stack would be nearly 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) high. For comparison, note that the space shuttle typically orbits 225 miles (360 kilometers) above the earth's surface.

Some churches, conferences, institutions, and divisions have experienced significant financial gifts that have resulted in spiritual growth for the donor and for the church. Other local churches, conferences, institutions, and divisions have experienced zero gifts.

There are two reasons this happens. (1) Many fields have no one assigned to trust services ministry. Bequests cannot be experienced without ministers assigned to emphasize, preach, promote, and facilitate this type of giving. (2) Preparing a will is not the common custom in any country. In the United States and Canada only about one in three individuals prepares a will. In some countries less than one in 1,000 has a will. One reason is that some people believe preparing a will is like a death wish that will hasten their demise. The opposite is true. A study of deaths in Great Britain in 2001 reveals that those dying with a will lived an average of 10 years longer than those dying intestate. For those dying with a will containing charitable provisions, the donor's life averaged 13 years longer.

Our challenge is to help members overcome the fear of estate planning. The principles of Scripture and Ellen White's counsel are clear. Jesus acknowledged in His prayer to His Father, "All I have is yours" (John 17:10, NIV). The prophet Isaiah was sent to King Hezekiah with this counsel, "Put your house in order, because you are going to die" (Isa. 38:1, NIV).

Since everything we have belongs to God and we cannot take it with us, shouldn't we be putting our house in order? We need to prepare legal documents to orderly pass property and possessions on as God would have it to family (when they are dependent upon us and have needs) and back to the God who loaned us all these things.

Ellen White said, "Many are not exercised upon the subject of making their wills while they are in apparent health. . . . They should arrange their property in such a manner that they may leave it at any time.

"Wills should be made in a manner to stand the test of law. . . . Death will not come one day sooner, brethren, because you have made your will. In disposing of your property by will to your relatives, be sure that you do not forget God's cause. You are His agents, holding His property; and His claims should have your first consideration" (Counsels on Stewardship, p. 328).

During the past quinquennium Trust Services personnel have taken this message to 41 countries in 11 world divisions. Where personnel are assigned to Trust Services and where these men and women have preached, promoted, and modeled this act of Christian stewardship, significant progress has been made. In the Southern Asia-Pacific Division, where Abner Roque is promoting both stewardship and trust services, scores of new workers have been trained and certified. Assisting him is Wilfredo Sumagaysay, an attorney in private practice in Silang, Cavite, and an associate director-elect of the General Conference Trust Services Department. Throughout that division significant gifts for the finishing of God's work are being experienced.

Jesus left a will. You can read it in John 3:16. It is a will written in blood. On the cross of Calvary He bequeathed to the world eternal life. Aren't you glad you are an heir! Have you prepared a Christian will that remembers Him?

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