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
"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
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,
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,
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