Her reputation preceded her. Long before I met Helen (not her real name), I had heard about her generous heart, her sharp business mind, and her passion for the work of the Gospel around the world.
After a successful career in nursing, Helen had continued to work with her sister in various business pursuits, including the acquisition of several properties. The two women, both single and in their eighties, had talked at length about their legacy and how they would continue to invest in mission projects overseas. They decided to make MB Mission one of their beneficiaries.
When her sister passed away recently, Helen was more determined than ever to honour her sister’s desire to give generously.
In August 2016, I became aware of Helen’s plan to donate one of her houses to MB Mission. She and her sister had imagined that the house could be used for accommodating missionaries on home assignment or in training. It seemed like a good idea. Obviously, it was a very generous proposal.
At that point, I was asked to enter into conversation with Helen about how to proceed. On the phone, I asked her about how she saw the property being used. Because it was an older house, we talked about the possibility of either renovating or demolishing and rebuilding. I was impressed with her keen understanding of issues related to property use and development.
However, as I discussed the idea with others at MB Mission, we began to wonder about the actual need for such a facility. As we investigated further with several other organizations in the area and offered to partner with them in this venture, it became evident that the potential was quite minimal. There was simply little need and no mandate for a house solely designated for returning missionaries or mission candidates.
As we considered the options, one of the issues was that Helen and her sister had contended for a “no sell” condition to the use of the property. They had been quite specific about wanting to see the house used for mission-related work locally. Since we wanted to honour their intent and we did not see how MB Mission could use the property under that condition, we decided to turn down the offer.
However, before we communicated that with Helen, I started brainstorming in another direction. We were so appreciative of Helen’s desire to make a local investment in global mission that we wondered if there was another way to engage this opportunity. Along with the MB Mission Lead Team, I started thinking about projects around the world where local church leaders had envisioned facilities for mission housing and training. Immediately, we thought about specific places in Asia and Africa. Inspired by the possibilities, we contacted some of the leaders in those places and asked more questions about their specific needs.
Within days, I contacted Helen and asked her if we could submit another proposal. She gladly agreed.
With the help of our media team, we put together some material that described opportunities in four different countries in Africa and Asia, including India. In each location, we had long-term workers who were partnering closely with local leaders to organize training for evangelists and church planters. In all four contexts, there was a growing need for facilities to host the training and house the participants.
As we projected the approximate costs of building these four different facilities, it was very close to the estimated value of Helen’s property.
In early December 2016, I met Helen in person for the first time. We had arranged to meet at a restaurant near her home. She was accompanied by her accountant who had also been her longtime advisor in various financial matters. After some explanation of the difficulties in using the property according to their original intent, I proposed the idea of selling the house and using the proceeds to invest in four specific mission-training opportunities overseas. Both Helen and her accountant were very engaged in the conversation. They listened carefully, asked great questions and interacted with the various ideas. We prayed together before parting and committed ourselves to listen for God’s guidance in the days ahead.
The following week, I received a call from Helen saying that she was ready to move forward with our proposal. She was especially excited about the prospect of investing in India. Her one stipulation was that the transfer of property be completed in the calendar year of 2016. We gladly agreed.
Immediately, we began to make the legal arrangements for the transfer. With Christmas fast approaching, the time was tight. We knew that we had only ten business days to complete the work.
However, I was promptly told by our legal counsel that MB Mission could not take ownership of the property because we were federally registered, not provincially. And the re-registration process would take much longer than ten days. We desperately tried to find a provincially-registered organization that would take ownership for us, but we met one obstacle after another.
I didn’t know what the repercussions would be, but I was ready to give up and tell Helen that we couldn’t get the deal done in 2016. But before I could call off the legal signing that was scheduled for the next day, I received a phone call from the lawyer.
“George,” he said to me, “you are not going to believe this, but I just got a call from the government authority looking after transfers and they have decided to give MB Mission special permission to take ownership of the property without provincial registration.”
I was amazed. We were all amazed. It was amazing grace, and in the eleventh hour!
If that wasn’t enough, less than an hour later I received another call – this time directly from the government office. Although our non-profit status exempted us from paying the property transfer tax of $9,000.00, if our intent was to liquidate the asset within two years then we would be required to pay it. We were fully prepared to do so. However, the call was simply to let us know that they were waiving the tax, regardless of our intent to sell. We couldn’t believe our ears! I personally called the office back to express our gratitude and to ask if they believed in Christmas miracles, because we had just witnessed two in less than an hour!
When Helen and her accountant went to their lawyer the next day and signed the paperwork, they were unaware of the miracles of the previous day. Later, I called Helen and explained what had transpired in the halls of government. On the phone, she broke out in prayer and thanked Jesus for his help.
It is amazing to think about the impact of Helen’s gift – how a house in North America could be transformed into blessing hundreds and even thousands of people around the world. I can only imagine what God has in mind as we continue to move forward with plans to invest this donation in the building of God’s kingdom in Asia and Africa. Personally, I have treasured the opportunity to get to know Helen. I have been so encouraged by her generosity and grace, her simple love for Jesus and the tenacity with which she has engaged this mission opportunity. It has been a joy.