"If you're in the Lord's will, get fired." Horace Sanders says this only half-jokingly, because being dismissed from three jobs at a relatively young age was part of the process by which today he and his wife, Mary Jane, have been enabled to give millions of dollars to mission causes. The extent of their mission investments is remarkable, considering it all started when Horace invested "$25,000 - all I had - plus $20,000 borrowed from my mother" to enable them to purchase a small hospital.
In God's economy, that relatively meager investment has been multiplied into the funding of countless mission projects worldwide. In addition, Horace and Mary Jane have sent themselves as well as their checks, having taken 41 mission trips to date, ranging from a few days to five and a half months in the Philippines.
The couple certainly does not play the part of millionaires. Their home in Birmingham, AL, is comfortable and inviting, but by no means extravagant. "We drive Ford Focus, not Mercedes," Horace says. "We've been conservative in our lifestyle, mostly because of the way we were raised," Mary Jane adds, referencing their common upbringing during the Depression.
Their generational heritage, though, does not explain everything concerning their approach to earthly riches. In the early 1970s, after owning the 75-bed hospital in Russelville, AL, for four years, Horace sold it to a health-care conglomerate in a transaction in which he acquired stock in the company. The shifting climate of the stock market - and its downward effect on the value of his investment - eventually brought Horace to his knees. The fact that the company that bought him out would soon fire him didn't help either.
When the market value of the stock continued to drop, Horace said, "Lord, what do You want from me?" The unspoken answer came back to Horace: I want all of you. This started him and Mary Jane on a journey in which they saw the value of their stock skyrocket and where they were able to ramp up the level of their personal and financial investments in various missions.
In 1976 Horace took his first short-term mission trip to Honduras. On this trip, the team built a church from the ground up to a point of usability in eight and a half days. Mary Jane made her first trip in 1980 to the Dominican Republic while Horace stayed behind with their youngest son, who was then in high school. After their children were grown, they started going on trips together. In a characteristically playful tone, Horace quips when describing his early mission-trip building activities, "I can't do anything, so I had to be the boss." Horace doesn't build buildings on his trips these days. beginning in 1994, he began to use his skills as an accountant to conduct field audits of various mission agencies at their request.
The couple has maintained their commitment to personal giving and serving through wide fluctuations in their net worth. During one of Horace's early trips to Bolivia, he and Mary Jane's stock value went up $320,000 in two weeks. In response, they gave their first of two major gifts - first to their local church and then to a missionary organization. On the other hand, in 1992 a corporate reorganization caused Horace and Mary Jane's dividend income to disappear completely for a couple of years. "That wasn't a happy time," Horace deadpans.
For richer or poorer, Horace and Mary Jane find ways to serve mission causes, including working together on the global missions committee at Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, where they moved in the early 1980s. In that role and in personal appointments, they have met countless missionaries and received almost as many financial appeals.
Through this they have learned that sometimes they have to say no. "After some people talk to me about their ministry and their financial needs," Horace says, "I just haven't gotten a sense of that being what the Lord wanted me to do. People can come talk to me, but they have to be able to take no for an answer. A lot of people don't like that."
RTS is one of the ministries Horace and Mary Jane have said yes to in recent years, having made a major gift toward the expansion of the Washington, D.C., and Atlanta campuses. The nature of the project fits the couple's mission investment principles. "I like the idea of training someone locally," Horace explains, "so you can see the results happening locally."
Horace and Mary Jane make a considerable investment in inspecting the end results themselves. Many of their trips have involved visiting missionaries they and/or their church have helped support. "To see them where they are is so much better than when they come and give their standard church reports," Mary Jane says, adding "we enjoy traveling, especially when we are able to visit with missionaries in the field."
Indeed, the list of places they've visited would test even the sturdiest of passports - it includes Peru, Cyprus, China, Haiti, Kenya, India, Hong Kong, Japan and Thailand, just to name a few. "I don't know if I can handle Papua New Guinea!" Mary Jane says, responding to her husband's comment that he's "always excited about where we're going next, because she's my travel secretary."
Ultimately, though, Horace and Mary Jane aim to not set limits on what God can do in and through them. "I've adhered to three principles," says Horace. "The Lord will give it to you if He can get it through you. I heard that from pastor E.V. Hill once. Number two, you can't out-give the Lord; it's impossible. And third, I've never given anything to anyone that the Lord hadn't given to me first. I don't have anything to give."
Horace illustrates the third principle with another characteristically witty recollection. "I gave [a ministry] $1 million," he says, "and by the end of the year the Lord replaced it in increased stock value. So in a real way, it didn't cost me anything. Then the next year I gave them another $1 million, and at the end of the year the Lord replaced that too. So it didn't cost me anything again. It's nice to give away money when it doesn't cost you anything!" Reflecting on that, he adds, "But you have to be willing to do it!"
He has another piece of advice for those pondering the issue of stewardship: "Expect much out of the Lord. In all this I've only been a spectator watching what the Lord does."
Their lives have certainly reflected this truth. Starting with $25,000 plus $20,000 of borrowed family money, Horace and Mary Jane Sanders have watched the Lord do a lot through their lives. After 57 happy years of marriage during which they have been given three sons and eight grandchildren, they consider it a pleasure to pass on the joy of giving.