Taking the Rice Bucket Challenge: A Tale of God’s Generosity
By Rev. Lee Cubie*
The Rice Bucket Challenge was created by the East Ohio Conference 3Cs (Churches, Clinics & Classrooms) to feed the starving citizens of West Africa in the aftermath of the deadly Ebola outbreak. One 50-kilo bag of rice – that feeds four people for a month – would be purchased for every $70 raised.
It was with joy that Hopewell United Methodist Church and South Vernon United Methodist Church (Three Rivers District) took up the Rice Bucket Challenge. What an amazing charge! God’s grace is truly at work in our two churches.
It started when Barb Butler asked if the loose change that Hopewell UMC was to collect in our coin jar in the month of November could be donated to the Rice Bucket Challenge. Thus began our month-long saga.
Then, on the Sunday that the collection began, I was charged by the Hopewell congregation to challenge its sister congregation at South Vernon UMC to participate. Now you must understand, Hopewell has a history of challenging larger churches. Being a small church, of about 30 in attendance, it is often underestimated – much like David was by Goliath.
The folks at Hopewell like to say, “We may be small, but we are mighty!” It felt confident it could out-fundraise South Vernon, after all it had a head start since it already had a coin jar, parishioners used to giving loose change, and a winning tradition.
With all of that in mind, I announced to the South Vernon UMC congregation – that averages about 60 in attendance – the challenge issued by its sister church. Upon hearing of Hopewell’s head start those present responded with shouts of, “We will not be beat.”
Full of the Spirit, Sherri Ware rose up, rushed to my office and came out with a giant plastic Coca-Cola bottle that was decorated with religious symbols and designed for collecting loose change. I had no idea what I had awakened. Throughout the rest of the service people randomly came up and placed coins into the bottle. So much for Hopewell’s initial advantage.
As you can imagine the competition became quite heated. Gary Hughes of Hopewell UMC told me, “I am confident we are going to win, because I am a sore loser and I will not let that happen!” I shuddered at the intensity of this man’s passion and I feared for his salvation.
Each week the amount collected was tallied and announced.
At the beginning of Week 4 of the five-Sunday month, Hopewell trailed South Vernon. The congregation responded with a mighty whoosh of paper bills and checks in an attempt to overwhelm its arch nemesis. Butler “was overwhelmed by the generosity of the people at Hopewell,” which finished the week with a $130 lead.
It was an awkward moment climbing into the pulpit at South Vernon that Sunday after leaving Hopewell. The congregation of loving, hopeful people were smiling and confident that the previous week’s tally would keep it in the lead. I did not want to break the news that its sister church had raced ahead by $130.
What an overwhelming advantage Hopewell had. It had taken South Vernon two weeks to raise more than $100 dollars – how could it manage to win now?
I tried to be positive and encouraging and told the parishioners it wasn’t the amount that mattered but the spirit in which it was given. But Bob Grisom, like the Nazarite Sampson, rose up out of his pew, retrieved the bottle and started passing it back and forth like a shuttle-cock moving in a loom. The drama was intense, would God work a miracle in our midst?
With one week remaining Hopewell had raised $462.39 and South Vernon had collected $432.15.
Hopewell raised an additional $237.61 in Week 5 leaving its total at an even $700 – a perfect number from Revelation. Had God spoken? Was this the miracle or were the people at South Vernon to see a miracle of their own?
Well, God is in the resurrection business and the hopes of the South Vernon UMC faithful were resurrected on the first Sunday of Advent. On the day that we lit the candle of Hope, God brought an additional $373.36 into that plastic Coca-Cola bottle! South Vernon UMC collected $705.51 in five weeks. Praise be to God, that the people of South Vernon could see God at work in their midst!
Our two-church total was $1,405.51 for the Rice Bucket Challenge – enough to purchase 20 bags of rice!
God’s grace is alive in our charge, for generosity is a gift of the Spirit and of the image of God. It is with joy that I tell you, “brethren of the grace of God which has been shown in the churches of” (2 Cor. 8:1) Hopewell and South Vernon.
*Rev. Lee Cubie is in his 1st year as the part-time local pastor of Hopewell and South Vernon UMCs.