March 3, 2006 — -- Pastor Gary Marzolf had a plan, an idea he got from the book "The Kingdom Assignment." On a Sunday last fall, he asked for 50 volunteers from the First United Methodist Church of Newton, Iowa, to come up to the altar.
"They were shocked that I was handing out $100 bills," Marzolf said, "because this is not something the church normally does, to give away money."
Congregant Phyllis Rewis was among those who stepped up. "I just went up front with everybody else and wondered what we were volunteering for," Rewis said.
Marzolf handed each person a $100 bill and explained the assignment. "First, they needed to understand that this wasn't their money but that it was God's money," he said. "Second, they needed to understand that this money was to be used to further God's kingdom. The third qualification was that they had to come back to tell us what they did with the money."
Church members said they were excited to take part. "I was shaking," Koni Bunse said. "I shook because I'm thinking, 'Wow, what a responsibility.'"
Nina Robson added: "This wasn't out of my own billfold. It was God's money and I wanted to do something that would honor God."
Though many of the volunteers struggled to figure out how to use the money, Marzolf was confident they would do great things. "The pastor comes and goes," he said. "I am not the church, and the church building is not the church. It's the people."
Rewis is a social worker who has worked with foster children.
"We gathered up their belongings in a big trash bag, and that was their world," she said. "And we moved them with that. And it was always heart-wrenching to move kids like that."
So she and her family started something called Suitcases for Kids. Dozens of suitcases have been donated -- some with a toy or book inside.
She said their work is important "because when they go into foster care with a suitcase, it's theirs from that point on. It is something that they have that no one can take away from them."
Reva Nelson was at Wal-Mart when inspiration struck. While she was talking with the cashier, Nelson realized the woman needed help.
"I got to the car and decided why don't I go back? God was telling me to go back," she said. "So I put my packages in and went back with my hundred dollars in my hand and went up to her and just handed it to her -- yes, I want you to take this and use it for your kids."
Bunse and Robson had a bold idea. They recognized a need for a shelter for battered women and their children. They knew just the place for it: a former nursing home.
"It just hit me that the old Jasper County Care Facility is available," Bunse said. "It's been deserted for at least five years."
Empowered by the "kingdom assignment," the two offered the Jasper County Board of Supervisors $100 for a property valued at more than $400,000.
"I felt like David going before Goliath," Bunse said.
Though they haven't heard yet, Bunse and Robson are optimistic that they will get the property.
Those involved in the project say it has changed them. "The kingdom assignment made us all think about our place in the world," Rewis said.
Nelson added, "I want to do more for people."
Marzolf believes the church's $5,000 investment has been paid back to his volunteers and to the community 10 times over.
"All of my hopes and dreams of how this would go were fulfilled," he said. "All of my expectations were met. And I think that God has really blessed our church through this."