Even small gifts change lives

Pay It Forward
January 03, 2019

Winging to Far-Flung Parts of the World

As we celebrate more than a decade of giving empowerment through Pay It Forward, it’s amazing to think of how these gifts have changed lives far and wide. Over the years, some Pay It Forward funds have winged their way to far-flung parts of the world, having impact even thousands of miles and oceans away from the giver.

Here are a few stories of those far-flung gifts and their worldwide impact.

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Home in a Box

Dedicated to improving the lives of the poor in Chimbote, Peru, Friends of Chimbote has been a popular charity for many Pay It Forward gifts over the years. Father Jack Davis, originally from Devils Lake, N.D., started his mission in Peru in the 1970s. Since then, inspired by Father Jack’s work, many “sister churches” in North Dakota and Minnesota have sent donations and mission workers.

For Mary Nelson, electronic payments analyst at Bell Bank, that’s what started it. Her niece went on a mission trip, and Mary read Father Jack’s story. At the time, the mission was looking for donations of what Father Jack called a “Home in a Box.” Mary took $500 in Pay It Forward funds to a local dollar store and was able to furnish 5 “Home in a Box” totes – everything from towels and pans to tarps and duct tape – plus school supplies.

“It was cartloads of stuff,” she remembers. “It’s not a lot of money to us, and that it would fill so many houses was really cool. I helped at least 5 families. That’s pretty amazing.”

Even the Animals Pay It Forward

Every spring, Polly Thorsness gets a call from the post office in the small town of Barnesville, near her farm east of Moorhead, Minn. Her spring chicks have arrived! Polly, Bell’s senior vice president/bank operations manager, describes the excitement of hearing them peeping away in the box she receives.

So when Polly chooses a flock of chicks or geese to donate to the charity Heifer International, she can easily imagine the excitement shared by a poor family somewhere else in the world who receives a starter flock.

Heifer International provides farm animals, as well as know-how in raising and marketing them, to improve lives in many countries. Polly first connected with the charity through her church, St. James United Church of Christ in Barnesville. It became close to Polly’s heart because of her experiences ranching and raising animals.

“Growing up, we ate the food we raised,” she says, “so I understand how animals can support you.”

When Polly donates to Heifer International, either through Pay It Forward or on her own, she envisions families receiving chickens, or even a cow and calf.

“They milk it, feed and support their family,” she imagines. “They gift more animals as they reproduce. One cow or flock of chicks ends up being many gifts. Even the animals themselves pay it forward!”

Safe Haven from War

Kris Schipper was working in downtown Fargo when she first met Deb Dawson and Deb’s new puppy.

“Who can resist that?” Kris jokes. Ironically, Kris, a mortgage loan post-closing assistant at Bell, ended up supporting Deb’s charity in part for the reason that, as she puts it, it’s not a “soft and fuzzy, puppies and kittens” kind of effort.

Deb is the founder and driving force behind African Soul, American Heart (ASAH), which helps girls from the war-torn Republic of South Sudan receive protection, education and empowerment, with the goal they will one day be leaders who can help establish peaceful communities.

Supporting ASAH through Pay It Forward and on her own, Kris has watched Deb’s effort start with serving a small number of girls, then continue to expand.

“It’s a pretty clear channel between your giving and where the money is going,” Kris says. “It impresses me. It’s more nitty-gritty needs supporting preteen and teenage girls, from a country that was not geared to endorse women. That appealed to me.”

Today, because of civil war in their homeland, the ASAH Boarding School for Orphaned Girls has relocated to Uganda. ASAH girls go to school there, visiting their extended families at the year-end break so they can retain ties with their communities.

Kris says Deb’s close connection with the girls means Kris can “trust the gift” she gives.

“When you give a gift, it’s out of your hands,” she explains. “I trust that Deb knows what resources they need, and she’ll do the right thing.”

Helping the ‘Suffering Church’ Worldwide

Lorelee Benz, administrative project support manager at Bell, has global horizons, thanks to her past work overseas. Lorelee often has used her Pay It Forward funds internationally, giving to projects with which she shares a personal connection.

All three of the international organizations Lorelee has supported through Pay It Forward have another thing in common. That, says Lorelee – who is also a Presbyterian lay minister, serving Baker-Downer (Minn.) Presbyterian Church – is a passion for the church that is serving God and others where there are few resources, often due to the political climate.

Magazine Training International, for example, started in communist Eastern Europe. (Lorelee worked for the organization in Vienna during its first years.) Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the organization has found ways to expand its ministry, teaching and training Christians to be successful print and online publishers to spread the gospel. In 2015, Lorelee traveled to India to help the group establish workshops there. People from over 60 countries have used training Lorelee helped implement.

“One guy sold his fridge to buy the tickets to get to training in Poland,” Lorelee says. “There are so many stories like that.”

Through another favorite ministry, the Outreach Foundation, Lorelee has helped fund refugee services, including education for children, through the Lebanon/Syria synod of the Presbyterian church.

“They do not have the resources in place anymore, for obvious reasons,” Lorelee notes. “I also have a friend who has spent 25 years in women’s ministry, specifically teaching women who want to be involved in ministry in their own countries, places where the church is suffering persecution.

“A lot of places she goes, she can’t even tell me about – security is very tight.”

Lorelee is excited to support causes she’s passionate about to a larger extent than she would be able to do on her own.

“I’ve always been interested in the church around the world,” she says, “especially the ‘suffering church’ that is not always in the news we see. People I’ve given to over the years have been incredulous and so grateful.”

Lorelee’s thoughts echo those of others who have paid it forward to people in distant lands: “I have a belief we are connected across the world. I love for the things I do and the causes I support to reach farther.”