A lowly $20 bill received by one man at a Christmas Eve service in downtown Chattanooga recently provided the wherewithal for another man in North Georgia to get back on his feet.
The money was parlayed into $1,470, which bought the man, who'd recently been released from prison, a truck, insurance, tags, a little gasoline and a chance to get a job.
"The Lord said it's more blessed to give than to receive," said Brian Haney, pastor of Anchor of Hope Baptist Church, who received $20 at the Christmas Eve service at the Chattanooga Convention Center. "When God's in it, it happens. The Lord worked it out."
The story of the parlayed money was one of many shared with worshipers at Brainerd Baptist Church last Sunday after the congregation gave away $26,000 to the 2,700 people who attended its Dec. 24 service.
The idea, according to pastor Robby Gallaty, was that the church's gift would inspire those who received it to, in turn, give to someone else.
"We were hoping this would continue to build in the life of the people," he said, "and spill over into the community and that it would continue to happen the rest of the year."
At the end of the service, church officials handed out 1,250 red envelopes of money in $100s, $50s and $20s, one per household.
Those who received them were asked to pray for the wisdom to discern who should receive the money, to give it to someone who had no means of giving it back and to consider doubling the gift.
Gallaty said he and other churches speculated, from what they'd heard, that the $26,000 had been turned into $60,000 to $75,000.
The congregation didn't have to wait long to hear the first story of generosity.
The next morning, Christ mas Day, a woman came to the church and explained that she had 13 grandchildren and no money to get them Christmas presents. But on Christmas Eve someone who'd attended the service showed up and provided her with the means to buy gifts.
"She had come to the church to thank us," Gallaty said. "She said it made her Christmas."
However, the pastor said, the giveaway was not done to bring praise to the church.
"It was to honor Jesus Christ and to demonstrate grace and to [help people] understand the grace given them through Christ," he said.
Haney said he was invited to the service by Gallaty, with whom he works out at Brainerd Baptist's BX building.
After receiving his envelope and praying about what to do with it, he was having lunch a couple of weeks later with some friends from his church. One of those was the man who'd recently gotten out of prison.
While there, having heard of the man's desire to buy the truck another church member had for sale, Haney felt he knew what to do. Later, he went on Facebook, posted what he had in mind and asked if "anybody else wanted to [help] make a difference."
When the man was presented the truck at Anchor of Hope, the pastor said, he had "tears [over] what his God had done for him. That $20 -- it was priceless to see what it turned into."
A few minutes later, Haney said, he and other church "laid hands on him and the truck" in a gesture of thanks for God's blessings.
"He was as proud of that truck as if it had been a brand new Cadillac," he said.
Gallaty said other reports indicated the grace flowed as far as Houston and even to the Dominican Republic.
A couple from Houston gave their money to a soldier just in from Afghanistan but going back, he said, then helped assist a woman in Houston who was having trouble buying groceries.
"That one gift motivated them to continue to be generous, to examine their own life and find ways to be generous," Gallaty said. "That was the goal of the whole thing."
Several people pooled their money to provide food for a couple with five children living in a Dominican Republic tin-roofed shack, he said. When the food arrived, the couple explained that they presently had no food to give their children.
"They were overjoyed," Gallaty said.
The Brainerd Baptist pastor said he could preach 100 sermons on the grace of giving and not have the tangible response that giving away the money did.
"Not only did God multiply the money," he said, "but God is multiplying a movement in the hearts of our people to be generous."
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...