When Mark Graber sells his yearly crop harvest, he tells the bookkeepers that a portion of that crop is the property of the Everence Foundation, a faith-based charitable giving service run by Everence Financial. He gives the bookkeepers an account number, and they send a check to Everence.
Once Everence receives the check, Graber designates how to allocate it. Mennonite Mission Network is one of the many organizations that he shares his harvest income with.
There is an extra step to this process, though. An energy company pays Graber annually to keep a windmill and half a mile of transmission lines on his property. He can't give that money directly to Mission Network — his contract with the energy company forbids it. Instead, he designates a portion of his crops to the Everence Foundation. That money goes into an account, and then, from that account, Graber gives to Mission Network.
If that sounds like a lot of steps, that's because it is. But Graber says it is the best way for him to give. And for Graber, that is just the beginning.
"A philosophy that I have is this," Graber said, "your waking hours should be spent thinking of creative ways to give."
The windmill and transmission lines were installed in 2009. The company leases the space on Graber's land for 30 years at a time. The company offered a lump sum, but Graber turned it down in favor of yearly payments. "The windmill is a windfall," Graber said. "It allows me to give more to the organizations and causes I believe in."
Service is important to Graber and his family. He and his son, Eli, traveled to Benin to help construct Benin Bible Institute's campus. While there, he quickly realized that, even though his labor was appreciated, the seminary didn't really need his labor. Instead, they needed the money that was sent with him to pay for construction costs. That experience, coupled with the short period of time that he accompanied Mennonite Board of Missions (a predecessor agency of Mission Network) workers Lynda and Rod Hollinger-Janzen, inspired Graber to begin his search for creative ways to support the work of God around the world.
Graber said that he could sell $5 worth of crops, get taxed for half its value and give the remaining $2.50 to the church. Or, he could give that crop to the Everence Foundation, avoid the taxes and give the entire $5 to the church. Graber said that when he first started this process, he thought it was too good to be true.
After a traumatic head injury in 2005, Graber was unable to work the fields on his farm for almost an entire decade. He can now do physical labor again, but he mostly lets his sons do the field work. "[My sons] farm the soil, and I farm the paper," Graber said. He does not hold an accounting or business degree, yet he plays with numbers constantly, trying to maximize his farm's profits, so that he can, in turn, maximize his giving.
"I have a theology of giving in kind," Graber said. "The painter should paint the church. The plumber should do the church's plumbing. We all have something in our lives that we can use to give in kind that is not dollars and cents."
Dwight Mueller, a development representative for Mission Network, stays at Graber's home whenever he visits constituents and donors in central and south Illinois. "I love learning from Lori and Mark," he said. "It is really inspiring to visit with them and see their hearts of generosity."
Graber continues to spend his time thinking of creative ways to give. He said that he does not want to "toot his own horn," but he wants to inspire others to find new and creative ways to give to the causes they support.
"I can't wait for my next idea," Graber said.
Consider giving in kind this Giving Tuesday. If you can paint, paint. If you can fix leaky pipes, fix them. And if you can give, visit MennoniteMission.net/GivingTuesday on Nov. 29th to support Mission Network.