Hard lessons during busy times

Everyday Stewardship |

Reaching the lost outweighed money issues

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Back in the 1970s, money was tight for my parents, Gilberto and Elizabeth Perez. Pastoring a small Spanish Mennonite church in south Texas came with great rewards, but also great sacrifices.

As a young married couple in their 20s just starting out with two children, they often felt the financial crunch. But as pastors, they were more concerned about reaching the lost and building bridges than saving money.

“We didn’t have much, but were busy – planting a church, raising our family and making connections in our community,” said Gilberto. Their home was constantly buzzing with people from all walks of life. On a typical Sunday, service volunteers, church members, troubled teens, missionaries or musicians could be sitting around the dinner table.

In those early years, the South Central Mennonite Conference created a package that helped financially sustain them to fulfill their calling. “One pastoral benefit that we didn’t fully understand at the time was the conference’s regular deposit of money into Mennonite Retirement Trust for our retirement. Even though we didn’t pay much attention to this savings fund during our 15 years as pastors in Robstown, we knew it was somehow important,” said Elizabeth.

They didn’t think much about saving themselves. “When we had two teenagers, all we could think about was surviving on what we had to live on,” said Gilberto. “We continued to invest our time in building relationships with our community, but debt was gradually building up.”

“We started using credit cards to buy school clothes and Christmas gifts. We made the minimum payment on those card accounts. Then we realized how bad it was,” said Elizabeth. She had been a stay-at-home mom and accompanied Gilberto during home visits, but started working part time to help pay bills.

Through those difficult times, Gilberto and Elizabeth trusted God to help them make better choices and pay down debt. “We learned a hard lesson – credit was not the way out. It was always a temporary fix to the problem, but with long-lasting effects. We sacrificed a lot in those years,” Elizabeth said.

With the kids soon off to college, they moved to Florida. Then in their 50s, retirement seemed a lot closer than before. With new jobs at Sunnyside Village, a Mennonite retirement community in Sarasota, they each began contributing to their employer’s 401(k) retirement savings plan. Elizabeth said that as each new raise came, they applied it to their retirement account. This helped them save more than they had ever been able to do before.

Gilberto and Elizabeth have attended numerous seminars about the importance of saving for retirement, investing and giving. They believe these workshops sponsored by Everence motivated them to continue learning how to save money and to make a difference in the lives of others.

Later, as pastors in Immokalee, Florida, in the 90s, Gilberto and Elizabeth were able to financially help a single mother of seven who was going through a rough time. They cared for three of her young children every weekend for a few years. Those three are now adults, but still stay in touch and call them grandma and grandpa. Giving their love, time and resources was an investment that has only deepened their calling and faith.

Nearing retirement, meeting with Everence

After moving back to Sarasota and nearing retirement, Gilberto and Elizabeth started to meet with their Everence representative to review their finances. “He helped us go over our budget, finances and set up periodic meetings to talk before we retired. He asked hard questions and made us really think about the why behind our spending habits,” said Elizabeth.

Every time they walk into their Sarasota Everence office, they feel like family. “The staff know us by our first names and make us feel welcome,” said Gilberto. They have appreciated the time each staff member has taken with them to educate them on money matters.

At a recent annual review meeting, their financial representative asked if they had a will. When they said no, he explained its benefits, and they decided to get one. “We appreciate his help in making that decision,” said Elizabeth.

Now in their early 70s and fully retired, Gilberto and Elizabeth are still active in their local church, volunteer in their community, travel and continue to give in creative ways. Saving money for retirement has helped them continue to serve and live out their faith journey. They both serve in their church as Sunday school teachers, and home Bible study leaders. Elizabeth has served as the Everence advocate at her church for several years. Lee Miller, their Everence Church Relations Representative, has strongly encouraged her in that role.

“I love standing up in front of the congregation to tell them about the programs and benefits Everence has to offer. A couple of years ago, a granddaughter of one of our members was hit by a car and was in a coma. Everence matched our church’s donation to help pay for her care. That was a great testimony of what Everence does for our churches and communities,” said Elizabeth.

With teenage grandchildren now, Elizabeth and Gilberto have advised them to save. “Each of our six grandchildren is different, but we want them to learn to save money, get a good education and prepare for the future so they can be used by God in whatever area he has planned for them,” said Elizabeth.

They also volunteer weekly at the nursing home where Elizabeth used to work, helping residents with activities

On a trip to south Texas a few years ago, Gilberto and Elizabeth encouraged a new church plant to think about moving out of its garage and to build a church. They started sending the congregation an offering for their building fund. Just this year, the church finished its building.

“We know that we were only a small part of the project, but it felt good to know that, because we saved money along the way, we were able to help them,” Gilberto said.

Experiences in their early years taught my parents many hard, but valuable lessons that they still remember today. Over the years, the lessons have shaped them and allowed them to give back to their family, community and others.

Their goal is to bless others with their story. “It’s never too late to save,” said Gilberto.

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