One of the University Ministries team’s hopes for students’ time at Belmont is that they will begin to consider how their Christian faith will shape all aspects of their lives – their work, their family, their hobbies and even their finances. Each year, the team launches the “Living a Better Story” initiative to encourage students to steward their financial resources for the good of their neighbors.
At the end of chapel earlier this semester, almost 1,000 students received an envelope with an information card and a $10 bill, provided by an anonymous donor. The students were then invited to think about ways they could use their small stories, day-by-day, to be a part of God’s work. They thought about how to “pay it forward” or how they could multiply their money, such as using the $10 for bake sale ingredients and donating the profits.
University Minister Heather Daugherty said Living a Better Story helps students learn how to be generous with a small amount of money. “We hope that what you receive today becomes something that shows you what it means to live your life with open hands, to give your gifts to others and to be a part of God’s restoring and redeeming work in the world,” she said.
Each year the program’s outcome looks a little different. One year, a student used his or her money to buy face paint supplies and painted faces at the park. The student continued to reinvest in supplies and ended up raising a good bit of money to donate to his or her chosen organization.
The initiative gives students the chance to practice stewardship. Assistant Director of Spiritual Formation Josh TenHaken-Riedel said, “While the focus is on stewarding our money, I hope more than anything that students come to see that all we have, not just our money, is a gift from God. We are invited to use our gifts to bless, serve and love others. Hopefully this program prompts them to consider the gifts God has given them and who they are called to love more intentionally.”
This year, one student decided to gift the money to someone who has made an impact on her life, even if in a small way. Every day on her way to the gym, she drives past a joyful man named Shawn who sells “The Contributor” newspaper. She explained that he always greets her with a smile, a thumbs up or a wave and a “God Bless You,” but she has never seen anyone buy a newspaper from him or ask him how he is doing.
“Shawn is a constant reminder to me of the simplicity of joy. Standing on a street corner in the blistering Nashville heat of August, he somehow manages to continuously radiate positivity and gratitude. His undying eagerness and constant friendly presence is something that makes me smile just thinking about it,” said junior Katie McAdams. “I was longing to make an impact with this money and help someone in need. During my drive to the gym that very next day, I saw Shawn smiling at me through my windshield.”
The student knew how she wanted to reinvest her money the moment she saw him that day. She parked her car down the road and walked over to see Shawn. She told him how his kindness and positivity had made her day time and time again. She bought one of his $2 newspapers and asked that he keep the change.
“In awe of his impact and the donation, Shawn hugged me and thanked me for stopping to share that with him,” she said. “Shawn lives his life from love and is fervently grateful for all things and shows incredible joy to all those who have the privilege to meet him. Through this experience, I’ve found that living a better story doesn’t require a mission trip to Africa or volunteering in a soup kitchen, although those are wonderful activities to take part in. It’s amazing to see how God works through us to make an impact in ways that we don’t understand.”