Planting the seeds of a life of giving

Longtime MCC donors reflect upon why, and how, they have answered the call to give through the years.

A group of two adults and seven children pose together, smiling on a wooden play structure in an outdoor setting with trees in the background.

As a seed knows to sprout when it senses the patter of spring rain, the desire to help others can blossom in us at any age and follow us throughout our lives. “Planting the seeds of a life of giving needs to start early in life,” reflects lifelong MCC supporter Marilyn Brown, who has sought to share God’s love with others since her childhood in Ohio. Now that she is retired, she continues to answer that call, helping families in her community and worldwide. Her husband, Bill Brown, likewise heard the call to give back at an early age.  

Here is how the couple, now based in Berea, Kentucky, has answered that call throughout their lives — and how you can, too. 

Youth: Find inspiration from your families

A girl’s Christmas Bundle ready to close in 1962. The materials included in the bundle were socks, sewing materials, soap, a dress, a sweater, and a dollar for handling and shipping. A typical bundle contained clothing, hygiene supplies, a game or toy and other items, wrapped in a towel and fastened with safety pins. (MCC photo)

Marilyn’s grandparents were Mennonite missionaries in India in the early 1900s and her parents were likewise devoted to service.  

Marilyn and her family lived in northern Ohio until she was 8, at which point they moved to Owl Creek, in very rural southern Ohio, to start a Mennonite mission church. These outreach efforts to underserved communities in Appalachian Ohio made a lasting impact on her life. Another of her early memories was helping her mother pack hygiene essentials, clothing and toys into MCC Christmas Bundles. As they worked together, her mother would tell her about the children around the world who would receive the items. “She was a teacher, by profession and her nature,” Marilyn recalls. “She helped me visualize the needs and then internalize the feelings” of empathy for recipients.  

“I thought I’d be a teacher like my mother,” she says. But by young adulthood, she felt called to serve her community in a different way: social work.  

She took a job at a Presbyterian church in eastern Kentucky and later married Bill Brown. His parents had founded several churches in Appalachian coal camps, including the church where she worked. He recalls growing up in this area, amid widespread poverty, as his parents worked to bring and model the love of Christ to those around them. “For both of us, seeing our parents living simple lives of service devoted to those around them had a huge impact on how our lives developed,” he says.    

Parenthood: Give and let give

As Marilyn and Bill raised two sons and a daughter in eastern Kentucky, they remained devoted to giving and serving — and to helping their children do the same.

“God has given me a gift of financial planning,” says Bill. “Not for professional use, but for family.” He taught the children how to budget their allowances, allocating money for donations to churches and charities. And, through the years, he’s used that gift to find creative ways to raise funds for organizations like MCC with his family.

While the children were in elementary school, for instance, he and his wife learned that MCC was helping communities in Latin America build wells. Knowing the challenges that some families in Appalachia faced, water access was an issue close to their hearts. “We were familiar because we lived in places where we did not have clean water,” he explains.  

Your generosity makes a difference

MCC continues to share God's love in keep reading...
MCC continues to share God's love in communities across Appalachia, Latin America and the globe. Your generous donation makes this work possible.

The couple created a wall poster depicting a well descending into an aquifer. As each family member contributed money to a collective fund, Marilyn and Bill would grab a marker and extend the well deeper into the earth. Once they raised enough money, the family depicted the pipe reaching the water with a celebratory splash. The activity helped their children visualize the impact of money sent overseas, without leaving home. 

Retirement: Keep growing your legacy

A family of five adults is seated outdoors, smiling at the camera. They are in front of a wooden play structure, surrounded by trees. The setting suggests a calm, autumn day.
Marilyn and Bill Brown, MCC donors based in Berea, Kentucky, sit on a park bench with their three children, Bill James, Becky and Mike, in 2012. (Photo courtesy of Marilyn and Bill Brown)

Today, Marilyn and Bill are retired. Their three children are grown, giving back to their communities at work and in their free time, and guiding children of their own along their giving journeys.

“We are so pleased with how our children and daughters-in-law are living their lives, giving and sharing with others — and passing that on to the grandchildren. That’s how it works!” Marilyn says.  

Just as they did with their children, the couple has found unique ways to engage their grandchildren in MCC’s work. When the grandchildren were younger, they would work with Marilyn and Bill to assemble MCC kits. Those who were old enough to use a sewing machine would help their grandparents stitch kit bags. The younger ones would add the drawstrings. Then, the grandchildren each chose which kit they wanted to put together, and Marilyn and Bill would take them shopping for the corresponding items.

Later, the couple shifted to selecting gifts for them from the MCC Christmas Giving Guide. They chose gifts based on the individual grandchildren’s interests — from reading to fishing. The family would then discuss how these gifts connected their grandchildren’s interests with the lives of children and teens in other countries. “Conversations about these can help educate children about the world we live in,” says Marilyn.

Seeing our parents living simple lives of service devoted to those around them had a huge impact on how our lives developed.”

Bill Brown

longtime MCC donor

When they’re not showing their grandchildren the value of giving, the couple devotes their time to hosting volunteers and service workers — including those serving with MCC — at their cottage. By asking guests to only donate what (and if) they can, the cottage breaks down a financial barrier some people face when answering the call to serve — finding short-term housing.  

And the couple continues to find creative ways to give. When they became eligible to give through qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) at age 70 ½, they began doing so. “With the tax savings, your money goes a lot further. … We began by giving the least we could that would minimize our taxes but have decided to give much more than that,” says Bill.  

Before Marilyn’s father died, he told the couple of his plans to give all his assets to churches and MCC upon his passing. “He’d taught us well, and he led by example,” the couple remembers. They plan to one day follow suit, giving most of their money to organizations close to their hearts, including MCC. “We include MCC because we feel that MCC is trying to exemplify a Christlike approach to loving and serving and helping people,” says Bill. “We want to be a part of that.” Their children wholeheartedly support the plan. “We have explained to our children that all of our money is the Lord’s and that we only have temporary use of it.”

Lead a lifetime of giving with MCC

While Marilyn and Bill Brown emphasize the benefits of starting to give early in life, they also know that it’s never too late to begin a tradition of generosity. 

From participating in MCC’s young adult programs, to sharing our kid-friendly resources on giving and serving with the children in your life, to exploring planned giving options like QCDs, there are ways to plant seeds and give along every step of your journey of generosity.

Top photo caption: Marilyn and Bill Brown gather with their seven grandchildren in a photo from 2012. (Photo courtesy of Marilyn and Bill Brown)

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