Givers

A father’s journey: From chasing commissions to pursuing purpose

“Dad feel my chest,” Luke Slaughter said to his father, Mark. Something was wrong. Only a few hours later, Mark would make a promise to God that changed his life and would eventually empower a new kind of generosity among the medical community he worked with.

Mark remembers the exact date (September 15, 2011) and how long it took to get his 11-year-old son from the football field to the emergency room (10 minutes). But the most alarming number he remembers from that day is 245. That was Luke’s pulse when they got there.

Mark worked with doctors every day, even in operating rooms, but he was not prepared for this. He sat in the emergency room waiting for three hours while they tried everything they could to get Luke’s heart to beat normally. He sat helpless as doctors decided to “flatline” his son. “It was a long eight seconds,” Mark says.

But Luke’s heart rate eventually came back down.

You can look in a medical textbook and see that every person’s heart has two nodes that balance the electrical system that keeps the heart beating. But if you had been able to see inside Luke’s heart that day, you would have seen that Luke had three. His heart was confused.

After the surgery, Luke is healthy and athletic.

Cutting deals

After heart surgery and ablation at the hospital a week later, Luke was fine. In fact, he’s so healthy and physically fit now, at 19, they call him “Tarzan.”

But during that time in the hospital, Mark didn’t know his son would be fine. Mark worked in medical device sales, and he says he wasn’t sure if he was engaging in committed prayer or cutting deals with God. “You could call it either one,” he says. 

“I had spent my life in the pursuit of money. Nearly everything changed that day.” He made a promise to God: “If you will give my son back, I will serve you.”

Mark was already a Christian, but this was a wakeup call. Within three months, he quit his job in medical sales and started thinking about how he would keep the promise he had made. He would do mission work, or build children’s hospitals, something that meant more than money and would get him out of that industry. 

The business Mark knew was selling screws and rods and disc replacements for spine-fusion surgeries, the parts that hold everything in place after the work of the surgeon is finished. It was a good living, but it was too much about “chasing green paper,” he says, “and too transactional.”

The God who had saved Luke’s life was now saving Mark from a career that had fostered a love of money.

“I was so tired of that game of chasing commissions,” Mark says. “Then Luke happened, and I was already a little burned out. No one ever tried harder to get out of that industry than me.” 

But, Mark says, “the harder I tried, the deeper I kept getting pushed back into it.” And he needed to provide for his family.

He’d been reading in Luke 6, and this verse grabbed his attention: “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your lap. For with the same measure that you measure it shall be measured to you again” (KJV 2000).

He started thinking, “What if shall actually meant shall?” What if he trusted his business to God instead of operating on commissions? He could work in the same industry, but he would trust God by making his business all about giving.

Rethinking the business

So Mark started his own medical sales company, “On-Belay,” (which means “One secured by another”). Somehow, he would use this new business to fund ministry, and to ensure others had an opportunity to give. He would keep his promise to God by putting profits into a foundation, or he would start a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. He set it up as best as he could think to do, but it wasn’t working.  “We were losing money like it was a contest we were determined to win,” Mark says.

In the middle of all of this, his wife and daughter told him they wanted to go on a mission trip to Africa. How would he get the money to help them go? 

The man leading the mission trip had been to Uganda 25 times, and Mark was intrigued. He wanted to meet this guy. So the mission leader – David Ragland, who happened to work for the National Christian Foundation – took Mark out to lunch. He listened as Mark explained his plan to honor God through his business. 

“Mark,” David said, “I love what you’re trying to do, but it will never work. You’re going to have to give away your company.”

Dr. Tim McHenry is a critical part of On-Belay’s spine team.

Mark learned that he could give a portion of his company to NCF. Until that portion of the company is sold, NCF receives that portion of the company’s profits and puts those profits into a Giving Fund (donor-advised fund) each month. Eventually, when that portion of the company owned by NCF is sold, the resulting proceeds will also be placed into the Giving Fund. From the Fund, the profits can flow to charities, missions, churches, or other nonprofits. Learn more about our charitable shareholder strategy.

Finally, Mark could serve God as he had hoped.

At this point, the company didn’t have a lot of profit. In a desperate attempt to get On-Belay some attention, Mark borrowed money to become the title sponsor of a cystic fibrosis fundraiser. It paid off. At the event, he met a neurosurgeon, Dr. Josh Miller, who was excited about Mark’s idea. Dr. Miller would become his first surgeon customer to join in giving.

On-Belay supplied Dr. Miller with the implants he needed for his spinal surgeries, allowing him to choose the supplies he needed instead of Mark pushing a particular product. And what, earlier, would have been commissions became charitable dollars instead. Mark invited Dr. Miller to help recommend where those dollars were granted.

Other surgeons were drawn to the idea of generosity, and the business took off.

Mark is not a salesman anymore. And members of his staff don’t take commissions. Instead, they work with 30 different companies to find the best products for each of the 20-plus surgeons they now serve. “God’s plan of economics has made us the most positive, disruptive model this industry has maybe ever seen,” Mark says.  And it’s providing an opportunity for other people to be generous too.

One month, Dr. Miller decided he would measure the societal impact of his work with On-Belay. He counted 1,300 meals, more than 425 overnight stays at a homeless shelter, and safe water for 50 people in Uganda. Another doctor, thrilled with this new way to be generous, recently passed the $100,000 mark in his giving. About 20 other doctors have joined in giving with On-Belay.

And the mission work Mark thought he might do? After his own first trip to Uganda, Mark found his way into operating rooms in that country and now leads three medical mission trips each year. The manufacturers he works with have joined in the generosity by donating medical supplies, and the surgeons he serves (including one Ugandan surgeon who came to the U.S. at the age of eight and works in Sacramento) often join him on mission to volunteer their services, teaching and performing spine surgery.

Mark Slaughter with his family

“I have the coolest job in America,” Mark says. But better than his job is the life he now has with his whole family, including the son he almost lost. “I see him almost every day. He is incredibly fit, incredibly athletic, and he’s one of the nicest people I know. Every day, when he walks by me, I see a physical example of God’s grace.” 

Photos at top: (Left) Dr. Michael Wattenbarger, On-Belay Missions chief medical officer and pediatric spine surgeon at Shriners Children’s Hospital, Greenville South Carolina; (Center) Luke after his heart was stabilized; (Right) Mark Slaughter with some Ugandan friends.

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