Givers

Stephanie and Andrew Cantrell: Hearts for Haiti, house for sale

Stephanie and Andrew Cantrell were nearly empty nesters in 2017 when both felt God calling them to make a bold and generous decision. Stephanie had just returned from a mission trip to Haiti with one of their daughters, and a connection had been made that she and Andrew knew was about to impact their life plans.

This wasn’t Stephanie’s first mission trip. She’d been leading trips for years and had visited other countries. But this one was different. They had just served at Mission of Hope, a ministry in Haiti whose mission – to build healthy people, healthy churches, healthy schools, and healthy economies – has resulted in a program which feeds 91,000 children a day, works with 129,000 kids in local schools, has been building homes since the catastrophic 2010 earthquake, and leads people to Jesus through local churches.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” Stephanie says. “Our future was going to be connected somehow to this organization. I just felt very strongly about that.”

“Our future was going to be connected somehow to this organization. I just felt very strongly about that.”

Andrew hadn’t gone on the trip. In fact, he’d never been to Mission of Hope at all. Still, he too believed it was going to be part of their long-term plans.

The family was mission-minded, and Andrew had been on other mission trips with their daughters. But he recognized that this was a different time. Their family had been blessed, and he wanted to have an impact now, especially as their children were moving on to adulthood.

The couple started asking themselves questions: “Where are we investing our time? What are we doing with our resources?” They questioned whether what they were doing with their giving was really having an eternal impact.

The couple started asking themselves questions: “Where are we investing our time? What are we doing with our resources?”

Counting on giving

Two years later, Mission of Hope invited the couple to a summit for donors. By this time, they’d already taken steps to get involved with the ministry. They had met with some of the leadership and asked questions about plans and how resources were used. They went into this donor event informed and fully intending to make a gift. But they hadn’t decided how much.

“Steph and I had not talked about what that number would look like or what we were going to do,” Andrew says.

“We knew we were going to the summit, and we knew we’d leave there having invested financially on some level. We were prepared for that, but we had not talked numbers at all,” Stephanie says. Three days later, as the event was drawing to a close, they still hadn’t discussed an amount, so they decided to go outside to talk.

They sat in rocking chairs on the porch outside, still feeling very strongly about investing in the ministry. But they didn’t view themselves as wealthy, like other people who gave at events like this one. Yes, God had blessed them, but this was going to be a sacrifice.

The Cantrells are a blended family. Their marriage was still somewhat new at the time, and though their giving had gone beyond faithful tithing, they had never done anything like this together before, and both felt reluctant to verbalize a number.

It was as if they had a set of thought bubbles over their heads as they rocked on that porch. “I didn’t want to put something out there and have him be like, ‘What!? That’s crazy!’” Stephanie says. Andrew says he didn’t want to offer a number and have his wife think, “Well, that’s cheap.”

So they said “Okay, let’s do it.” They would pray together and then type a number into the notes app on their phones. They’d count to three and then hold them up to show the number. Neither expected their amounts would be in the same ballpark, but “at least it would give us a starting point for a discussion,” Stephanie says.

So Andrew typed a number in his phone that he thought was manageable but “a solid number we could actually be proud of,” he says. Stephanie was thinking about sacrificial giving. For her, it needed to be “something … that requires you to really rely on the Lord to do it.”

Once they’d each typed in their numbers, they counted, 1 … 2 … 3. When they held up their phones, they had both typed in exactly the same number. They looked at each other and wept.

“It became a turning point in our marriage,” Stephanie says. “There was this moment that we knew. The struggles of blending a family and all the struggles that come with that…. We knew in that moment, more than ever, that the Lord was in our midst, and he was directing us. He was leading and putting us on the same page.”

“It was a marriage maker,” Andrew says. “It put us squarely in the middle of knowing Jesus was a part of our lives. We were here together, and there was something bigger than us.” It was confirmation that they could trust the Lord to lead them well and right, Andrew says. It was a powerful, bonding moment.

“It was a marriage maker,” Andrew says. “It put us squarely in the middle of knowing Jesus was a part of our lives. We were here together, and there was something bigger than us.”

One of Mission of Hope’s initiatives is to partner with other organizations to build villages of quake-resistant houses.

One of Mission of Hope’s initiatives is to partner with other organizations to build villages of quake-resistant houses.

Counting the cost, and then some

Then there was shock.

“It was not a small number for us, way more than a tithes and offering percentage,” Stephanie says. But after that moment of bonding, they looked at each other once more and said, “If it was that easy to get that number, we need to double it.”

They were in such agreement that neither one can remember who said it first. “We just landed there,” Stephanie says.

At this point, Andrew still hadn’t been to Haiti. Yet they were sure. They got up and went inside to tell the Mission of Hope team. They said, “We want to tell you that this is what we’re committing to, but we need prayer. We’re not really sure how it’s going to happen, but we know the Lord is going to allow us to do it.”

As soon as they said this, “there were no dry eyes in the room,” Stephanie says. It became an even more emotional moment when they were told that it was the largest individual donation the mission had ever received.

“In my mind, I was thinking they had people doing this all the time,” Stephanie says. But this was a big deal for Mission of Hope.

“So now we’ve made this commitment, now what?” Andrew asked. He talked with his friend, Jay Richardson, Development VP at Mission of Hope, about what they were going to be able to give. “I was intrigued by asset-based giving,” Andrew says. So Jay introduced him to Ryan Assunto at the National Christian Foundation’s Austin office, near where they lived.

Ryan helped the Cantrells think through the assets they had to give and explained the benefits of giving an asset before the sale.

“I didn’t want to pay a bunch of taxes and the money not go to Haiti,” Andrew says. “I asked him, “’How do I make more go to Haiti?’”

They determined that the best asset the Cantrells could give was a single-family house the couple rented out for extra income. But this is where the “sacrificial” part of their giving comes in, Stephanie explains. The rental property was their retirement backup plan. Still, they trusted the Lord was leading them and gifted the property to NCF.

Before the house sold in 2018, they had already given a portion of their commitment by selling some appreciated stocks. So when the house sold in early 2019, all of the proceeds from the sale went into their Giving Fund at NCF, and they completed their commitment to Mission of Hope early.

But there was still a chunk of money in their Fund.

Giving more

Ryan had told Andrew (and Andrew hadn’t forgotten), “If you believe that God owns it all, then the question is not how much you’re giving to the kingdom. It’s how much of the King’s money you’re keeping for yourself.”

Andrew says having a Giving Fund has helped them open doors and give in different areas in a way that can have the most impact. So now, when an opportunity comes up, “We’re not getting caught up in the decision of, ‘I don’t know, we’re really tight right now.'” The money is already designated.

When friends are going on missions trips, they’re prepared. “We have a Fund for that,” Stephanie says. “We know it’s already designated for giving. So when we get an opportunity [to give], it’s easy.”

The couple says the most challenging thing now is to keep giving sacrificially into their Fund. What’s not difficult is continuing to stay involved in the ministry they love. Stephanie now serves on the Mission of Hope team, creating jobs and providing job training for Haitian artisans, and one of their daughters just completed an internship there.

Meanwhile, there’s a new multi-purpose building and a new soccer field in Haiti that the Cantrell family will always be a part of because when God impacted their life plans, and even their backup plan, they chose to give generously for a cause they loved.

Photos: Mission of Hope (top) Engineering News-Record (cover)

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