When Dr. Judith Pierre-Okerson passed the Florida United Methodist Foundation’s information table during the Florida Annual Conference one year, she did something she had been wanting to do for years.
With staff at the ready, the South Florida resident opened a Development Fund account.
“I had known about the foundation for a while, but it was hard for me to open an account due to the (travel) distance,” she said. “When I was at annual conference and saw the table, I just did it.”
That was more than 10 years ago, and Pierre-Okerson says she’s glad she finally did. She believes in the principles of the foundation, but she also knows money tucked away there doesn’t sit idle — it goes to work in the conference.
The native of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, said her church, Miramar United Methodist Church, received a $10,000 loan from the fund to hurricane-proof church windows. It also received a loan to repair roof damage. And it’s just one of hundreds of churches that have benefited.
Since its launch, the fund has provided nearly $395 million in low-interest loans to Florida Conference churches and affiliated faith-based agencies. The funds are used for renovation projects, new construction and loan refinancing.
Investors provide the pool of funds for the loans, while earning an interest rate that is often better than what’s offered with bank savings accounts and certificates of deposit.
That’s particularly appealing to Pierre-Okerson.
“I earn more interest on my money there,” she said. “Who wouldn’t want more money?”
Pierre-Okerson has a strategy to make the most of her account. She never withdraws from her funds, and money is automatically transferred from her checking account to her foundation account each month. She plans to start using her Development Fund deposits in about four years when she retires from teaching.
“Saving is a spiritual discipline. … So many people have a lifestyle they cannot afford. We have to be good stewards of what God has given us.” — Dr. Judith Pierre-Okerson
Investing in the fund has also become a family affair. With her encouragement, her niece opened an account. Her sister did, as well — for a yet-to-be-conceived grandchild.
But investing and saving wasn’t something Pierre-Okerson learned while growing up. She said her parents were like millions of Americans, living paycheck-to-paycheck.
“I was in my 20s when I started working and really saving money,” she said. “My parents didn’t have that luxury. … There was no money to save.”
Pierre-Okerson watched her mother, who worked in a factory during the day, accept private sewing jobs in the evenings and weekends for extra money. Her father was a trained construction worker, but rarely found work in his field.
Despite the tough financial times, Pierre-Okerson said there was one area in which the family did not sacrifice spending.
“When I was little, I learned to give to the church,” she said. “I remember putting money in the offering plate. I knew I had to tithe. I knew not to waste any resource God had given me.”
God entrusts people with money, Pierre-Okerson said, but they must use it wisely.
“Saving is a spiritual discipline,” she said. “You will always want more stuff. I have to decide if I need a new pair of shoes or if I want them. I can go to a restaurant and eat, or I can use the groceries I have and cook at home.
So many people have a lifestyle they cannot afford. We have to be good stewards of what God has given us.”
Pierre-Okerson acknowledges that emergencies arise, and she considers herself blessed to be able to make a withdrawal from her bank savings account when needed. That’s possible, in part, because of the safety net her Development Fund account provides.
“I love knowing that if there is something that I need, I don’t have to wait for the next paycheck,” she said. “It gives peace of mind to know the money is there.”
Individuals who would like to open an account may do so online or call 866-363-9673.
Information about getting a loan from the foundation is available at www.fumf.org/church-loans/ or by contacting Andy Craske, vice president of loans and investments, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-904-2970, extension 7104.