Mission group wraps it up

Published 8:33 am Monday, November 22, 2010

Dale Madison, who with his wife Shirley head Missionary Fellowship, Inc. speaks Saturday afternoon during the group's final meeting at the Mower County Senior Center. -- Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

After raising more than $3.5 million for mission work over the past 55 years, a local group called it quits Saturday.

Missionary Fellowship Inc. held its last meeting on Saturday. More than 30 people attended the last meeting for the group which got its start in Mower County.

“I don’t think we ever started out saying we’re going raise $3.5 million. That was never it,” said Dale Madison, Brownsdale, who has run Missionary Fellowship with his wife, Shirley, for more than a decade. “It was really a story of a few people who loved the Lord, who were meeting together for a little fellowship and then giving some of their income to fill a ‘chuckhole’ or a need on a mission trip.”

Dick Ozment of Farmington looks over pictures from past meetings of Missionary Fellowship, Inc. before the groups final meeting Saturday at the Mower County Senior Center. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Email newsletter signup

Van and Sterling Krause began Missionary Fellowship after the two met with missionaries from Jamaica and decided to help meet their needs.

The group started meeting monthly in the Krauses’ living room with a goal of raising $100 each meeting. Each month, a missionary spoke to the group about a need or a “chuckhole” to fill.

“They’d tell us about a project, and we’d raise the money to help with that,” Dale said.

Meetings always ended with a doxology and an announcement of how much money had been raised. Each family attending would bring a food dish for a potluck. A typical meeting lasted an hour and half.

At the group’s peak, more than 40 people attended monthly meetings in Krauses’ living room.

Missionary Fellowship didn’t associate itself with specific churches, ministers or missionaries. In fact, most of the members worked normal jobs. The Krauses owned a turkey farm, and Dale was president of Farmers and Merchants Bank in Brownsdale.

Van wrote a book about the club’s efforts called “The Million Dollar Living Room.” When the book was published in 1986, they’d raised $1 million — 31 years to raise $1 million and about 24 years to raise $2.4 million.

If Missionary Fellowship had raised only $100 each month, the group would have raised about $66,000. However, the group ended at about $3.5 million, which went entirely to mission work.

“Everything that comes in goes out,” Dale said. “We don’t take any expenses out of that money.”

After Van and Sterling died, Dale and Shirley began running the group, and meetings shifted to the Mower County Senior Center.

While Missionary fellowship started in Mower County, about three satellite groups sprung up as far away as Canada and California, though those have all ceased operations.

Richard Nichol started Missionary Care Fellowship in San Bernardino, Calif. He’d met Van and Sterling at a conference.

He started a satellite group with his wife, Delores, after their church got a new pastor who was not big into supporting missionaries.

Nichol drove from his current home in Springfield, Mo., to attend the meeting.

At its peak, 55 people participated in the San Bernardino group.

“We had a lot of great times,” he said.

The group met for 13 years until Delores died of cancer. The group heard from 144 missionaries and raised $138,000.

Nichol even said some of the churches didn’t like the group because many people thought the group was taking money that would have gone to the churches.

Money wasn’t just raised at the meetings, as a mailing list used to be sent out to about 90 families — now about 50. With many of the members unable to travel, much of the money is mailed in from as far away as Colorado.

Some of the people who Missionary Fellowship has helped over the years attended the meeting. Dan Woodbury, a representative with non-profit publisher David C. Cook, was the last speaker at the meeting. David C. Cook will use the money spent at the last meeting on Biblical resources for children in India.

“These people have been consistently giving back for 55 years,” Woodbury said. “That’s a long, long time.”

Woodbury said the group’s spirit of giving has been fun to work with.

Retired missionaries Bill and Pat Arvin first spoke at a Missionary Fellowship meeting in 1959 seeking $1,200 for a staff building at a school in the Philippines.

The building is still standing today, and Bill said the many causes Missionary Fellowship helped will continue making a difference even though the group is done.

“This is the vision that you started 55 years ago. … It’s time that it can’t continue, but it’ll go on — all the money that you’ve given, all the prayers that you’ve sent go on. It’s going on,” Bill said.

Despite decades of services, Dale said the time was right to bring the group to an end. Many of the groups members have died, and Shirley noted many others are in their 90s.

Along with the aging of the core members, Missionary Fellowship has struggled to attract young members. Dale noted the culture has changed regarding mission work. Many churches support missionaries through church donations. Today, Dale noted young are more likely to raise money for a youth group to travel somewhere to complete a mission project.

“We’ve had trouble recruiting newer, younger people to be involved,” Dale said.

“Our numbers have dwindled,” Shirley added.

Dale and Shirley announced their intentions to end the group about a year ago.

“It’s (been) a long time,” Dale said. “We’re getting older, too. It’s time to hang it up before they have to carry us out of there.”

“We just continue to praise the Lord that we’ve been able to see this group go for 55 years, and to be involved and serve in this way,” Shirley said.

As Missionary Fellowship has neared its final meeting, Dale said they’ve realized it’s the last time they will see many of the missionaries they’ve come to know over the last half century.

“We have mixed emotions about it,” Dale said. “We’ve made some wonderful friends over the years — and wonderful friends who are missionaries from all over the place. We’re going to miss seeing them.”

Shirley said the Missionary Fellowship members will redirect their dollars to other missionaries and causes.