A Family's Back-door Ministry of Giving

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The country's economy is affecting charities but giving is still strong. According to the Giving USA Foundation, contributions fell 2 percent last year as Americans gave more than $300 billion.
    
Included in that group is the Green family - the proud owners of the successful Hobby Lobby and Mardel Christian supply stores. The Greens also made headlines after donating millions to rescue Oral Roberts University. Mart Green, the CEO of Mardel Christian and Education Stores, spoke with CBN News on how giving can change countless lives.

When Retail Becomes Ministry 

Today, Hobby Lobby is a thriving arts and crafts retail chain, with 432 stores in 34 states. But that most definitely wasn't the case back in the early 70s. David Green and his family started Hobby Lobby in their living room, with just $600.

"For him, it was always a ministry," said Mart Green in reference to his father's outlook on business.

"He couldn't be a preacher, and grandma wanted six preachers, and he wished he could have been a preacher, but that wasn't his calling," Mart explained. "So he had to go where his gifting was, and he just loved the retail business. It was a way for them to have a business that they could minister, and that was through giving. So my dad's ministry was giving, not preaching."

Mart was 9-years-old, when his dad started Hobby Lobby, but even at that young age, he was learning what it meant to be a businessman.
 
"My dad paid me 7 cents to glue frames," Mart said. "My brother was 7, and he was gluing frames. And so being the older brother, I wanted to glue faster and more so I could buy more baseball cards."

But he couldn't escape the Biblical principles upheld by his dad.

"I always knew that Hobby Lobby was what I call a 'back-door ministry,'" Mart explained. "In other words, if we sell enough product -- we do well -- we can give."

Mart followed in the footsteps of his father, taking the reins of his own company, when he was only 19-years-old, after his dad approached him about Christian bookstores.
 
"I thought, oh man, that would really be great because it could be a 'front door ministry,'" Mart said. "At 19, I wasn't smart enough not to do it. And so, I quit school; came back home. My dad helped me get a loan, and away I went."

And he's not kidding. Currently, there are 32 Mardel Christian stores across six states. Like his dad, Mart's faith in Jesus Christ motivates and sustains him.

"If I can apply God's Word to my life and my situations, then I feel like Christ will be with me, and He has been," said Mart.  

The Faith Principle of Tithing

One of the ways the Greens have applied God's Word in their lives is through tithing, setting aside at least 10 percent of their income for the LORD.

Mart's grandmother, Marie, set a diligent example, even in the face of poverty.

"She paid tithes when you gave her a gift," Mart recalled. "And so that widow's mite impacted my dad, so when my dad was in business, even when the business was very small, was barely making any money, he tithed. And so his principle was if you don't tithe when it's small, you're not going to tithe when it's larger."

He continued, "My dad always taught us that nine was greater than 10, and we all love math. We're like, 'no.' But he was talking about tithing, of course. He says, 'Mart, you can do more with the 90 cents than you can with the dollar.' You can't explain that on paper. There has to be a faith element. Mixing integrity and faith together is what we're trying to do, both as a husband, a father, as well as in the business community."
 
And Mart says tithing is just a starting point for this family of givers. Mixing integrity and faith has really paid off. David Green made Forbes' list of the 400 richest Americans, with a net worth of $1.7 billion. And that bounty is being used to abundantly bless others.

"We definitely believe in that principle of planting our seed, taking the seed that we have, what God's given us," Mart said. "He didn't give us that seed to just carry around with us. It's to plant that seed. Our giving has been directed by the LORD."  

Oral Roberts University

And the LORD directed them, the Greens believe, to plant seed in the fertile ground of Oral Roberts University, with its mission to send Christian graduates into every person's world -- even though the family had no direct connection with ORU. The debt-laden school was in danger of closing its doors.

"My father, he was just reading the paper, and he just started grieving over 3,000 students because when you were reading the paper, the news was getting pretty dire," Mart explained. "And like what if ORU wasn't there next year? And so my dad just lost sleep over that. Again, we just said, 'LORD, we're willing, and if You want us to give,' and it's been an incredible journey over these last 18 months."

In a little over a year and a half, ORU'S debt miraculously, has dropped from $55 million to just under $720,000, because of donations from the Green family as well as alumni and friends of ORU. Altogether, the Greens have given to the university more than $80 million. 

Set foot on the campus, and you'll see all kinds of positive, tangible changes. Founder Oral Roberts has given the new ORU, with its capital improvements and governing changes, his blessing.

"We don't give to get back, but God increases us back, and we get a chance to plant more seed, to bless more people," Mart said. "At ORU obviously, it's not about buildings. It's not about debt. We didn't give to debt. We gave to young people's lives, who could go out and change the world for the LORD, for Jesus Christ."

*Originally aired August 17, 2009

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Mark Martin

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Mark Martin is a reporter and anchor at CBN News, covering various issues from military matters to alternative fuels. Mark has reported internationally in the Middle East and traveled to Bahrain to cover stories on the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkMartinCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/MarkMartinCBN.