- January 10, 2018
At Mosaic Church in Winter Garden, members know they’re not just recipients of God’s grace — they’re also participants in it.
And as 2020 arrives, the church is participating in its “first give” of the new year by wiping out the medical debt of 2,000 families — about $2.7 million — in Winter Garden.
A while back, Mosaic Lead Pastor Renaut van der Riet read an article about a church paying off at least a million dollars in its local families’ medical debt.
That was around Christmastime last year, and van der Riet remembers reading that the church used its marketing budget to do so.
“I remember the idea was they said they took their marketing budget for Christmas and instead of marketing for Christmas, they paid off this incredible amount of debt,” he said. “And my thought was, ‘Their marketing budget is like $1.7 million — that’s insane!’ When I did a little more digging I found out that no, there is this process by which this debt company buys this debt ... and what it takes to pay off the debt is pennies on the dollar.”
Just a few months ago, van der Riet saw another article about a different church doing the same thing. That’s when he asked Executive Pastor Phil Taylor and Executive Pastor of Operations Terry Geter to look into what it takes to do such a thing.
“To be able to impact a family that got into debt in circumstances they didn’t bring upon themselves … to remove that debt from them, that would just be the most exceptionally freeing thing I can imagine,” van der Riet said. “That is what God essentially communicates in the Bible that he has done for us — that we have a debt we cannot pay because of who we are as humans. And he paid that debt for us with no strings attached.”
However, it won’t cost Mosaic the full $2.7 million to pay off all of the debt. That’s because Mosaic is working with a company called RIP Medical Debt, a company that uses donations to buy bundles of medical debt and then forgive that debt with no tax consequences to donors or recipients.
“We asked the company and they came to us and said, ‘There’s $2.7 million of debt in Winter Garden that we have access to, which is 2,000 families,’” van der Riet said. “They said to pay that debt off would cost $27,000. For us … $27,000 wasn’t necessarily as large a number to pull from the budget as we were thinking. When we started asking how much of this do we pay off, we kind of concluded, ‘Let’s be generous and pay it all off, why not?’
“This particular act is such a biblically grounded display of what God’s love for us really does look like and from a practical standpoint, it’s an extraordinary stewardship,” he said. “You take a few thousand dollars and you get a few million dollars of impact. That’s mind-blowing to me.”
What’s more is that church officials don’t — and likely won’t ever — know the people whose debt will be forgiven. They don’t get a list of the families whose debts will be paid. All they know is that in January and February, letters will go out to the 2,000 families letting them know that Mosaic Church paid off their debt.
That’s the joy in the generosity, van der Riet said, because there are no strings attached — just like with God’s grace.
“We’re always looking for ways to serve our community in ways that actually matter,” Taylor said. “It’s easy to do things that maybe have a short-term impact … but this is a way that really matters. If you’ve found yourself in medical debt, this is a thing that actually matters to you in that moment, and that’s just huge.”
However, while being able to pay off millions of dollars in medical debt for local families is huge, it’s also just a piece of what Mosaic does year round.
The $27,000 needed to pay off the debt is an extra pull from the church’s budget, but van der Riet said throughout the year, thousands of dollars are spent on other local and global initiatives.
“We work with nonprofits, we sponsor children around the world that are orphans, we do a tremendous amount,” he said. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars of our budget goes out the walls of this church and has no bearing on making us a better place. This is one teeny, tiny piece, and our church knows that. This is just another awesome way, but it’s such a practical, personal, ‘right here’ way. I do think everyone’s excited because of the stewardship of this; a few thousand dollars produces the impact of a few million dollars.”
Whether it be through financial contributions, mission trips or volunteer work, Mosaic is focused on encouraging its members to not just be recipients of God’s grace but also active participants in it.
And now, van der Riet said, he hopes to encourage other churches and organizations in the community to be inspired by Mosaic’s “First Give” — just as he was inspired by the two articles he read — and act on it in their own ways.
“We hope our story sets people free, no doubt, but we also hope our story inspires other churches to do the same,” van der Riet said. “When you pay off someone’s debt like this that’s medically induced, if you will, you set them free to re-engage in the community in a whole new way.”