A megachurch in Dallas, Texas, paid to erase more than $10 million in medical debt for 4,229 local families in lieu of promoting its Easter services this year. During his Easter sermon, the pastor directly connected this act of charity and forgiveness to the redemption found in Jesus Christ.
“In years past, we’ve spent a lot of money promoting Easter and inviting people to Easter,” Stephen Hayes, pastor of Covenant Church in Carrollton, said in his sermon April 1. He suggested that much of the mail advertising Easter gets thrown out. “How many of you throw all of your junk mail away? What if we send a different kind of mail this year?”
This mail would give people hope, and they would not be able to throw it away, Hayes suggested. “What if we bought up some of this medical debt, and wrote on there, ‘We’re Covenant Church and we’re local in this area and if we can serve you in any way, we’d love to be your church. But even if we never get to meet you, just know that God loves you’?”
Last week, 4,229 local families received these letters in the mail, courtesy of Covenant Church and RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit organization that locates, buys, and forgives medical debt across America. Hayes said the church had about $100,000 extra money in its “benevolence fund” because parishioners “gave above and beyond.”
Thanks to this effort, Hayes announced, “There is no veteran in our radius where we minister that will have debt from this day forward. It’s already paid!” This debt forgiveness also goes “above and beyond,” and it provided a good analogy to the forgiveness of God found in Jesus Christ, the pastor said.
“Not only is it 4,229 families, not only is the debt gone and paid, but also any negative impact that debt had on their credit history is wiped clean,” Hayes said. He compared this forgiveness to Isaiah 53:5, where Isaiah the prophet describes the death of Jesus: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”
The pastor asked, “Why does he go from past to present” tense? “It’s because what Jesus did in that moment isn’t just in your past or maybe your future, the healing he died to provide you — the salvation — is always in the present.”
“What Jesus said on the cross, ‘It is finished,’ John 19:30, that’s your letter in the mail,” Hayes declared. “If you can imagine what those people this week will be feeling when they receive the letter you sent them, their debt’s paid, I pray a hundred-fold times that, you feel in reading the letter [God] wrote to you in the book of John chapter 19, verse 30.”
“Your debt, the sin, is paid. You’re covered,” the pastor said. “How do we not respond? How do I not want to send letters to others and say, ‘I received it, would you consider receiving it, too?'”
Hayes went on to invite everyone in the audience to accept the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. He cited Romans 10:9, saying, “When you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth, you are saved.”
In a statement to The Stream, Hayes explained that his family’s personal experience with medical debt inspired him to lead his church in this effort. A car struck Hayes while he was crossing the street at 17 years old. His parents, Dr. Mike and Kathy Hayes, who founded the church in 1975, stayed at his hospital bedside, praying constantly for him for 12 days while their son was in a coma. He awoke on the 12th day, but the family still struggled with a debilitating amount of medical debt.
“My family has known the crushing weight that can come with medical debt,” Hayes told The Stream’s Josh Shepherd. “I felt strongly that the ability to buy it for just one penny on the dollar was not just a great opportunity, but also an act of good stewardship.”
“We want to show the community we care — because we actually do!” the pastor added. “For those that are in our communities, if we show them what it means to be a Christian before they ever step foot in one of our churches, we believe that will have a greater impact than trying to show them afterwards.”
Christians believe acts of charity like this might open the eyes and move the hearts of nonbelievers, suggesting that there is something truly different about disciples of Jesus Christ. Jesus also told His followers to pray and do good deeds for their neighbors — including their enemies.
In addition to charitable acts like this, Covenant Church runs “Project Life,” a program to “help people walk in freedom from life’s hurts.” Project Life has specific programs for general “hurts, habits, or hang-ups,” for recovery after abortion, for those struggling with divorce, for addiction, and for the grief of losing a loved one.
The church has also launched a multi-racial outreach program called “hue-manity,” emphasizing the spiritual equality of all people, and embracing all who accept Jesus into the family of God, regardless of race.
Watch Pastor Hayes’s sermon below.