Stolen penny jar means no small change for Wisconsin congregation

It started out as a simple idea. Members of Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Madison, Wis., decided to use The Penny Project as a hands-on way to teach children of the church a lesson in compassion, giving, and loving their neighbor. It was to be a small, coordinated effort where the smallest members of the church would collect our nation’s smallest coins into the smallest of jars as an offering to learn a small biblical lesson.

There was just one problem. God has a tendency to take small steps of faith and turn them into big leaps of spiritual growth. So when Mt. Zion took its small steps, God took a leap.

At the end of February, Penny Project co-coordinators Melva Bishop and Jackie Colbert distributed old prescription bottles (with labels removed) to members of the children’s choir and asked them to collect enough pennies to fill their bottles. Every week for the next three months, the children came forward during worship to pour their pennies into an empty water cooler jug, eventually filling the jar to the top of the nozzle and tipping the scales at about 150 pounds.

“It was such a beautiful site to see all the children coming forward and pouring their pennies into the offering,” says Colbert. “It was a blessing to see how it affected the adults as well.”

Originally, Bishop and Colbert planned to meet with the children on the first Saturday in May to end the campaign and have the children decide on a group to receive the collected funds. But since the choir doesn’t meet on the first Saturday of the month, they decided to wait until the following week. Then, that Tuesday, the penny jar was stolen.

“I was disappointed because we had raised a lot of money,” says 10-year-old Ciara Hart. “But I know that bad things happen and then sometimes good things happen and that God always fixes it.”

Somehow, the local newspaper picked up the story, and one-by-one area businesses started contacting the church to see if they could include penny jars in their locations. Community members outside the church have started collections and, of course, Mt. Zion’s children are still going strong.

“What the enemy meant for bad, the Lord has used to bless us―I’m hoping tenfold,” says Colbert. “We already have one container filled and we are working on another one.”

Adult members of the church are praying for the individual who took the original penny jar. That person—who has since come forward and confessed (Colbert believes as a result of the congregation’s prayers)—is receiving help from the church with various needs.

God used The Penny Project not only to teach a lesson in giving to the congregation’s children, but also as outreach to the Madison, Wis., community, as a lesson in prayer, an opportunity for forgiveness and an experience in mercy. And it’s not over yet.

“I will remember the power of God’s spirit and movement upon individuals,” Colbert says. “God moved the heart of the person who took the jar; God moved the heart of the children and inspired the adults; God’s spirit spread through the church and out into the community…God’s spirit can conquer anything.”

Even when all God has to work with is just a little penny.