Change Makers

Oregon couple sells dream house to serve the poor

A Portland couple sold their dream house to donate nearly $500,000 to those in need, then established a new church in a low income neighborhood.

The brand new craftsman-style house was beautiful, nestled in an upscale Portland, Oregon, neighborhood. For months, Jeff and Kari Patterson pored over every detail of its construction and visited the site almost every day, imagining life in their dream house. After they moved in, the young couple finalized the color scheme and completed the landscaping, which featured an outdoor playhouse for their two children, Dutch, 6, and Heidi, 4.

Just when the finishing touches were in place, the Pattersons read “The Hole in Our Gospel” by World Vision U.S. President Richard Stearns. In the book, Rich describes abandoning his role as a corporate CEO and foregoing the prestige and financial trappings of corporate life to answer God’s call to serve the poorest of the poor.

The book’s message was not entirely new for the Pattersons. Apart from the house, the couple had always lived modestly so they could give generously. But the more Kari meditated on the book, the more convinced she became that their giving was not enough. In “The Hole in Our Gospel,” Rich recounts God asking Moses to throw down his staff, which instantly becomes a snake. “All of us have something God can use,” Rich writes. “The question is whether we will offer whatever stick we have to his service.”

For Kari, there was no doubt about the answer. Much of the couple’s income was tied up in mortgage payments. Kari reasoned that the money might be more profitably directed toward people who don’t have enough to eat.

Coincidentally, her husband, Jeff — the associate pastor of a local church — was thinking the same thing. One week after finishing “The Hole in Our Gospel,” and one year after moving into their dream house, Jeff and Kari put their home on the market. The idea was to move into more modest accommodations and, over time, allow them to donate as much as $500,000 to those in need.

From dreamy to dumpy

Exactly a year later, the house sold. The Pattersons first moved into what they describe as a “dumpy” rental property but more recently bought a modest home in a much less affluent neighborhood. It meant losing almost 1,000 square feet of living space, air conditioning, and a master bedroom with a lavish en suite bathroom. Jeff and Kari now share a bathroom with the kids. On the upside, downsizing slashed their mortgage payments by 75% and allowed the couple to donate a quarter of their income. They hope to increase their giving to half their income.

Kari considers the move the best decision they’ve ever made. It was as though someone had “turned on a faucet” for them to receive more from God. “I definitely felt a greater sense of his pleasure, his love, and his provision. I do believe that when we act in obedience, he blesses,” she says.

Scripture too became more compelling: “When God speaks of the poor, and he speaks of his heart for the widow and the orphan and the downtrodden and the alien — all those things began to come alive,” Kari says.

The Pattersons also discovered new freedoms, such as being released from the demands of their former residents’ association, which monitored how they took care of their trash and how green their lawn was. “It just felt like we were draining our lives trying to keep up appearances and fit into this world,” says Kari. “Then, all of a sudden, we realized we did not want to fit into this world.”

It just felt like we were draining our lives trying to keep up appearances and fit into this world.—Kari Patterson

After selling the house, Jeff felt God prompting him to establish a new church in a low-income neighborhood. The family’s income dropped by two-thirds, but, with no pressure to maintain high mortgage payments, that wasn’t a problem.

Jeff is convinced that had they stayed in their dream house, they could not have considered a call to plant a new church for years. Moreover, he feels that living in a humbler dwelling helps the family achieve a greater sense of communion with those of equally modest means, whom they now serve.

Even so, the reaction from fellow Christians is not all favorable. Some said they were passing judgment on people who live in nice houses. Kari disagrees. She stresses that just because God told her to give up her home does not mean he is asking the same of everybody. “My story is different from your story,” she says. “Everyone is in a different place. We have two cars that are paid off, but he might tell someone else to sell their second car.”

Nor does Kari think that it is wrong to enjoy nice things — pointing to the biblical example of the woman who poured an expensive jar of perfume over Jesus’ head. She notes that shortly after the family moved into the rental property, they were offered, and felt at liberty to accept, a free vacation in Hawaii.

But Jeff and Kari believe it’s important to consider carefully how to spend money in light of Jesus’ teaching and to be unconcerned if those financial decisions are radically different. “I hear from Jesus and what he says,” Kari says. “If he is smiling, it does not matter who frowns, right?”

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