By Peg Carmack Short
Most know Bill and Gloria Gaither for the more than 700 songs they’ve written and performed—songs such as “He Touched Me,” “There’s Something About That Name,” “Because He Lives,” and “Let’s Just Praise the Lord.” Each song is a musical gift that was created out of the Gaithers’ personal walk with the Lord and then generously shared with millions who sing the songs and have made them their own. The songs ring true and express the passion that, as Bill Gaither says, “has been about the difference Christ can make in our everyday lives, not just on Sundays.”
It is this “everyday difference” that Bill and Gloria express in many ways but especially through their giving spirits. While they are generous in sharing their resources of time and money and have given and helped raise millions for individuals and charities, much of what they do is expressed in their song, “Give It Away.” They just open up their hearts and bless others.
For both Bill and Gloria, the lessons of giving were learned early on through the examples they saw at home. Gloria’s father was a pastor and her mother a writer and speaker. “I grew up in church,” Gloria says. The messages she heard there were lived out in her parents’ lives. She learned about the gift of hospitality and a generous spirit as her parents always invited others to stay with them. “Our house was always full, and I was deeply influenced by the people who came to our home. I loved listening to their stories.”
Even as her mother aged, Gloria says, she continued to give. “When she couldn’t travel any more, she shared her experiences. She was a source of wisdom for others.”
Bill learned much of his art of giving from his grandfather. Bill says he always told him, “There are basically two kinds of people in this world—givers and takers—so decide which one you want to be.”
“But it wasn’t just what he said,” Bill relates. “I saw it modeled from the beginning. He passed it on to my dad and he passed it on to me.”
Bill’s grandfather, Grover, had a small farm in Alexandria, Ind., the town where the Gaithers still live. Grover lived a modest life. “If you asked him,” Gloria says, “He would have told you he had a good life, though he had never done anything he considered very spectacular.”
Yet Bill remembers his grandfather was always giving both money and time. He says, “At church, he was always the first to make a pledge—$1,000 for new carpet or whatever was needed.”
Grover also gave of himself. “When my grandfather passed away, the funeral home was packed with people sharing things he had done like, ‘Your granddad gave me a place to stay when I had no place to go,’ or ‘He put me through electrical school,’” says Bill. “My dad, George, was the same way. People asked, ‘What will we do when George passes on?’ because he was always helping in practical ways—like clearing [snow from] driveways.”
The message of these examples was clear to Bill: “Giving is built into the fabric of the universe. People need to live outward rather than in.”
During the holidays, one of the ways the Gaithers live outward is by encouraging their Homecoming friends to join with them in giving to Operation Christmas Child, a program of Samaritan’s Purse that brings gifts to children around the world. But last year they took this even further by traveling to impoverished Johannesburg, South Africa, where they helped distribute gifts, hope, and love to some 200 orphans there. They are some of the nearly 5 million victims of the country’s AIDS epidemic. While not all of these children have AIDS, many have lost their parents to the disease. The lives of these children consist mostly of trying to survive; to receive Christmas gifts is beyond their imagining.
“It was an incredible thrill to actually put these [gifts] into the hands of the children and watch the artists get involved with them,” Gloria says. “People that love the Lord have done such wonderful things in their country and other parts of the world. It has been our experience that people of God really do “rescue the perishing.”
Christmas isn’t the only time, though, when the Gaithers give; they believe in giving all year long. Last year they found a unique way to pass on their blessings and let others experience the joy of giving, too. As a way to give legs to their song “Give It Away,” during their Homecoming concerts they started giving $1,000 each night ($200 to five people) asking only that they don’t keep it but find a need and “Give It Away.” This gesture, Bill says, is a way “to prime the pump.” Then they invite them to share their stories whey the reach out.
Today the pages of the Gaithers’ Homecoming Magazine are filled with stories about the ways people have used the seed money. Some have given it to feed the hungry, pay for medicine, or help with medical bills. Another bought shoes for needy children, and one even purchased 20 goats for poor families in Tanzania! Like the biblical story of the talents, others have found ways to multiply what they have been given. Searching for a good use for her $200, one woman contacted a charitable organization in her town and was given names of families in extreme financial need. She then brought these to the attention of her Sunday School class, and they also wanted to help. They added to her $200 and together they raised almost $1,100 to meet some of those needs.
Though it is apparent that the Gaithers live by the gospel of giving, they are not boastful about it, often giving anonymously—but it is difficult to hide some of their deeds. Their names have been linked to many philanthropic projects, one of which being the Gospel Music Trust Fund, which aids aging gospel artists who have fallen on hard times. Bill relates their involvement by sharing the story of a musician friend who had a long bout with cancer 18 years ago. “They had run out of money and were going to lose their home,” Bill said. “So we did a benefit to raise funds and managed to give them $35,000.”
Soon, however, there was another entertainer in need, so they arranged another benefit, raising $40,000. At this point, Bill realized the need to develop a fund to help artists who get into tough situations at the ends of their lives. Herman Harper, an original singer with the Oak Ridge Boys, had headed the establishing of a small fund. Bill decided that was a good place to help. “We invited other artists to join with us,” Bill says. “Then we got three record labels interested in helping the fund, hired a money manager, and started carefully managing the funds. Today the initial $10,000 to $15,000 that started the fund has grown to over $3 million and has brought relief to many.
Those helped often find a way to later give back to the fund, so they can help others. For example, after her husband’s death, a widow asked that in lieu of flowers friends donate to the fund. This brought in around $18,000. “People who receive give back. That kind of thinking God honors and blesses—you can’t give it away fast enough,” Bill says.
ON THE HOME FRONT
God has been good to the Gaithers, providing them with a wonderful family, great talent, and an outstanding career. The music ministry that has spawned so many songs has also given birth to hundreds of audio and video projects. Their awards are too numerous to mention, ranging from eight Grammys, dozens of Dove Awards, for songs, recording projects and “Songwriters of the Year.” They are members of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and were honored with the “Living Legend Award” in 2006 by the Indiana Historical Society for Hoosiers with a global impact. ASCAP named them “Songwriters of the Century” based on usage of their songs worldwide. Their award-winning television series can be seen all over North America and Europe, and they have performed throughout the world.
Yet, despite their celebrity, the Gaithers live a modest lifestyle. They still reside in the same white country home they built in 1966, where they raised their three children Suzanne, Amy, and Benjy. Today the house rings with the laughter of the new generation of Gaithers: Bill and Gloria’s six grandchildren. Like the generations before them, this new one is already finding ways to give to the world. Gloria’s 9-year-old granddaughter and her friends started a club aimed at helping their community. They raise their own funds through things such as lemonade stands or garage sales, then they volunteer somewhere and give the money they made to help that cause. “It’s great to see 9-year-olds coming up with that kind of involvement. It teaches them they are not just here on this planet; they need to care about others,” says Gloria.
That’s the legacy the Gaithers want to leave their children and grandchildren. Gloria says, “We hope we’ve taught our children that in prioritizing their days they leave energy and resources to care for other people.”
As children learn from what they see and not what they are told, the Gaither children and grandchildren have had great role models of caring and giving. Bill and Gloria have devoted their lives to focusing on investing their resources, not in material things, but in things that will last for eternity.
“Our calling is not just about making music,” Bill says, “but communicating the reality of Christ. That might mean birthing a song about Him or simply offering a cup of cold water to someone who needs it. Gloria and I have never claimed to have God figured out, but we do know that if He could use two imperfect people like us to communicate His Truth to the world, He can use everyone.”
To find out more information about the Gaithers’ products and performances, visit: gaither.com.
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