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Faith in black and red

Mary Hunt’s hard road to sound stewardship

By John W. Kennedy

Many Christians faced with the devastating burden that gripped Mary Hunt in 1982 would have plunged into the throes of depression. But Hunt admitted her errors, and God used her desperation to build a ministry.

In 1982, Hunt, of Garden Grove, Calif., had racked up $100,000 in unsecured debt — mostly on credit cards — not to mention all the interest and fees added to the actual charges. It took her 13 years, but in 1995 she paid the last debt. And along the way she came to grips with her compulsive overspending and learned to depend on God to meet needs rather than looking to credit as a solution.

Upon marrying Harold Hunt after college in 1970, Mary assumed she would never have to worry about money again. After all, she rationalized, a husband is supposed to handle the finances and make sure his wife has enough money to buy nice things.

"Unless you give God the firstfruits, you won’t get His blessing. When we give to God we expose our lives, particularly our finances, to His supernatural intervention."

The overspending began when Hunt received her first credit card. She discovered the deceptive lure of possessing plastic and felt a rush of power every time she signed her name to a charge slip. Soon she became as obsessed with credit card acquisitions as a boy is with collecting baseball cards. She told herself she merely wanted them at hand for "emergencies." She seemed to have a plethora of emergencies the next dozen years, ultimately charging near the limit on three dozen credit cards.

"They worked like a charm to relieve pain and worry," Hunt writes in Debt-Proof Living: The Complete Guide To Living Financially Free, a book that contains much of her testimony. "They offered asylum from the penalties of past-due property taxes and provided wonderful Christmas holidays for our two boys and extended families. Even the dentist and preschool accepted plastic. Credit cards worked perfectly in bridging the gap between what I’d determined was our woefully inadequate income and the cost of maintaining the minimum acceptable lifestyle."

Just when she thought it could not get any better, credit card companies began offering cash advances, and Hunt began to hide purchases from her husband. Several times the Hunts refinanced their home, and each time Mary promised Harold they would pay off their debts and stop using credit as soon as they got things "straightened out." They figured they had plenty of time and earning capacity to pay off their debt. Harold worked as a banker and Mary had part-time childcare and secretarial jobs.

But after the Hunts had been married for 12 years, the minimum monthly payments on all their obligations nearly equaled their take-home pay. Their credit card limits had maxed out, and they chased new forms of credit to stay afloat. Mary convinced Harold to leave his job as a bank branch manager to become self-employed in a multilevel marketing scheme.

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Harold, who had been a banker for 16 years, had been impressed by a couple of clients who drove new sports cars and made hefty daily deposits. The Hunts let their bills slide to pay the start-up costs of the new cash-intensive business. The clients disappeared, and the Hunts realized they had been bamboozled by a pyramid scheme that collapsed.

Within four months of pursuing the self-employment dream, the Hunts had no jobs, no income and no unemployment benefits. When they were on the brink of losing their home, God got Mary Hunt’s attention.

Hunt had attended church regularly as a preacher’s daughter and made a commitment to the Lord as a child. She graduated from a Christian college, married a committed believer and had been active in church. But she had never allowed God to take complete control of her life.

In 1982, Hunt confessed her manipulation, deceit and lies as sin and asked God for forgiveness. "I was absolutely terrified that I would lose the only things that meant anything to me: my husband, my kids, my home," she recalls. While the debts did not mysteriously disappear, Hunt sensed God’s forgiveness and His plan for her future.

Hunt has learned not to presume arrogantly about the future. She questions how people can ask God to bless those who have tens of thousands of dollars of unsecured debt and no resolve to repay it. "I’m most repentant about not trusting God to take care of me," Hunt says. "I never put my needs before the Lord as long as I had a credit line available."

"I remember the fancy cars, the clothes, the jewelry," says Paul Sandberg, a friend since 1981. "Mary had to come to grips with the reality of what she was doing."

Pastor Mark Copeland counseled Hunt in her darkest hour and admired her efforts to pay off all her creditors. "Mary experienced being overwhelmed," Copeland recalls. "But she had the strength of character to do what was right and a willingness to maintain integrity regardless of the cost."

Hunt learned that God — not paychecks, pensions or bonuses — is the source of income. "We gave our way out of debt, and it started when we were both unemployed," she says. "Unless you give God the firstfruits, you won’t get His blessing. When we give to God we expose our lives, particularly our finances, to His supernatural intervention."

God provided a job for her in real estate, which paid both a regular salary and commissions. The Hunts cut expenses and lived without incurring new debt, and they went on to cofound a profitable industrial brokerage and property management firm, Hunt Industrial Properties. But God had plans for Hunt not only to get back on her feet but also to help others.

Hunt began writing a newsletter in 1992 to offer financial advice and as a way to raise money to pay off her debts. Most of her friends and family had no idea of her financial problems until she shared the story in the first issue.

The most important lesson in becoming financially responsible, Hunt believes, is to become generous. She began tithing while still in debt. "When we are the neediest is when we need to be giving the most," Hunt says. She advises Christians to tithe with the first check each pay period.

Hunt has written a series of how-to books to spread her frugal good news. Her books contain lessons she has learned such as buying only with cash. She shares tips on how to save money: Make water the drink of choice at meals, run the dishwasher only when it is really full, combine errands at the same time to cut down on driving trips.

Christians who have escaped the charge habit must be vigilant not to return, Hunt says. Her new highs are giving and saving, which do not have the letdown afterward that charging does.

"Money can be as powerful a mood-changer as the most potent tranquilizer — and as habit-forming," Hunt says.

Citing the resourceful wife depicted in Proverbs 31, Hunt has learned that every woman, regardless of marital status or age, needs to know how to manage money. "God requires all people to be good stewards," she says. Typically in a marriage one spouse is more gifted with numbers and should actually write the checks, but that does not mean that person should make all the monetary decisions, she says. Making major financial decisions and reviewing the monthly bills should be a joint effort.

God strengthened the Hunts’ marriage despite the financial disharmony, the key factor in 90 percent of divorces. "We’ve become much more open with each other about finances," says Harold.

Mary warns that zealous Christians are not immune to financial pitfalls. She has seen many who want to make great contributions to further the kingdom of God drawn into business schemes. Their good intentions are quickly replaced with avarice to make more money to improve their standard of living.

With the availability of credit at an all-time high in the United States and credit card companies successfully targeting high schoolers, Hunt cautions young people that bad decisions have a lasting impact.

But Hunt knows even those in dire straits can turn it around, with God’s help. "As we’ve obeyed God’s financial principles of giving, saving and not spending more than we have," she says, "He has blessed us in ways you could never imagine."


John W. Kennedy is associate editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

 

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