CORNELIUS – After the economy declined in 2008 and 2009, Grace Covenant Church found that fewer people in the congregation were going on short-term mission trips. These would-be missionaries hesitated to ask others for money. 

So the church got creative and birthed the Above and Beyond missions fund.

Since 2010, Above and Beyond has used the endowment philosophy, incorporated local service projects, and since 2013, invited other churches to tap in.

So far in 2014, the fund has helped 55 short-term missionaries from 10 churches and organizations going to 11 countries.

Donors, including churches, individuals and businesses, make a three-year pledge to the fund, in amounts that have ranged from as little as $25 a month to $25,000 over 3 years. One-third of the fund goes to current missionary projects, and two thirds goes into an investment account that earns interest and funds future projects.

“What the donors have liked about the program is that the money keeps on giving,” said Michelle Hoverson, who heads Above and Beyond. “The money helps immediately, but they are also giving legacy. So they are helping now, and they are helping future generations.”

Applicants to the Above and Beyond fund must serve locally to earn money toward their trip. Each hour of service converts to $25 of financial assistance. 

Fund recipients have served at Angels and Sparrows, Habitat for Humanity, Charlotte Rescue Mission, and 40 other nonprofits. People can earn up to 25 percent of their mission trip fee, up to a $1,500 maximum. 

“We want to do our part to support those who aren’t working on a missions trip as a religious vacation, but who really have the heart of servant leaders,” Hoverson said.

Above & Beyond mobilizes short-term missionaries from churches in the Carolinas. Eventually, fund organizers plan to widen the reach to the Southeast and then the U.S.

Short-term missionaries from the Carolinas can apply to the Above and Beyond fund by going to  www.abovebeyond.cc or by contacting Hoverson at Grace Covenant, www.gracecovenant.org.

Last summer, the Above and Beyond fund helped Kim Palmer raise money to go on a summer mission trip to Nicaragua. During the week-long trip, Stewards of the Game and Grace Covenant ran a baseball clinic for kids, who also got to attend Bible studies and hear from former Major League Baseball players.

"I am not a baseball player," Palmer said, "so my days turned into playing with children who came to watch the clinic. I met one young man in particular, and he became my 'shadow.' He was from a home where he was being raised by his grandmother, but she had serious health issues. It was great loving on him for the week. I was able to get him some things he needed and let him meet the pastor from the area. We pray that he was able to stay connected." 

This summer Palmer is going with Grace Covenant to help with a Vacation Bible School and medical clinic in Nicaragua. 

Palmer said, “As a stay-at-home mom of four, finances for trips like this can be difficult. Above and Beyond allows me to do community service and earn some towards my trip. Every little bit helps. My family knows my heart about missions, and we all work together to pay for it.”

For her local service requirement, Palmer has volunteered with Lincoln County DSS and The African Children's Project. She has talked to prospective foster parents and has worked at a 5K race that raised money for orphans in Africa. 

“Above and Beyond,” Palmer said, “is a way for me to do something I love twice: one is volunteering with organizations that benefit children, and two is earning money to help me go to Nicaragua to build relationships with children in need there. It is a win-win.”