Humble Beginnings

In September 1994, Ted Pittenger enrolled his family as the first members of Samaritan Ministries International. The first administrative headquarters was an 11′ x 15′ office that had been built in one corner of a chicken coop 50 feet from the Pittenger’s home in Washington, Illinois. (The chickens had been gone for several years.) Ted served without pay and was the ministry’s only official staff member. When he needed extra help with graphic design or proofreading, or someone to be a “sounding board,” he relied on his wife, Shari. When there were envelopes to stuff, he enlisted the aid of their three oldest children, Meg, Bree, and Jason.

There were several times in the early days of the ministry when it appeared that it might not become established. But Ted and others persevered, learning from mistakes and challenges that arose. Today more than 64,000 households (more than 210,000 people) from all 50 states and several foreign countries are actively sharing health care needs of more than $23 million each month. In a time of rapidly increasing health care costs, we continue to be amazed at how low the monthly share has been, and realize that it is not because of our wisdom, but God’s blessing.

The story of how the ministry has grown is a testimony to God’s faithfulness in working through His people both before and since the first members joined many years ago.

The Pittenger Family Story

Ted met Shari when they were students at the University of Illinois where they were involved in the ministry of The Navigators on that campus. After graduation in 1978, Ted joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ, serving at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire. Following Shari’s graduation the next year, the Pittengers were married and she joined Ted in Wisconsin.

In the summer of 1981, Ted and Shari went on a short-term mission trip to Hungary for Campus Crusade. When they returned, they settled in East Peoria, Illinois where they moved into a cabin owned by Shari’s parents. Ted began a 14-year career as a painting contractor, working with Shari’s uncle and aunt in their business in the beginning and then branching off on his own after a few years. In the mid-1980’s the Pittengers decided to home educate their children and joined Christian Brotherhood Newsletter’s (CBN) health care sharing ministry after learning about it from some friends.

 

The Incubation Period

Ted was excited about what CBN was doing, and also realized there were probably many Christians like him who would join such a ministry but didn’t know one existed. He wanted more people to hear about the ministry, but he didn’t know of any way to influence the ministry leaders to advertise more aggressively. He eventually began to think, “Why couldn’t there be another ministry like this?”

Shortly after he started to have these ideas, one of his friends who had been a pastor was looking for a new place of service. Ted started thinking that perhaps his friend would be able to start another medical needs-sharing ministry. The friend chose to pursue another line of work, leaving Ted still wishing for an alternative ministry. Eventually he began to think, “Perhaps I should start one.”

Ted continued thinking and praying about this idea. He talked with friends and associates, receiving a mixture of encouragement, uncertainty, and “You can’t do it.” He contacted Brian Heller, a Christian attorney in his town, to learn what steps needed to be taken to incorporate a ministry.

Ted determined he wanted to use the word “Samaritan” in the name of the ministry, not fully anticipating what a challenge that would be. The Biblical story of the Samaritan is a source of inspiration for many Christians, so the name has been used by many who wanted to start ministries. Ted initially chose the name “Samaritan Ministries,” only to learn from Brian Heller that there was already another organization incorporated under this name. They decided to try adding “International” to the name. This name was available.

Ted asked four of his friends in the Peoria area to join him as founding board members of the new organization: Eric Ackerman, a Navigator friend from college whom Ted had led to Christ; John Chaney, a Christian businessman; Ken Reutter, a local CPA; and Ray King, a friend who worked with Ted in his painting business. All were fellow home school dads. In 1991, Samaritan Ministries International was officially established as an Illinois not-for-profit corporation. But the work of birthing this ministry was only beginning.

Ted worked to develop the printed materials needed to promote the ministry. One of the clients he did painting for was a printer, so he was able to trade painting for printing to get the materials the ministry needed. He printed materials announcing the “Samaritan Newsletter.”

In the summer of 1992, advertising began in earnest. Several hundred inquiries came in asking for more information. Ted was expecting to get at least 100 new members immediately. Late in the summer he and two friends had a Samaritan display booth at the Promise Keepers meeting in Boulder, Colorado. Again there was a lot of apparent interest, but by the end of the year there were only fifteen households who actually joined.

About this time, legal challenges against CBN began to pop up around the country. Ted also learned that there was already a needs-sharing ministry using the name Samaritan and that they objected to his use of the name. Having only a small number of members and facing uncertainty on these other fronts, Ted returned the money to the members, unsure what to do next.

The next few months were a time of soul-searching and discouragement. Ted had believed that he had a calling from God to launch the ministry, yet everything seemed to have gone against him. As Ted continued to consider what step to take next, he was talking with a friend about it one evening and the friend asked him, “Do you believe so strongly that God wants you to do this that you would do it even if you knew you would never be paid?” After much thought, Ted said, “I would do it for free if God would just cover the expenses.” He determined that he would be willing to continue working at his current job, doing the ministry as a volunteer, if God would bless it.

Ted decided to spend a day with the Lord seeking His direction. He prayed, “Lord, I really need to hear from you by tonight about what I should do.” At about 8 p.m. that evening, verses of Scripture began to pour into his mind, one after another, reminding him of things God had taught him. He wrote them down as fast as he could. When it was over he was thinking, “God did it. He really came and spoke to me.” He came away from that day with a renewed sense of, “Yes, I am supposed to do this. I don’t know how it’s going to work. I don’t know if it’s going to work, but this is the thing I should do.”

From Birth and First Steps

After this time things begin to gradually fall into place. People would call who Ted was not expecting to hear from, offering helpful ideas. One of the early concerns had been how to achieve the “critical mass” necessary to have a base broad enough to meet large needs. One caller said, “What if someone did have a need that was so large the entire need couldn’t be met? Wouldn’t some help still be better than no help?” With that, the idea of pro-rating needs was born.

It was amazingly simple. If there were more needs than shares available in a given month, then the shares would be allocated to needs on a percentage basis. If there were $100,000 in needs but only $90,000 in shares, 90 percent of needs would be shared that month. Prorating provided a method to allow starting the ministry before the “critical mass” was reached. There were several other aspects of prorating that had not been anticipated. Prorating would prevent a large backlog of unpublished needs from building up, allowing for every need to receive timely assistance. Even though not all the needs would be met in full in a prorated month, it caused members to pull together, and those who were able gave a little more. There was also added incentive to depend on God in prayer, and attempt to negotiate bills down with providers, a good thing because of the way the health care system often overcharged self-pay patients. Also, in prorated months God often provided through other means such as friends, family, community and churches. Prorating seems to cause the body of Christ worked to together, ultimately bringing glory to God.

Ted continued to work on getting enough members signed up, trading more painting for printing. New materials announced the “Christian Health Care Network” instead of “Samaritan Newsletter”. In September and October of 1994, the first 10 member households joined. In October that year Ted took a job working second shift at a local factory, allowing him to give more concentration to Samaritan Ministries when he wasn’t at work. He would work his shift from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., get a good night’s sleep, and then work on the ministry every morning.

Frank and Kari Lewis and their sons, Matthew and Jonathan, began to assist Ted with data entry and later with mailings, working from their home as volunteers. They would continue to handle mailings until they were able to be paid staff, and have since launched their own business with Homeschool Enrichment magazine.

It still was a slow process. Some months several members would join, then only a few in other months. One month no new members joined. At the end of the first year, there were still only 55 members. Some suggested Ted give up, but he persevered.

During this time, Ted learned that there was another organization already using the name “Christian Health Care Network.” He talked with Brian Heller, and they decided to try “Christian Health Care Newsletter” That one finally stuck, and its the name still in use today. It was back to the printer again. More trading painting for printing again. Ted continued on.

Another person Ted began talking with was J. Michael Sharman, an attorney from Virginia who had orchestrated the legal defense of Christian direct-sharing for CBN when they faced challenges in several states. Mike initially began serving without pay, and over the next several years, was instrumental in helping the board and staff learn the legal intricacies facing a direct-sharing ministry.

After two years, in September of 1996, membership finally reached 200. In November the first election to choose a board member was held. In that first election the members chose William Kurth, an attorney from Lake View, Iowa, who was member number 124. Ted realized it would be wise to have a board that was controlled by the members, not people working for the ministry, so the board is comprised of three elected members, Ted, and another staff member he designates.

Then at the end of 1996 it finally happened–90 new members joined in December. The next month there were 115 new members. A surge of growth in membership began that has continued to today.

The increase in growth created an increase in work. In January 1997, the part-time employee who had been working as needed beginning in mid-1996 became the full-time switchboard operator/office manager/inquiry department, helping with the rapidly increasing workload. The 165-square-foot office was quickly becoming overcrowded.

In January of 1997 Ray King worked with his son, Kevin, re-wiring “the little house,” a rental house next to the Pittenger home, to give increased office space for additional staff. In February, Ray laid aside his hammer and paint brush and joined the staff as newsletter editor/needs processor/inquiry assistant. Ted also received his first paycheck that month, after working six years with no financial compensation.

Continued Growth

By mid-year 1997 there were more than 1000 member households. In August, Anthony Hopp, current head of membership development, joined the staff. In December, member DeWayne Arington, currently a cabinet member overseeing operations, came to work remodeling the rest of the original chicken coop to provide more much-needed space. When this remodeling was done, he laid aside his construction tools to join the office staff.

At the end of 1997, the second annual election for a board member was held, and the members chose James Lansberry, member number 130, from Easley, South Carolina. In the third annual election, at the end of 1998, founding board member John Chaney was chosen by the members to serve his first term as an elected board member.

At the November 1998 board meeting, James and his wife, Theresa, visited the Samaritan Ministries office in Washington for the first time. After they returned home, he was asked to consider joining the staff of the ministry as director of operations. After careful thought and prayer, James agreed to come, and their family moved to Peoria in February 1999. Today James serves as Executive vice-president of Samaritan Ministries.

James resigned from the board of directors, (elected board members are not allowed to receive compensation) and a special election was held to choose his replacement. The members chose Jamie Pyles, member number 348, from Creswell, Oregon.

All of this time, growth in membership and in the staff needed to serve them, was continuing. The search began for larger offices. The 1200 square foot office at the Pittenger homestead was becoming far too crowded.

A vacant school building near the office was found, but an offer by another buyer was accepted the day before the ministry made an offer. Another building was considered, then another. Nothing seemed to be working out.

Finally, after months of searching and prayer, a church building in nearby Marquette Heights became available.

Negotiations were completed quickly and a unique lease purchase agreement was arranged that allowed the purchase of the building without going into debt. A surge in growth and generous giving by the members made it possible to remodel the building for office use and to complete the purchase a year ahead of schedule. In June of 2000 Samaritan Ministries moved into its new home, and in July, Bryan Evans, the current Vice President of Member Services, joined the staff.

While all of this was going on, medical costs continued to increase and the monthly share was no longer enough to meet all of the needs presented. In February 2000 the members approved the first share increase in Samaritan Ministries’ history, and other increases have been approved as needed. Despite the dramatic increases in health care costs, we continue to be amazed that the share amounts are as low as they are.

In the 2001 board election, members chose Otto Koning, member number 7979, to fill the vacancy created when John Chaney decided not to seek reelection. Otto joined the ministry after many years at CBN.

In 2002 the newsletter announced a logo contest. Many members presented ideas for a logo that would symbolize Samaritan Ministries. The idea that was finally chosen was submitted by Dan van Loon, a member from Batavia, Illinois who is a partner in Design Corps, a graphic design firm. Design Corps provided professional service in applying the logo in a complete redesign of Samaritan Ministries’ printed materials and advertising. The new look was unveiled in September and October of 2002.

The redesigned materials were intended to broaden the visual appeal of the ministry as we take the message of Biblical medical needs-sharing to a Body of Christ made up of varied preferences. As the rise in health care costs continues, it is important that we continue to appeal to fellow believers to join us in demonstrating to our unbelieving culture, that God can be trusted to meet our needs in all of life, including health care.

More Room to Share

Growth continued at a slow but steady pace in the next few years, a fact we are always careful to attribute to God. As the ministry gained mass, we were able to do a little more advertising, always keeping in mind that the best advertising is word of mouth of satisfied members. Our records show that about 2/3 of new members are referred by members. Members receive a credit on their share of $180 for every household they refer that joins.

By 2003 the ministry was able to raise enough funds to make some much needed software upgrades. Seth Ben-Ezra current head of the Systems department, and Cameron Easley, current manager of the Member Services department joined the staff in 2003. Otto Koning retired from the board of directors and Richard Driggers was elected to fill the vacancy.

In 2004 membership grew to more than 10,000 households, and the building was again inadequate to meet the staffing needs. The members were asked to pray for and give to the “More Room to Share” project.

God again provided graciously, allowing the ministry to purchase a much larger building on Altorfer Drive in Peoria, again debt free. It was also encouraging to see the old Marquette Heights building continue to be used for ministry, as it was first rented to a church and eventually sold to a church. We were amazed that the Altorfer Drive  building was available for much less than it would have cost just a year or two earlier, because the demand for commercial real estate had waned. To top it off, it was already wired for a computer network, and came with tens of thousands of dollars of furniture included.

More challenges arise

New challenges have arisen in the last few years as Samaritan has been moving toward more online communications, and growth has continued. To help streamline the giving process for tax deduction purposes an accounting department was formed in January 2008, with Jonathan Ben-Ezra as head. Members are now able to designate gifts to the Member Assistance fund for Prorated Needs, Special Prayer Needs and Sponsorship as well as Ministry Operations and Freedom to Share. Online giving options are now available as well.

As the growth in members brought an increasing workload, Rob Stewart became head of Operations, and Jed Stuber head of Communications. Health care again rose to prominence as a national issue in 2008 and had perhaps become the national issue by 2009. Legislation was proposed that included a requirement that all Americans purchase insurance, and it appeared to threaten the religious liberty of Christians who practice their faith by sharing each other’s health care burdens. The ministry subdivided the Peoria property and sold off a warehouse to raise funds for a “Freedom to Share” effort to make our elected representatives aware of our concerns. Samaritan members gave generously and worked hard to make contact with their representatives, getting the religious liberty concerns a nationwide hearing.

In March of 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a health care bill that was previously approved by the U.S. Senate on Christmas Eve of 2009. We are thankful to God that the law included an exemption for members of health care sharing ministries from the health insurance mandate in the bill.

We are still deeply concerned about the impact this law will have on the American people and their health care system if it is actually implemented. For more information about how this may affect you and your family, visit our blog. You can also find more information in our Press Releases and from the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries.

In late 2010 the staff was filling up the building on Altorfer Drive as God continued to bless the ministry with strong growth. We again asked the members to pray for God to provide us with a larger building. In a “buyer’s market” there were many commercial properties available at a good price, but we had some concern about whether we would be able to sell the Altorfer building, or at least rent it to someone.

After investigating several properties that proved unacceptable for one reason or another, it seemed that God was leading us toward a great building on Forest Park Drive. It was at a convenient location in Peoria, yet surrounded by timber and a nature preserve with hiking trails. We could hardly believe how large it was and how well suited it was to the ministry, with excellent networking and internet service, and even backup generators. A burst of generous donations from our members confirmed to us that we should make an offer on the building.

In December, Samaritan Ministries was able to purchase the building debt free, at one-third the amount for which the building was insured! And, a few months later in the spring of 2011 we received an offer on the Altorfer building. We were able to sell it for a good enough price to recover our original purchase cost! The strong growth continued and the ministry passed the 18,000 member household mark in July. We again thanked God for his generous provision.

Launching the Morning Center

In recent years, as Samaritan Executive Vice President James Lansberry traveled across the country, spearheading the public policy efforts of Samaritan Ministries in the halls of government, he became increasingly aware of the need for God’s people not to abdicate to government our responsibility to care for the poor and needy. He and his wife, Theresa, began praying for Christians to accept this challenge, and they began talking to others about it. Eventually they reached the conclusion that God was calling them to this task, and the Samaritan Ministries board of directors voted to found this ministry.

Currently, more than 40 percent of births in the U.S. are funded by Medicaid. Morning Center birthing centers are envisioned as a way to provide a way for these mothers to receive personal maternity care free of charge through the body of Christ, rather than being forced to put their faith in the government. In 2013 Samaritan set up a subsidiary board and not-for-profit corporation to carry out the vision. As a first step the first Morning Center began operation in August 2013 as a mobile maternity service provider. It works with local churches and community organizations to provide free pre-natal care to women in low income, under served neighborhoods. Visit morningcenter.org for more information.

Giving God the glory

Throughout our history God has been working through the members of Samaritan Ministries International as they pray for one another and send notes of encouragement with their monthly shares and special gifts. There are now more than 64,000 households (more than 210,000 people) active in this unique ministry. The number of staff at the office has been increased to serve the growing number of members, and the building is again filling up, so a search for another building has begun.

This history of Samaritan pays tribute to a man and his family who persevered in trusting God to establish the ministry, to the staff members who believe in the ministry and serve it, to the leaders who had the faith to join the ministry while it was still in its infancy, and to the thousands of believers who faithfully share and pray each month in dependence on God. But most of all, it is a tribute to the God, Who has provided it all. He is our Creator Who meets all of our needs. It is only through Him that any of this could happen. All the glory and praise go to Him!