Going beyond the check to give more

It’s a bone-chilling night, and rain is falling softly on the misty streets of Seattle. In the shadows of the gleaming skyscrapers that house burgeoning high-tech start-ups and trendy coffee shops, Craig and April Chapman climb into a Union Gospel Mission van with six other volunteers for another midnight “search and rescue” mission to the city’s homeless.

The driver, a former addict who lived on the streets himself, makes his way to a familiar spot under a downtown overpass. As the van comes to a stop, April hops out to grab clean blankets, warm socks, cups of hot chocolate, and sandwiches for the group of men and women they see huddled there, trying to escape the downpour.

Craig exits right after her and heads toward a man with long hair and a wild, shaggy beard. He looks the disheveled man in the eye and says, “Hi, I’m Craig. What’s your name?" The man’s mouth widens into a smile, and soon he and Craig are engaged in quiet conversation. For the first time that day, or perhaps for one of the first times in his life, this man knows that someone cares.


Why does this pair of innovative software engineers prefer to spend an almost sleepless night once a month with Seattle’s diverse homeless population? Craig explains, “We started donating to Union Gospel Mission a few years ago. Then, Jeff Lilley, their director, invited us to go out on search and rescue, and we were hooked. Now it’s our favorite ministry to serve in because it’s so tangible. You can actually talk to people, hug them, and tell them Jesus loves them.”

Craig says, “The very first time we went out, we thought this is a little scary and out of the box for us, but we’re going to do our best to serve. And we began to ask ourselves, ‘How can we love the homeless and help them experience God’s love?’ 

“What we ended up coming away with was a blessing in return. It was clear that this was more about educating us, and learning what these men and women endure.” Craig and April have met all types of people on the streets including addicts, the mentally ill, moms with kids, runaway teens, and those hit by the tough economy. But they say they wouldn’t trade anything for this experience. April adds, “I can’t imagine what it would be like if we hadn’t pressed in. It’s given us so much more joy.” 


The Chapmans admit that they weren’t always so passionate about a hands-on experience of giving. It began in small steps, and the Lord has revealed a plan for their service bit by bit. Reflecting back over the journey they’ve been on for the last few decades, they do see specific steps that they’ve taken to get to where they are today:

1. Obedience – The first step in their journey was being obedient to the tithe. Then, after reading the story of businessman R.G. LeTourneau and his radical giving, they were inspired to give more. Craig says, “We began to ask ourselves, ‘What if we started increasing our giving?’”

2. Passion – As savvy entrepreneurs, they knew the importance of focusing on what they’re good at. April says, “God started showing us what our passions are when we spent time in the Word, and in prayer. Because we can’t do everything, we had to think about what we’d been given, what we’re good at, and what we’re passionate about.”

3. Availability – With 11-year- old twins and demanding careers, the couple had to make some tough choices about their priorities. “We all have busy lives, but at some point you just have to be available,” says Craig. “We all should be willing to ask, ‘Lord, what are your priorities for me? And am I willing to be obedient to them?’” 

4. Humility – This is an important trait that this caring couple has cultivated over time. “Being humble enough to step into the circumstances of each individual that God values is essential to be like Christ,” says April. “It is a little scary, but that’s when it becomes an adventure, and the experience gets so much bigger and better than just writing a check.”


Craig and April know that everyone’s journey is different, but they are quick to encourage a personal approach to giving. “Some folks say it is much easier to just write a check and not get involved with the whole giving experience that we talk about,” says Craig. “What they don’t realize is what they’re missing – they’re missing out on the joy.”

And considering their experience, it seems like we should all be more willing to trade a little sleep for a life of adventure. 

In 2011, NCF helped Craig and April leverage the sale of their high-tech start-up into a large gift for charity. After their successful careers as software engineers at Microsoft in the ‘90s, April left to focus on their family, and Craig co-founded a technology company with a Christian colleague from Microsoft. Their company became quite successful, and they began to prepare for a possible public offering.

But before selling the company, Craig contacted Kendra VanderMeulen, President of NCF Seattle. She helped him engineer a tax-wise gift of his business stock before the sale that resulted in well over $500,000 more for charity. Craig says, “We learned that gifting assets before the sale is simply a smarter way to leverage our giving, and do more for those in great need.” 

“How can we love our brothers and sisters on the streets and help them experience God’s love?”
— Craig