Servants of Obedience
John Esau, a retired businessman, is passionate about serving the Lord with the resources he has been given. Although he now lives comfortably in Atwater, California, he had humble beginnings in a Holdeman community in Lehigh, Kansas. His family was not a people of great means. His father became ill when John was still a young boy, and John had to work instead of attend school, "which was a good lesson in itself," he said.
When John was 13 years of age, he joined the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite-often referred to as the Holdeman church. Later in his life, he married his wife, Violet, and they had one daughter, Shirley.
John and Violet eventually started working in the construction industry. They built and sold housing, built a lumberyard and sold construction materials, worked in heating and air conditioning, sold real estate, and financed other builders. They also followed their interest in farming and planted 200 acres of almond trees.
Through his various endeavors, John was making a lot of money-in fact, too much money. The Holdeman church did not approve of John's accumulation of wealth because he had more than other members. John, however, found himself disagreeing with the church. There were many guidelines its members were required to follow, and while John did his best, there were certain tenants with which he did not hold. One in particular did not sit well with John. The church views itself to be the one true visible church. John, however, believed that all born-again Christians belong to God's Church.
In the 1970s, the Holdeman church held a panel to examine each of its members, and John's disagreement came to light. Furthermore, as John's business endeavors were soaring, the panel claimed he was covetous because he had more wealth than others. Therefore, he was excommunicated. Along with the excommunication came avoidance: members of the church were not supposed to shake hands with John, eat at the same table with him, or even conduct business with him. Violet and Shirley, however, retained their Holdeman status and are still members of the church.
Even after being excommunicated, John knew his business success was a gift. Furthermore, he knew that God was giving him and Violet wealth for a reason, and the concept of stewardship became even more important to them.
"I realized stewardship was so important for this whole thing because there's a reason why we were making so much money," John said. "So we started giving more."
Eventually, the Esaus were giving 30 to 40 percent of their net income to charities such as Kids to the Kingdom, Christian Aid Ministries, VORP (Victim Offender Reconciliation Program), and Prison Ministries. Closer to home, John and Violet own a park for senior citizens. They invite the residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities to come to the park, and there they enjoy fruits and nuts, water features, and flowers.
John and Violet also contribute money to some of the Holdeman church's programs such as Christian Disaster Service and a nursing home it operates. Although there was a lot of hurt and difficulty that came with the excommunication, John's greatest desire is to obey Christ's command to love everyone.
The Esaus not only want to be good stewards while living on this earth, but they also want their wealth to serve a purpose after they are gone. It was through an interaction with Ivan Wohlgemuth, MB Foundation's West Coast representative at the time, that John and Violet first heard about MB Foundation
That interaction led to a 25-year relationship with MB Foundation. Various giving tools have been used including a Charitable Remainder Trust, several Charitable Gift Annuities, and a Bequest. Over the years, John and Violet have donated six properties along with cash to a Charitable Remainder Unitrust. These planned gifts provide John and Violet with tax advantages but are also an avenue for practicing good stewardship. They have also become avid supporters of church lending through their significant investment in MB Foundation's Certificate program.
As John and Violet achieve wealth, their desire is to give it back to the Lord. In fact, when they die, only the ranch and the almond farm will be given to Shirley. The rest will go to charity.
It's not about fame, it's not about affluence, and it's not about a plaque on the wall speaking to the Esaus' good name. It's about giving back to God. "It's the Lord's," said John. "It's not me. I'm just a servant."