Pastor breaks giving record after 10 days atop billboard
(January 13, 2002)
Jay Risner, childrens pastor at James River Assembly of God in
Ozark, Mo., prayed for courage while climbing more than 40 feet to the
platform of a billboard on the highway across from his church.
Lofty goal: Jay Risner
(left) and John Bueno eat breakfast on the billboard platform.
"Im deathly afraid of heights, but God gave me my legs to be
able to walk back and forth on this platform," says Risner, 43. He lived
on the platform for 10 days, raising more than $142,000 in cash and
$30,000 more in pledges for Boys and Girls Missionary Crusade, shattering
his goal of $100,000.
"Thats the largest donation of a single church in any given year,"
says Joey Ellis, ministry development coordinator for the national BGMC
department in Springfield, Mo. "This really raises the bar for everyone."
"I knew it had to be 24 hours a day, seven days a week to have the
necessary impact," Risner says. He braved unpredictable November weather,
let his beard grow, wore hunter orange for visibility to honking motorists
below and entertained a steady stream of visitors. Guests included John
Bueno, executive director for A/G World Missions, who shared breakfast
one morning with Risner while harnessed to the front of the billboard.
The sign depicted a 20-foot image of Risner declaring, Im "up
in the air for kids" for 10 days; Help me raise $100,000 for BGMC/Kids
"Our culture places a high value on children," Bueno says. "Other cultures
are made aware of that value after hearing how much American children
and others contribute to BGMC."
Risner originally planned his "sign time" to begin September 23, when
southern Missouri weather is typically pleasant. But he delayed the
campaign after the September 11 World Trade Center attack. The November
stretch for his campaign turned out to be unseasonably warm.
As a missionary in Kenya, Risner saw children with deformed or missing
limbs struggling to enter childrens outreaches. "The money raised
here will go for wheelchairs, crutches and a new water well for those
kids," says Risner with a tremor of emotion.
He is equally emotional about the type of sacrificial giving he saw.
"A family of four came up the last night and handed me a check for $10,000.
They said they were planning to pay some bills after selling their truck,
but God had other plans."
Risner lowered a bucket for ground visitors to drop on-site donations
and used a two-way radio, hand signals and a bullhorn to communicate.
Risner lived between two billboards, with about 350 square feet of
space constructed by Lamar Advertising, which also donated the sign.
"I had a tent, a portable toilet, shower, refrigerator, camping table
and chairs, and even an exercise bike," Risner says.
Risner came up with the fund-raiser idea after hearing about Pete Beaulieu
of First A/G in Fort Myers, Fla., spending 10 days on a billboard for
a fund-raiser last year.