By MARILYN TINNIN
Dolphus and Rosie Weary grew up in the backwoods of Mississippi in rural Simpson County. Their story of leaving Mississippi for Los Angeles Bible College in the late 1960s is told in Dolphus’ first book, I Ain’t Comin’ Back. Appropriately titled, the book recounts how God changed their hearts and drew them back to the place they wanted to escape in order to devote their lives to a unique ministry. Their call was to improving the quality of life for others who were trapped in generational poverty and shackled by a lack of opportunity. For Dolphus and Rosie, their mission was not just to “improve,” but it was to empower through education, infrastructure, and real opportunity.
The question that echoed in their souls and the one God had called them to answer was “How can the church impact the community beyond the gospel message to ‘give your life to Jesus and you will go to heaven one day.’” It was impossible for Dolphus and Rosie not to believe that God’s gospel plan included a holistic concern for meeting practical needs in the here and now as well. Why else does the Bible have so much to say about the poor?
Development and fundraising were in Dolphus’ skill set. He had numerous opportunities to travel and speak, and as he shared the vision for what he and his small ministry was doing in rural Mississippi, people began to notice and many people gave financially. During the 27 years that Dolphus and Rosie lead Mendenhall Ministries, they were able to build a recreation center, a community health clinic, a Christian elementary school, a housing ministry, a community law office, and an adult education ministry.
What they were doing was akin to what the church was doing in third world countries at the time. It grieved Dolphus that the local churches were flying off to do mission work in other countries when there was a huge mission field in most every small town in Mississippi. The Weary’s did not advocate ‘free stuff,’ but rather an approach that helped people help them selves. And it worked.
In 1990, President George H.W. Bush chose Mendenhall Ministries as one of six organizations in Mississippi designated as a Point of Light. The Points of Light Foundation was created as a nonprofit to promote the spirit of volunteerism in a local community. President Bush said, “Points of Light are the soul of America. They are ordinary people who reach beyond themselves to touch the lives of those in need, bringing hope and opportunity, care and friendship. By giving so generously of themselves, these remarkable individuals show us not only what is best in our heritage but what all of us are called to become.” This was a well-deserved and huge moment for Mendenhall Ministries bringing recognition from far and near.
When Dolphus was called to be the Executive Director of Mission Mississippi in 1998, the Wearys moved to Richland, but their passion for Mendenhall and other communities like it, was as strong as ever. They wanted to continue to see the ministry flourish.
What if they could build a foundation with an endowment to provide ongoing support for various ministries that were working to improve the opportunities in rural Mississippi? It was a great idea, but there was just one major obstacle. Rosie and Dolphus had no money to implement this great dream.
However, they had walked by faith long enough to not let that reality discourage them. They were certain God was in this, and they would let Him direct their paths. With a computer in the corner of their bedroom and a bank account with zero dollars, the Rural Education and Leadership (REAL) foundation began.
Rosie took the role of Executive Director. Dolphus was not able to raise money for REAL within the state of Mississippi during that time because his job with Mission Mississippi was largely about raising money for that ministry. It would be a conflict of interest to be promoting REAL at the same time.
However, his book Ain’t Comin’ Back proved to be a win/win for both ministries. Dolphus was able to sell the book to Mission Mississippi for slightly more than his print costs. Mission Mississippi in turn sold the book for slightly more than what they were paying Dolphus for it as a fundraiser. Dolphus was able to take his share, pay for the books and put the remainder into the foundation. At the end of the first year, the REAL Foundation had $30,000 in the bank!
Rosie and Dolphus decided early on to take five percent of whatever the foundation took in each year to give grants to worthy ministries whose missions were aligned with theirs—to help improve the quality of life for poor rural communities through education and leadership opportunities for the people.
Over the years and especially since the Point of Light recognition, word had spread about the work Dolphus and Rosie had done in Mississippi. Dolphus had been invited to board positions with Wheaton College, World Vision, Intervarsity Fellowship, and the Evangelical Council of Financial Accountability (ECFA). Those board meetings took him all over the globe. Each time he traveled to a meeting, he asked another board member in that city to find him a place to speak—either at a church service or a civic club. Each time he took books with him, and each time he put the book money into the foundation.
Between 1998 and 2008, the Wearys had grown that inauspicious little foundation principle to $1.4 million dollars. By mid-2015, that principle has grown to $2.5 million and they can proudly say that they have given away $1 million to 15 individual ministries who are equally committed to empowering the poor community. Each year their five percent grants benefit these ministries to the tune of anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 dollars each.
Theirs is a most encouraging and inspiring story. Dolphus and Rosie have both written subsequent books—all proceeds benefit REAL—that are further glimpses into the very hearts of two incredible Believers who have walked the path of sacrifice and real out-of-the-box commitment to a cause that most would have shunned. It was just too hard.
On October 1, Dolphus and Rosie will be honored at the Jackson Convention Center with a Meet and Greet and a Celebration Dinner at 7 p.m. All 15 ministries that have benefitted from the REAL Foundation will be on hand to showcase their organizations and give attendees a glimpse into their mission and accomplishments. For individual ticket information or donor sponsorships, call Virginia Chase at 601.932.1101.