"Give up a want to meet a need"
The originator of the Nazarene Alabaster box, Mary
Elizabeth Vennum, died in 2000 at age 91.
For years, small, animal-crackers-box sized cardboard containers labeled "Alabaster" have been sitting in Nazarene homes collecting collect millions of dollars for world evangelism.
The Alabaster box idea began during Mrs. Vennum's dozen years of service on the Nazarene Missions International General Council. In the late 1940's, the Church of the Nazarene was experiencing a crunch in mission funding. At the 1949 General NMI Council meeting, Mrs. Vennum was asked to come up with an idea that would raise additional money for land purchases and building construction needs on Nazarene mission fields. As she returned from Kansas City to her Florida home on the train, Vennum said the Lord gave her the details for the Alabaster offering. "And the rest is now history," said Nina Gunter, general NMI director.
The offering promotion was based on the story of the woman bathing Jesus' feet with perfume from a carved alabaster container. Building on that Biblical story, Mrs. Vennum decided to ask Nazarene women to put off buying that new perfume for themselves or postpone getting a new dress and to give that money to world missions instead (in sort of the same way that the woman gave her bottle of perfume to Jesus).
Mrs. Vennum promoted her offering idea with the slogan: "Give up a want to meet a need." Since its inception, that semi-annual Alabaster offering (in February and September) has generated more than $100 million dollars for land purchase and construction at 5,600 sites throughout the world.
Without public fanfare, Mrs. Vennum also encouraged and financed the education of national pastors and evangelists in several Third World countries. She also personally mentored numerous young preachers and Christian lay leaders in the U.S.
It seems particularly serendipitous that Mrs. Vennum's homegoing occurred during Alabaster's 50th anniversary year.
The Alabaster box wasn't Elizabeth Vennum's only creative moment. Along the way, she also developed materials and methods for Christian education at the local church level. As an ordained Nazarene elder, she was also innovative in leading people to do personal soul winning.
Elizabeth Vennum's father was a Nazarene pastor. Feeling a call to ministry, she began her training in Nashville at what is now Trevecca Nazarene University. She transferred north to Eastern Nazarene College in the Boston area, graduating from that school in 1932. She married Earle Vennum in 1934 and they served the Lord together as a pastoral team for churches in three states: Florida, Indiana and Tennessee.
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Updated: February 8, 2019