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The Numbers Man


To Ernie, numbers are as good as pictures.


The Numbers Man

by Bill and Brenda Evans


To Ernie, numbers are as good as pictures. Even when describing his childhood, he speaks mathematically.

He recalls the half-bushel of corn balanced on his tricycle for a trip to the grist mill when he was four, and the 14-pound sledge hammers convicts swung to crush rocks for a roadbed near his home in Jewell Ridge, Virginia. He counted 300 cars at the funeral of Taft Elswick’s, a neighbor who died of strychnine dispensed by a traveling snake handler.

The most disturbing number Ernie remembers is the single shot from a 30.06 rifle he heard on a chilly day in 1955. The day before, in a drunken rage, Ernie’s father had killed his sister-in-law. Then, in the woods near his home in the early light of the next morning—September 19—he took his own life.

Ernie grieved deeply. But after the funeral, he returned to Y-12 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where he poured himself into his work as an accountant contracted to the Atomic Energy Commission. “Numbers have always been easy for me, even government accounting with stacks of yellow manuals and lots of fine print. It’s just an ability God gave me.” He spent the rest of his career at Y-12.

That career, his marriage to Helen, her work, their spiritual life together in church and at home, frequent volunteerism, and a financial commitment to numerous FWB ministries all marked the middle years of Ernie and Helen’s spiritual journey. By retirement, they had made a revolutionary numbers decision. “We decided to give back to God an amount equal to everything He had given us in our earnings.”

Ernie explains his reasoning on that issue. “When I gave my life to God, I knew that I had nothing—all was His. Helen felt the same, and so we’ve set up endowments to accomplish our goal of giving back what God has given us. That is what this plan is all about.”

Four words guide the couple’s use of money: spend, save, give…wisely.


Spending is a gauge of our relationship to God, Ernie believes. “How I use what He gives me shows what life really means to me. Even before we were married, I warned Helen how I was about money. I told her that if I had $2 and saw someone in need, I might take that last $2 and give it to him.” Helen married Ernie anyway because she agreed with him on the $2. Over the 40 years of their marriage, they have lived by that model.

Saving is the second principle they have practiced from the beginning. “Within six months of our marriage, we bought and paid cash for the home we still live in,” Ernie says with a grin and nod at Helen.

Simply put, saving means living below your means. “If you want to be a millionaire by 65, I can tell you how. If you want to run a business or a ministry that survives and thrives, I can tell you how. I’ve made my living in finances, and the key is to always put back at least 10 percent of your income. In my budget at Y-12 I created a 10 percent contingency fund out of my operating budget. Everybody from individuals to businesses to churches and other non-profit ministries should do that—put back 10 percent for future needs, maintenance, emergencies. None of us should spend all we take in,” Ernie says.

Giving is the third element. Ernie says endowments are about generosity and godly stewardship. “Remembering that all I have is his, not mine. If I have $2 and only need $1, I want to share it rather than build bigger barns for myself like the rich fool. One day I’ll answer for those dollars I keep for myself or foolishly waste.”

Endowments are also about looking ahead and preparing for future ministry. Ernie and Helen believe we do not trust God enough if we don’t trust Him with our money, and that includes money for the future of our denominational ministries. “If it is God’s money and God’s ministry, then I’m interested in seeing it supported until Jesus returns. We can’t forget the time value of money. Endowments never quit paying. Until He comes again, the benefit will continue.”

If we continue to overlook the benefit of endowments, Ernie believes, our vision for the Lord’s work will fail somewhere in the future. “We’ve got to get out the message that if you have a home worth $100,000, you should leave $10,000 of that to fund an endowment for our ministries. In 100 years, at six percent interest that $10,000 endowment will have doubled 16 times even if half the growth is given to our ministries every year along the way.”

Ernie slaps his knees and laughs aloud. “I love endowments because they are like having your cake and eating it, too. Plus,” he says, “no one should ever say he doesn’t have enough money to make a difference. Just look at what a $1,000 gift will do. The same doubling and growth occurs. Everyone can do something. Our biggest challenge is to convince our people to make a will and give 10 percent of their net worth to an endowment to benefit our denominational ministries.”

As the interview concludes, The Numbers Man says, “I’ve learned you don’t disbelieve God. When all I have is God’s, then all I have to do is decide what I’m going to do with it and He blesses. I am not talking about what I’ve heard, but what I know and have experienced.”


About the Writers: Bill Evans, former director of the Free Will Baptist Foundation, lives in Catlettsburg, KY, with his wife Brenda, a retired English teacher. They are proud grandparents of seven. To learn more planned-giving options offered by the Free Will Baptist Foundation, visit




©2010 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists