Invested With Haverim

January 13th, 2016

Sam Thomas '76, retired minister, derives satisfaction from his support of current Bible and religion students.

Sam Thomas ’76, retired minister, derives satisfaction from his support of current Bible and religion students.

When Sam Thomas was a teenager, he felt certain his future was up in the air—literally.

“I got my pilot’s license and really thought that was what I was created to do, to become an airline pilot. But what happens? I end up in low-paying pastoral work,” Thomas says, laughing.

After graduating from Eastern Mennonite College in 1976, Thomas went to work for Eastern Mennonite Missions and couldn’t afford to keep up the pilot’s license. He instead embarked on a career in Pennsylvania that included chair­ing the Bible department at Lancaster Mennonite School, serving as pastor of Landisville Mennonite Church for nearly two decades, and then becoming a bishop in Lancaster Mennonite Conference for eight years until retiring this past summer.

So rather than sitting at the controls of an airplane, Thomas instead decided to help the careers of young Bible students at EMU take off. He is a regular supporter of Haverim, an alumni group for Bible and religion majors that awards one or more debt reduction scholarships each year to students with the same major.

In the essays that students write about their faith jour­neys, Thomas says he often hears echoes of his own experi­ence as a student, when he double-majored in religion and psychology.

“That was a really significant time for me, both in terms of good academic excellence but also having strong relation­ships with the faculty,” Thomas says. “In their essays I read now, the students frequently mention that the professors always relate to them as individuals and get to know them and care for them as a whole person.”

Thomas says his time at EMU was also valuable in helping integrate his faith heritage into his life, and connecting faith with social issues such as care for the environment and peacemaking as part of a broader mission focus. As a result, he decided to devote his professional life to church work in some form. He hopes today’s students can have those catalytic experiences, too.

Thomas has supported Haverim with his time—serving on the Haverim committee, including two stints as chair—and financially. Two years ago he and his wife, Marian, sold their family farm and “ended up with resources we never imagined having,” he says. They both said they wanted to be good stewards of this gift from God, and they sat down with an Everence financial counselor for advice.

“It wasn’t ‘How many trips can we take?’ or ‘Let’s get a big boat,” but ‘What major things do we want to support, and how can we share the gifts that landed on us?’” Thomas says. “There has never been any question in our marriage that we would tithe to our local church and then give to other places we care about beyond that.”

In addition to Haverim, which also provides funds for guest speakers and special training events on campus, Thomas and his wife support Philhaven’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in Lancaster, a nearby Men­nonite school where two granddaughters attend, a local health care clinic that serves the uninsured, several commu­nity projects, and Mennonite Central Committee.

Haverim, he says, will always have a special place. He’s recently issued a matching challenge to Haverim members.

“I continue to really value EMU and the Bible and religion department,” Thomas says. “I value their commitment to our Anabaptist faith heritage and the values that go along with that. I hope many of our pastors will continue to come from our Mennonite colleges, and I want to do everything I can to support and encourage that.”