When I was writing my book Giving Is the Good Life, there were some people of times past I wished I could have interviewed. One of them was Stanley Tam, whom I’d read about years earlier. I couldn’t find Stanley’s date of death online, but considering he was born in 1915, it seemed safe to assume he had already died. I contacted a friend who’d known Stanley to find out more about his life. I was shocked by his response: “Want to talk to Stanley on the phone this Saturday?”
So to my delight, I spoke with then-102-year-old Stanley Tam. (And to my further surprise, before posting this blog, we confirmed that Stanley is still living at age 105!)
Here’s his story, with parts of our conversation woven in.
In 1934, as a young door-to-door salesman, Stanley Tam met a farmer’s wife who told him about Jesus. Six weeks later, while in a church, he placed his faith in Christ.
With twenty-five dollars of his own in his pocket, plus twelve dollars from his father, he launched United States Plastic Corporation, in Lima, Ohio.
Stanley told me, “I started the business in 1936, and I soon went broke. I was so discouraged. Then the Lord spoke to me: ‘Turn it over to me; I’ll make it succeed.’”
So Stanley legally made God the company’s majority owner—51 percent of company stock was given to a nonprofit, which in turn gave all the earnings to God’s Kingdom. Stanley believed that God wanted to run the business with Stanley as his employee.
God Was Just Getting Started
It turned out 51 percent wasn’t enough!
Stanley became familiar with an effective international ministry that he heard was closing due to lack of funds. He contacted them and said, “If I could trust God to provide $50,000 more per year to give you, would you open the ministry back up?”
They said yes.
In our conversation over the phone, Stanley’s voice grew animated, and he sounded half of his 102 years. He told me, “That ministry is still going. We’re now in forty-two countries, and we have thousands of people going door-to-door bringing people God’s Word and the plan of salvation.”
I loved that he said “we.” Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be (Matthew 6:21), and when you give to God’s work, you invest in his Kingdom. You are thinking and acting like someone with vested interests. When we spoke in 2017, more than 140,000 people had professed Christ the previous year through the ministry Stanley supported, and many churches had been planted.
Stanley told me about a meeting in South America in 1955 where he spoke and saw God work powerfully in people’s lives. He explained, “God spoke to me and said, ‘Stanley, if a soul is the most precious thing in the world, would you go back to the United States and turn your entire business over to me? And would you use the profits to spread the gospel around the world?’”
“Lord, you already have 51 percent of it,” Stanley replied. “Isn’t that enough?”
Then Stanley sensed God saying to him, “Stanley, on the cross, I paid it all for you. Now you’re my disciple. And I want you to do what I ask.”
A Call to Obedience
You might be thinking that since Stanley is an extraordinary man of faith, this all came easily for him. It didn’t.
Stanley said, “You’ll never know the struggle I went through that night. Finally I said, ‘All right Lord, you can have it.’” He added, “I just wanted to be obedient.”
Stanley’s wife, Juanita, agreed to follow the Lord in this too, and the Tams gave 100 percent of the company to God, meaning all the profits went to gospel ministry. It was only then that Stanley found the joy in giving over to God what he knew belonged to him. Stanley had a new plant built, four times bigger and facing an interstate, with huge letters installed on the side of the building: “Christ Is the Answer.”
Though Stanley’s salary was a mere fraction of that of a typical CEO, he gave substantially out of his income. In fact, he told me, “When my salary was $78,000, our personal giving was about $30,000.”
The company now produces more than 30,000 products and serves more than 85,000 customers. Stanley Tam had a wonderful business career in which he brought the world high-quality plastics. But more important, he brought the world what will last forever.
Serving God in the Twilight Years
So what did Stanley do when he retired? He opened a small woodworking shop a mile up the street. His sign outside said, “Are you seeking peace in your heart? The answer is in the Bible.” Underneath was this offer: “Come inside for a free Bible.”
Wes Lytle, Stanley’s successor as president of U.S. Plastic Corp., said, “We’re different than most companies. We’re similar in that we want to make as much money as we possibly can, but the purpose is totally different. . . . What is that purpose? To give away as much money as we possibly can, for the glory of Jesus and the good of others!”1 U.S. Plastic Corp. has cumulatively contributed more than $150 million to God’s Kingdom.
Is Stanley Tam “coasting” now that he’s nearing the end of his life? Not even close. At the time we talked, he was praying a few hours in the morning and again in the evening. He told me, “I’ve talked to more than one hundred people about Jesus in this retirement home. And I’ve led twelve to the Lord.”
If we truly believe that God owns everything and that we owe him everything for giving us all the goodness we’ve ever known or will ever know, then Stanley Tam’s actions make perfect sense. While the details of our circumstances may vary, the heart behind generosity can be the same. Stanley’s life, and the lives of others like him, should stir us to say, “What can I do that would express the same faith in God’s ownership and lordship of all I am and all I own?”
At the end of our conversation, Tam said, “People used to tell me, ‘Stanley, you’re giving it all away! Why aren’t you keeping it?’ I told them, ‘I am putting it in the bank account in Heaven.’”
As I heard Stanley speak, I could imagine another voice—a louder and stronger voice—saying to him, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
If you’re interested in learning more about Stanley’s story, here’s an hour-long documentary of his life. And here’s a 39-minute presentation that Stanley gave ten years ago. His story is also told in the book God Owns My Business.