Big Winner

       Starting a church isn't easy. It takes prayer, time, effort, and money. Sometimes it's the money that's a killer.

       Just ask 41-year-old Kim Hunt. He helped with a church plant in Seattle after graduating from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1989. The church ended up closing because it lost the support and funding of its sponsoring church. Now, after winning a million dollars on the hit TV show "Who wants to Be a Millionaire?" he's trying to make sure that doesn't happen to three contemporary-style church starts in California, Vermont, and British Columbia.

       After Hunt won the million dollars, the idea came quickly to him. Why not supply a few young, needy churches with some expense money? So, he called up his former pastor, Harold Bullock, of Hope Community Church in Fort Worth, and asked for names of churches/church planters that could use a financial windfall. Hope has helped start dozens of churches in the past 20 years.

       After consulting with Bullock, Hunt decided to help Pierpoint Community Church pastored by Thad King in Huntington Beach, California, church planter Gerald Conner in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Daybreak Community Church pastored by Robby Pitt in Burlington, Vermont. He hasn't said how much he'll contribute to each church, though he says it will be "significant enough to help them."

       The Vermont church's first-year funding ran out in August, just as Hunt announced he would be giving to them, Pitt says. "I was thrilled beyond measure," he says. "It could mean the survival of our ministry."

       Determined to play

       Before winning the game show, Hunt was a school teacher, van driver (actually he quit just before the show), and a cashier at a coffee shop. Now he's down to one job, teaching geometry and calculus at Rossville Christian Academy in western Tennessee, though he didn't intend to return there after winning.

        "I told them I was quitting, but somehow they talked me out of it," Hunt said.

       He admits the show appealed to him because of the cash. "They have a pretty good prize," he says. And he was quite dogged in his quest to appear with host Regis Philbin in the national spotlight.

       He took the initial phone quiz to get on the show between 60 and 70 times, answering three questions correctly 40 of those times. He finally won a random drawing of those passing the initial test, and then completed another five questions by phone. He then received a call from ABC telling him he would be on the show. But he didn't think he'd do so well, despite his academic background, including a bachelor's degree from Mississippi College, a master's from Mississippi State University, his seminary degree, and doctoral work at Vanderbilt University.

       He actually appeared on the show twice, because time expired before he could complete his run in the hot seat. By the end of the first show he'd won 32,000, enough to ease the pressure for the next week. "I was real relaxed that second time," he says.

       A good night's sleep helped

       It also didn't hurt that he got nine hours of sleep before the taping of the second show. Though he did not ask God to win the money, he did pray for a good night's sleep. He ended up with both.

       He won the million dollars, on a show taped June 19 and aired on July 6, by identifying Lesotho as a landlocked country completely contained with another country. Geography knowledge he'd gleaned from a missionary friend who worked in Africa helped him pick the right answer. The most difficult question he faced, he says, was the $500,000 question, which required him to choose Marni Nixon as the woman who dubbed the singing parts for Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady."

       He says the fame and the money, which was given to him in a single check, have made some difference in how he's treated around town.

        "The waitresses who were grumpy aren't grumpy anymore," he says.

       But ultimately his life isn't that much different. He's bought a new car and a laptop computer, and he took a European vacation this summer, but that's about all the spending he plans on himself, he says. Most of the money that doesn't go to church planting or to Uncle Sam in taxes will be used for his retirement fund, Hunt says.

Reprinted with permission from, Christian Reader, January/February 2001