Beginning in about six weeks, 3,820 homes in Harrison, Crawford, Washington and Perry counties with individuals who meet specified requirements will begin receiving letters in the mail informing them that they are no longer on the hook for their medical debts.

First Capital Christian Church in Corydon will wipe out more than $6.3 million of medical debt of those residents after church members raised more than $70,000 with a July 7 special offering and through subsequent donations.

Tyler Sansom, engagement pastor at First Capital, said the collection took place during the final sermon of a four-part series about money, with the last message focusing on generosity.

Some big prop letters, spelling out "HOPE," were set up to hold and display the congregation's donations in the sanctuary. He said one of the letters collapsed under the weight of the change, cash and checks stuck to it.

"I think that just shows people were giving everything they could give," Sansom said.

He said initially the goal for the fundraiser was to collect enough to pay off Harrison County's $2.8 million in medical debt available for purchase by the church's non-profit partner for the project, RIP Medical Debt.

"We had no idea how much we would get," Sansom said. "Obviously, $28,000 (in addition to its regular Sunday offering) was a lofty goal."

Randy Kirk, senior pastor at FCCC, said the church started working with RIP Medical Debt in April after hearing about a church in Kansas that launched a similar fundraiser with great success.

"We chose to work with them because everyone has a story that happened to them where they or someone they love incurred more medical debt than they could afford," Kirk said. "Everyone can resonate with that."

RIP Medical Debt was founded by former debt collectors who use the same channels they learned to use in the corporate world to buy medical debt for pennies on the dollar.

The national nonprofit purchases "portfolios" of outstanding medical debt from health care providers and the secondary market and forgives debts belonging to individuals who earn less than double the federal poverty level, have debts totaling 5% or more of their annual income or are facing insolvency, meaning their debts are greater than their assets.

According to the company's website (ripmedicaldebt.org), the group is unable to hand pick individuals for debt abolition, but it is working on making that a reality.

"This is a program designed to help people who don't have a lot," Kirk said of the nonprofit.

Sansom said First Capital's congregation was excited to take on the challenge and some went above and beyond what they expected. For example, he said a group of kids, Kara and Adalyn Haas and Frances and Gabe Henry, ran a Fourth of July weekend lemonade stand to raise money for the cause, contributing $125.

After surpassing their target and buying all of Harrison County's debt available to the organization, Sansom said the church turned to other nearby counties to buy available debt.

"We had no idea what God was going to do with the offering," he said. "It just shows how small we are and how big God is."

Kirk said donations for the RIP Medical Debt fundraiser are still coming in, and the church plans to soon eliminate more medical debt with the surplus.

"We are going to try to buy more debt in August," he said, though he, Sansom and other church leaders are weighing possible options, such as waiting for more Harrison County debt to accumulate and buying it, or potentially buying debt from another nearby county.

Sansom said the church frequently issues challenges like this to its congregation. He recalled one in which many Sunday morning attendees went home with bare feet after giving the shoes they were wearing to send off to people who needed them.

"I don't know if we'll ever do this specific one again, but we'll definitely have more challenges coming," he said.