To some former Tri-City Ministries members, Pastor Carl Herbster’s relationship with Security Savings Bank CEO Don Bell seems like an unholy alliance.

Blessed Are the Moneymakers 

To some former Tri-City Ministries members, Pastor Carl Herbster’s relationship with Security Savings Bank CEO Don Bell seems like an unholy alliance.

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The "book" is Solid Ground: The Story of Security Savings Bank, a 22-page brochure that begins with the story of Bell and his wife, Faith, driving their Chevy Impala into Kansas from Texas in 1976. The pamphlet goes on to describe how Bell, after starting and growing a home-building business, took a leap of faith and bought a bank.

Bell credits his success with his reading of the prayer of Jabez. The Old Testament book of 1 Chronicles describes Jabez as a common Israelite. One day, Jabez calls on God: "Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain." God grants the wish.

The prayer became a sensation after the 2001 publication of The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life. The slim book, written by an industrious evangelist named Bruce Wilkinson, explained that the granting of a wish for enlarged territories was a sign that God wants his followers to take entrepreneurial risks. The prayer even found its way onto motivational coffee mugs. Critics accused Wilkinson of using a passage from an otherwise obscure book of the Bible to justify materialism. "It fits with the narcissism of the age," a theology professor explained to The New York Times. "Religious life is focused on me and my needs."

Solid Ground purports to give glory to God, but Don Bell doesn't come off looking too shabby, either. There are several photographs of Bell and his family. Men such as James Dobson, Phill Kline and Michael Copeland, the mayor of Olathe, attest to Bell's wisdom and generosity.

Bell has surrounded himself with Christian conservatives. Copeland was invited to sit on the bank's board of directors after Bell sacked the audit committee last fall, as was Olathe City Councilman and Kansas Board of Education member John Bacon, who is aligned with the state school board's conservative members. Kevin Gilmore, a former state school board member and current member of the Olathe School Board, is now the bank's chief executive officer.

The words "In God We Trust" hang on the wall of the Security Savings branch on Ridgeview Road in Olathe. Bell, who is now in his early 70s, says he is no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of the bank. He remains chairman. He would not comment on the upheaval at Security Savings, except to say that he didn't fire anyone.

"I always take the high road," he says.

Bell's decision to ally himself with Herbster might not prove so uplifting, however.

The distant date of Free's sentencing and the mention of cooperation with authorities in his plea agreement suggest that an investigation is ongoing.

Also, Herbster's political influence -- what attracted Bell to Herbster in the first place -- appears to have suffered. The number of candidates for office who visited the church in 2004 was down from previous election years.

Ex-church member Preston Smith says he saw Herbster in Jefferson City on the day that Governor Matt Blunt was inaugurated. Smith, a Blunt supporter, was sitting on the lawn with his son when he saw Herbster standing and waving his big arms in an effort to get the attention of dignitaries seated on the stage.

No one waved back.

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