The winners of a lucrative worldwide essay-writing contest have been announced-and nineteen people are a little wealthier now than they were just a few days ago. The so-called Power of Purpose Awards were given out by the John Templeton Foundation--which is better known for its one-point-4 million dollar Templeton Prize -- an annual award unrivaled in size that honors individuals who've done research on spiritual matters. VOA's Maura Farrelly reports that the Power of Purpose Awards are just the latest example of how a man who made a fortune on the stock market is now using the fruits of his success to inspire people to inspire one another.

The Power of Purpose essay writing contest was announced earlier this year. It was mentioned in several prominent international news and literary magazines, and organizers also relied heavily on the internet to spread word about the competition. The guidelines were pretty loose. Contestants could submit a story about themselves or someone they had met. They could submit a work of fiction or a report they had filed for a newspaper or magazine. They could even submit an editorial… and indeed, many did. In the end, more than 7,000 essays were sent to the John Templeton Foundation, and project director Michael Reagan says they all affirmed a basic belief held by the foundation's founder.

Reagan Sir John Templeton is a great believer in the positive notion of purpose, you know, that man can act on behalf of mankind and do good in the world, that we are all sort of imbued with a sense of purpose, it's just a question of finding it.

The winning essay was a 9-page, true story about a monk whose kindness and simplicity inadvertently challenges the author's assumptions about life, love, and the nature of God. The essay was written by a graduate student from North Carolina named August Turak (tur-AHK). He took home an astounding 100 thousand dollars for his story. The four second-place winners each received 50 thousand dollars. And in total, 500 thousand dollars was given out to 19 people who wrote essays about the inspirational power of purpose.

What was amazing, if you look at the 19 winners, was the broad spectrum… you know, from basically a short biography of (the 19th century physicist) Michael Faraday, to a monk in South Carolina who held an umbrella on Christmas Eve, to an illiterate lady who, in her 60s, wanted to learn to read because she wanted to write poetry.

But Mr. Reagan concedes that 100 thousand dollars is an awful lot of money for a 9-page essay…

Well, that's Sir John. I mean, he doesn't do anything in a small way! You know, the great thing about this guy, I mean, he's 92, he's very successful in business, obviously, and then took his money and created this foundation, and the foundation is mainly interested in the convergence of science and religion and promoting the idea of the convergence of science and religion. But he also has other areas of interest, and he puts his money where his ideas are. He doesn't just talk about it.

Most of this year's winners came from the United States, but Michael Reagan says he and his colleagues are looking at ways to encourage more people from other countries to participate. They also want to ensure that the judging doesn't reflect an overly western understanding of the power of purpose. It isn't clear at this point if the essay-writing contest will become an annual event, but Michael Reagan says there's definitely an interest in having another one. The 19 winners of this year's competition have all had their essays published on the web… at… and Michael Reagan says the foundation plans to publish the essays in a book.