“Every generous act of giving with every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.” James 1:17
Two days after my ordination, I boarded a plane for South Africa in order to begin a period of service at a Presbyterian church in a township outside of Cape Town. Looking back on that time, I am still shocked that I thought my first experience in ministry should be in a culture and place so different from my own. Yet, the tremendous growing pains I endured have proven to be both fruitful and life-giving to me as a minister and disciple of the gospel.
I have sought to articulate my experience here, but I have come gravely short. To describe the immense beauty and tragedy, to properly impart the sacredness of ministry anywhere, but in particular in this place, is to attempt the impossible. After almost a year, I am surprised by how hard it is at times to minister as an outsider, and at the same time, how comfortable I feel sitting in a shack, laughing or praying with someone from a vastly different background and yet who I consider friend. In both my uncertainty and also in my confidence, God’s grace has been sufficient.
Of the many truths I have learned from the people I have encountered in South Africa, it is the concept of generosity which has touched me most deeply. In a community where scarcity runs rampant, where the cupboard remains bare more often than not, I have witnessed incredible gestures of abundance and sharing. Most South African’s don’t think in terms of “mine,” but instead assume a posture of “ours.” If there is a loaf of bread or a bushel of oranges, they would rather share it, than save it. One always thinks of giving first and tomorrow’s need last. I must admit, at times I have been frustrated by this way of living. It has seemed foolish. I have even encouraged budgets and financial planning, but the fact is, when a South African mama encounters someone in need, budgets and plans go out the window. Responding to present suffering trumps even the best made plans, and on most occasions at the expense of one’s own daily bread. Before they consider themselves, they consider their neighbor, and in doing so, mimic the way of Christ.
This is just way that God taught the Israelites to live in the desert. Every day God gave them manna from the sky. They learned to gather just enough and not too much because by the next day the saved manna was no longer edible. When the people of God were in the wilderness, they learned to share instead of to save. Though the wilderness was not an easy place to be, it was where people learned best how to follow God. They learned to trust God and be faithful to God because God was their only hope. They couldn’t rely on themselves for their food or water. Instead they had to trust that God would provide all that they needed. The wilderness is a place to experience God’s extreme generosity. It is a place where one must share instead of save.
A day does not go by that I do not encounter someone begging in the street. This is especially hard for me when I am wearing my clerical collar. I have lost count of the number of times I have not been the Good Samaritan, but instead the priest who walked along the other side of the road. Debates on whether or not one should give money to beggars or rather build up the institutions which strive to intervene in more systemic ways rage in my head each morning when I drive by the blind woman and her child or the man with only one leg and one arm. Debates aside, I do know what Jesus would do, and I try at least once a day, in some capacity, to actually do it.
Generosity is about doing; it is about being a doer, a doer of the word. In James’ epistle he says, “Be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” Being a doer of the word is about being a doer of generosity. In fact, one cannot be generous without doing. Generosity and doing go together. Generosity is witnessed best though our actions, in how we spend our time and our resources.
For many, this year has not been a time when generosity seemed possible. Jobs have been lost and financial woes continues to loom ever close. Nonetheless, acts of generosity help us to think not only of ourselves and our troubles, but instead of those who are more weary, recognizing that in our giving we mimic the way of Christ. In addition to financial giving, one can also live generously through sharing their time and energy. When I hear from someone that they have prayed for me and those I minister to here, I have been reminded of what it means to share not only what we have by way of material resources but also to share, literally, our own selves. Even more than money or material resources, being generous of one’s self and one’s time is often most precious.
In our actions and in our lives we can be doers of God’s word, evangelism at its finest. In acts of generosity, in a willingness to share all that we are and all that we have, we can be witnesses of God’s gracious way. As you give generously, do generously for others, you serve our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and faithfully sow the seeds of God’s heavenly kingdom.
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