As I(Andrew) sit here at my desk drinking hot coffee, sweat pouring down my face, waiting for the work day to start, I am having a hard time focusing. I am having a hard time focusing because I am having the same struggle today that I had before we came to Africa, only now it has intensified. I am struggling with this question…what is my responsibility?
OK, here is the debate raging in my head…what does it mean to be a good steward of God’s money? I looked up the meaning of steward and it says, “person who manages another’s affairs.” I then thought, “OK, I have people who are managing my affairs in the states and I would consider them a good steward if they act on my behalf in the same manner that I would act should I be managing the affairs myself.” Act like I would act and you are using my money well.
I knew that when we embarked on this mission we would be entrusted with a fairly large sum of money that people had given to the work going on in Sierra Leone through our family. I knew that I had a challenge before me in entering one of the poorest countries in the world with a large sum of money. How do I balance the intense poverty around me with the money I have in the bank that I need to sustain the work here long term. Could I say no for the “greater good”? I prepped myself before I came that I would try to be generous whenever I could, but that I would focus on long term success. Sounds good, right?
Now, we are here…and the debate continues. When you are reading this you might think that I am going to come to some great theological conclusion or some major revelation at the end, but I am just going to warn you up front that I do not have the answer just yet. This is just something that I am struggling with that I felt the need to write about because maybe someone else is going through the same thing, and it is our blog and I can write about whatever I want, hah! ***warning*** I have a lot on my mind so this could be a long post. Also, I am just going to be open, so you may think less of me when all this is said and done.
OK, so I had my game plan coming in to this. A couple of things have happened that kind of shook things up. When you travel into Freetown you must be prepared to be asked for money about 483 times per trip. I knew this so I usually take a few small bills and fold them up in my front pocket for easy access should I get into a situation that is not easily avoided. To be honest I felt pretty good with myself that I had the forethought to prepare to be generous..aren’t I a nice guy? Handing out money to the poor feels good and even though it was only a few dollars to me it was a lot to the person asking. I thought I was really doing well in this. I would say to myself, “ I will just let the Spirit lead and since I don’t have money for all 483 people I will just give to the ones I felt were most in need.” Sometimes looking back at myself, I feel like an idiot. God is completely aware of my idiocy and like to mess with me sometimes. I got a little too proud of myself and my ability to hand out a day’s worth of food(5000 leones) right and left. I thought I knew what I was doing in letting my own discernment determine who gets God’s money. I forgot that I am the steward, not the owner. Soooo God decided to throw me into a situation that I didn’t know how to handle and it has kind of rocked me. I like giving away money; but I don’t always like giving money when I am asked for it. I like it when baseball teams do a carwash to help earn money for state instead of just going from car to car asking for donations. So in turn, I am a little put off when someone is begging me for money. My default mode of thinking is, “sure you need money, what are you going to use it for and you probably have more than you are letting on.” What a jerk, right? I don’t know why I think this way, but sometimes I struggling with having a soft heart.
Ok, so I was walking around downtown with Roland (Sierra Leonian, TRS Logistics officer, helping us get settled) trying to find some stuff for the house. I had already given away all of my “pocket of generosity” money except for one bill. I am walking through the crowd trying to look like a man on a mission so everyone would leave me alone when all of the sudden I feel someone latch on to my arm. This really shocked me, I have people reaching for me all the time, but this is the first time someone has literally wrapped themselves around my arm. I felt like turning around and yelling, “who touched me?” like Jesus did when the lady touched his robe, except that I was angry and he just wanted to connect with his daughter. I turned around and it was an older woman who just kept saying please, please, please, and motioning that she needed to eat. Honestly, I just wanted to tell her to get off me so that I could continue on to my destination and I didn’t appreciate her methods. We just stood there for about 10 second which felt like 10 minutes. So many thoughts rushed through my head at that moment and I have to say that most of them were negative. I looked around and saw everyone watching us; waiting to see what I would do. I looked back at the woman and in her eyes was a look of desperation that I have never seen before. Her eyes told me that she had run out of options. I looked back at Roland to see if he knew of a way to get me out of this situation and he just shrugged and said, “She is hungry.” I looked at the people watching and thought, “What am I to do.” I finally just said OK and started digging in my “generosity pocket” and pulled out the equivalent to about $1 and handed it to her. To my relief she let go and I was feeling pretty good about myself as I walked away, until I caught the next look in her eyes. She looked down at the waded up bill I gave her then looked back at me with the look of, “is that all?” I have to admit my first thought was, “yes, that is all, and you need to be grateful for that after latching on to my arm so rudely.” As I walked away I felt like the biggest jerk. Here I am feeling like king of the world showing mercy on the little people by giving away pocket change when I have plenty of money in my backpack that I need to save because I am walking up the street to by a stupid window fan so I don’t sweat at night. I feel like I failed. Did I act how Jesus acted with the lady touched his robe…no. At that moment it was hard to say, “well, I was not entrusted with this money to help that lady, but to help the children at TRS and I need to be tight fisted with what I have so that I can stay here longer.” It is hard to remember that when I am looking into that woman’s eyes all I hear is God saying, “are you going to use my money wisely?” “Do you trust me to replace it?” I have to walk away and say, “what does it mean to be a good steward?” Is it up to me to define good stewardship, because I know how I have defined it in the past, but I feel friction when I read 1 John 3:17,18 “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and truth.”
Ok, so while this event is still fresh on my mind I meet a young man who lives next door to me. He is 13 and I liked him instantly. We speak often and he saw me and my kids heading down the hill so he walked with us a little ways. We told him that we are going to sports day practice (like track and field day) and that our big event was on Saturday. We told him he should come and he really liked that and asked if tomorrow he could come watch practice as well. The next day I am sitting at Juba field watching the kids practice and he comes walking up and plops down next to me. I am a little surprised that he showed up because I assumed he would be in school. I looked over at him and saw him in street clothes holding a box of packaged cookies. This really confused me because I could tell from our past conversations and his ability to speak English that he is fairly educated. I am always a little hesitant when building relationships here because a lot of times I can’t tell if someone really wants to be friends with me or just sees me as a way to get money. This usually manifests itself quickly and I noticed that not once has this boy asked me for anything, so maybe he really just enjoys my company, who wouldn’t, right? As we sat there watching the kids run I decided to probe a little further to see if I could find out why he isn’t in school. He was a little reluctant to answer, but once he got to talking he really opened up. Here is his story…He grew up in a town called Waterloo outside of Freetown, his mother left him when he was 2 because of the war, his father raised him, he went to school, he enjoyed life, his father died last year because his stomach was hurting, he had no one to care for him so he moved to Freetown, he lives with his aunt and 2 cousins, and he spends his days selling things that his aunt brings back from Nigeria. I asked him if he is attending school and he just simply shrugged and said, “no money”. I tend to be a little skeptical when people are telling me their “story” because everyone has a “story”. This boy was different. I felt that he was really being honest with me. So, this young man, who was on a decent path in life hit a fork in the road last year and is now an employee of his aunt, not going to school, and has lost both of his parents. How would I handle that? I don’t know.
Well, I decided to jump back into being Mr. Generous. I was a little hesitant because I worried about starting something that I couldn’t maintain. I prayed about how to help him, not knowing that God was about to give me a major life lesson, I decided that I would just buy some cookies and pay him a little extra. I bought 5 packages for my 5 kids and the total came to 2500 leones (about 60 cents) so feeling pretty good about myself I gave him a 10000 leone bill and told him to keep the change. He got a big smile on his face and I was back on top really feeling good about this “wise” move of mine. I assumed be would take the balance and deposit it in his pocket, and still have enough to return to his aunt to show he actually sold the cookies. Well, he did the strangest thing. His smile was because he now had the opportunity to be generous with what he had and he started giving away additional cookie packages to the kids around us. I was thinking “wait a minute, you are cancelling out my blessing to you.” So after he gave away about 10 packages I gave him an additional 10,000 to cover those so he would still have a balance left over to keep for himself…and what did he do… he saw this as an opportunity to give away even more to the kids around. I watched him doing this for a while and realized the joy for him was not in the receipt of the money, but in the ability to give it away. I told him, “thank you for being generous.” and he smiled at me and said, “I really like for them to have the cookies.” This cycle kept repeating for a while until I realized that I couldn’t outpace this kid. The more leones I would give him the more cookies he would give away. I look back at this situation and realized that even though I ended up paying about $10 for a few cookies for my kids, I really enjoyed giving him the money, in fact his generosity made me want to give him more, not so that he would have more in his pocket, but so that I could witness the joy he had when he gave to others and the smiles on the kid’s faces when they got cookies. Maybe the answer lies in this story. Maybe it isn’t about the money, but about the heart. Maybe that it why God does most things, because he is pursuing our heart. Money passes away, but our relationship with the Father is eternal. Maybe when he asks us to give it isn’t about the money itself, but about the heart change, the trust stretch… a better way. In my mind, this young boy was the best steward of my gift that I could have asked for and he gave it all away. What really gets me is that we both ended up with less money, but we were both richer as we walked back up the hill.
So when I read verses that say that I am blessed so that I can bless, or to give generously and God will fill the storehouses to overflowing, or the verse in 1 John above, do I just file it away in the drawer that says, “well, I do more than most”. Also, why do I feel so much friction in my soul when I read these verses. Is God trying to wake me up? Why do I always hear a whisper in my ear when reading verses like these that says, “it doesn’t REALLY mean that. God wouldn’t want to harm you by making you step out into the unknown. It isn’t wrong to be wealthy. God wants you to be happy and if you gave away all your money you or your family might suffer. He blesses certain people with money to fund the Christian campaign.” Is that the enemy’s deceit? Is my enemy trying to keep me from experiencing all that God offers in the sanctification process? Am I missing out on something big? Why am I so scared to trust the God? Fear is of the enemy. The commandments that are hard tend to have an outcome that makes us more like the Son so why should I be surprised when I get some resistance from Satan. He hates for me to be more like Christ…he hates it. Sometimes I wish I would just quit being a chicken, wake up, and grab hold of what my Father promises. Why are verses about generosity so ignored or hotly debated? I found that man’s wisdom usually tends to lean towards man’s comfort.
As I sat at my desk this morning pouring out this super long blog post, one of our amazing staff members popped in my office to say good morning. I asked him how he was doing and he said he was a little weak and may have to go to the doctor this morning so he was asking if he could be excused from the staff meeting. I asked him what was wrong and he said yesterday after church he went to visit a family in the community who lost their grandfather. There was a little girl there who was about to die so he took her to the hospital. She needed blood, so he gave even though he is battling health issues of his own and has been trying to build up strength…so he is weak today, but smiling. That is generosity…that is Christ-like generosity. He gave because the need was there, not because he was the best candidate, or because he had abundance. He gave because Christ first gave to him. Everything this man does is to honor Christ so I don’t know why this surprised me like it did. I then joined the staff devotion and came upon the verses below. I will leave you with this. Please know this is just me sharing my struggles. I may be wrong in my thinking and my situation may be different than most, but maybe we are missing out….
2 Corinthians 9:6-11
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.
You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.