I’ve often said to myself, “i wish that i had more money… so that i could be generous and give it away to people in need.” You know- be that person who always comes through and helps out the single mother when her car breaks down or helps pay for the medical treatment of a sick kid. That person who just comes through for you when youre in a bad spot.
The church I’ve been going to here lets senior citizens who are homeless sleep in cots in the church parking lot. This way they can stay dry and are a bit safer than if they were out sleeping on the streets. And for the past couple weeks I’ve been going with my friend Jennifer on Sunday mornings to give them a simple breakfast, and as a result have gotten to know them a bit.
In church one night I sat next to my favorite little old lady. She’s 84: Dona Mary. She is little and slightly hunched over from years of life. And such a personality. A ‘chispa’ or spark, we would say in Spanish. And so it comes to be the time of the service when they pass around the offering plate. And I always sort of look away uncomfortably, suddenly finding the words on my pen ‘Hartford Hospital Orthopedic Joint Center’ so fascinating. Not that I don’t want to give, of course, but I get paid a really low salary here, I’m trying to save up a bit too. When I have a bit more in a future I’ll make up for it. But what should Dona Mary do? I should give some back story first: Dona Mary survives by selling bars of soap on the street corners. Shes the type of person you would probably avoid. Torn clothing. Sort of a bag lady. A twisted foot with long yellow nails. But eyes that are alive and dances as she sings. Those clear blue eyes can only be described as having a special twinkle. Her heart is so fully love.
So as I’m awkwardly trying not avoid eye contact with anyone, she starts fumbling through her bags and pulls out an old film canister (like back from when people actually had to buy rolls of film) and then puts four pesos into the offering plate. Four pesos. Now I know unless you live in the DR, you don’t know what that’s worth. So to give you a sense for how little that actually is, you cant even buy a banana (the cheapest fruit here) with four pesos. But its what she had. And so its what she gave.
I literally watched as the widow from the bible gave her last two coins (Mark 21:41-44).
And I was completely humbled. But humbled in the hard way. Like brought face to face with my own stinginess, and clack of trust in God and His provision. I have a bank account of savings back home. I have a (albeit low) paying job. And I was putting in nothing.
So around then is when the light bulb went off. I don’t have to wait to be ‘rich’ to start being generous. I can be generous now, where I am. With what I have. So I made the decision for the next three months to give away half my salary. As soon as I got my pay check I just put half of it aside with the decision that if God brought anyone into my life who had a need, then I would do what I could to meet that need, and if nothing happened, well I would just give it to the church.
I’ve always been careful with my money. Ok, that’s the nice way to put it. Borderline Uncle Scrooge would probably be more accurate. But it was such a relief to do that every month. Because immediately that money was no longer mine. Really, none of ‘my money’ is really mine, everything I own Is really on borrow from God. But that money was specifically set aside. And so I was able to meet people’s needs, like when one of the ‘anciano’ (as they were called) needed a new pair of shoes, I didn’t just go out and buy the cheapest pair I could find, but I when out a splurged on a pair that would really meet their needs, because well, I had to spend that money on something anyway. Sometimes I used I bought clothes, sometimes bibles. I sent money to a friend who was in a really desperate situation. It would have been really hard for me to do that otherwise. But having made the decision to give that money up, gave me the freedom to do it.
It did mean that I had to make some sacrifices. After paying rent and buy food, there wasn’t a lot left. I went out less and walked more (to avoid paying the 30 cent bus fare!).
And from it I came to understand a bit more what Jesus meant in the parable of the talents. He who has been faithful with little, will be faithful with much. If I wont be generous with little, I probably won’t be any better if I was to be rich.
I cant say those few months completely transformed me. Sometimes I do still hesitate to give, when i should be more open-handed. But it did challenge me. I realized how little I actually need, and how much extra i tend to spend. And I saw how little sacrifices on my part, could make such a big difference in the life of someone else. So, if a homeless, 84 year-old Dominican woman can give 4 pesos, at the very least I can give up a few drinks.