I set the flavored coffee creamer out with a quiet sense of pride. We were having friends over for coffee and i loved having something special to serve with our coffee. We were at a crucial stage of our lives. Struggling with credit card debt from a party lifestyle before meeting Jesus, and unable to make ends meet, we were praying about moving from Ohio back to Lancaster Co where Marlin had a job offer. (btw, i had told God i would rather move to China than back to Lancaster. That's another whole story but you can guess where God put us. Lancaster it was.) So our mentor friends came over and we were fellowshipping and sharing about our frustrations when our friend made a comment that has never left me and that changed my whole perspective. He pointed at my bottle of coffee creamer and ever so kindly told me that even little things like that make a difference when you want to get out of debt. I was stunned but after i got over my reaction, i knew i had heard truth and God wanted me to pay attention. That was years ago and we did move back to Lancaster. (and it was a blessing) I struggled with the fact that as a stay at home, homeschooling mama of many littles, i couldn't make money to help out with that debt load. So i prayed about it and the Holy Spirit impressed on my heart that every little sacrifice i made, He would multiply it, loaves and fishes style. I would stand at yard sales, debating whether God meant something as small as a 50 cent piece of something pretty. Often i would lay it back down and walk away, wondering exactly how God was going to manage to multiply something so small but knowing that my heart felt free. I didn't realize that God was teaching me basic principles of money management, of self denial, and of trust. And somehow, He multiplied our efforts and we were able to pay off all debts far sooner than we ever dreamt possible. We talked about calling the Dave Ramsey show and screaming "we're debt free!!" but that never happened. Instead we bought a farm and learned what being poor, american style, really was. :)
So we move to Africa and Marlin and i wrestled with the poverty outside our compound walls. We knew what it was like to struggle financially but never had we seen anything like we saw here. Our typical, American response was to start handing out money and food but thankfully we had people here who warned us against that. It wasn't long before cynicism knocked on our heart's doors and when the electricity would go out for the fifth time in one day, one of us was sure to mutter, "stupid country." I worried and prayed about our hearts, wondering if we were going to leave discouraged and bitter. It seemed that the more the poor received the more they demanded, and the more they demanded the less we felt like giving. And yet we couldn't deny that there were very real needs surrounding us, and that the Americans had the power and money to help. So why did everything seem backwards and wrong? Were missions and foreign aid a joke? Maybe even wrong? So what does a person do about the scriptures telling believers to help the poor? What about the great commission? And what about the fateful verse, "Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away?" I was ready to hand out everything we had and Marlin and i got into some heated (i mean loving, ha!) discussions about what that verse means. Turns out maybe i was wrong and he was right. What??
And then i was handed a book this past weekend that i've been devouring in great gulps. "The other side of the wall" by Gary Miller. If you have any interest in missions, reaching the poor, and giving, you need to read it. If you have no interest in such things i pity your poor soul. He hits every question that Marlin and i have struggled with and lays out Biblical giving in a clear, compassionate way. I had such guilt when we first came with being born not only in one of the world's richest countries, but also being born into a culture that values honesty, moral integrity, and a hard work ethic. I also wanted to kick every African male's backside who took a second wife. Still working through that one.
The crux of the matter is that every true, born again believer is going to have a heart of compassion. It might not look the same or be walked out the same, but it will be at the core of a Jesus obeying person. But in spite of having giving, compassionate hearts, a person can do real damage by winging out dollar bills left and right. We have seen that damage. However, there is a place for giving financially and we have been the grateful recipients of people who gave to us in time of need. I don't think i'll ever forget the time when we had hit bottom emotionally and financially on the farm, questioning whether we had heard from God in the first place, and we opened the mail and someone had blessed us financially in a way that we knew they couldn't really afford. We sat that day in stunned amazement, tears streaming down our faces.
Sometimes you "just" need someone to walk beside you in love and humility, strengthening your faith in yourself and your abilities. We've been blessed with friends who have also done that. They believed in us, even when we weren't sure we believed in ourselves. They gave counsel and sometimes simply listened, drinking coffee (without fancy creamers ;) and hearing our hearts.
Now that i think of it, i don't think Marlin and i have ever faced true poverty. We've always been blessed with rich relationships and so many other amazing components that have made us into who we are. Our hearts are to take what we have learned, and are learning, and apply it to our giving.