Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Giving with Thanksgiving

Giving with Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving Eve, 2008

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27

I walked into the church that evening with a sense of gratitude and joy. It was Thanksgiving Eve, 2008, and as I looked back on the year that was drawing to a close, I saw that each significant moment my family had walked through had the fingerprints of God all over it. The congregation assembled in order to reflect and celebrate the reality of this in the life of each person present. Children thanked Jesus for their family, their friends, and their homes. An elderly woman praised God by sharing that she was learning to count her blessings "ton by ton." Others shared of illnesses the Lord had brought them through. As the sharing continued, many tears of joy and realization were shed as many reflected upon how present indeed God is in every moment. This is the way the Thanksgiving holiday is truly meant to be, I thought. Our lives are often consumed by the battles we must fight, so that it gets hard to see God is still winning the war.
Pastor Josh shared about Sister Connection, an organization he had recently become very involved with. Their mission is to help widows of a tragic war that in 1993 tore the country and families of Burundi apart. Hundreds of thousands of people perished in this conflict, the majority being men and husbands. Countless women were left widows, plunged to the bottom of the social hierarchy. These women, who often had many children to feed, found themselves homeless and despised. Denise Patch was an American woman who had spent some childhood years living among the people of Burundi. She learned of the plight of the people of Burundi, and ached to help. When some stability came to Burundi in 2004, Denise was able to work with and old Burundian friend, Joy Buconyori to help widows there. They developed an organization through which people may sponsor widows and help to provide them with the means to self sufficiency and the ability to feed their families. They also provide a program that builds houses for these widows. Many homes were destroyed or taken from these women in the war, and because of their societal position, they are not able to fight for their rights.
This is where Pastor Josh told us we, as a church body could become involved intimately with these people. We could help restore their dignity by providing the funds to build them homes! When a home is built for a widow by sister connection, local people are hired to do it. People who may have previously shunned a widow would now be building her a home. It was a powerful thing. Josh reminded us, 'We're all going to head into a weekend of feasting and celebrating. We should do so without any feelings of guilt. Like Nehemiah called the people of Israel to do (during their Sacred Assembly) - 'Go eat choice foods and sweet drinks... Just remember to send something to the poor.' That's what we're going to do tonight before we leave. We're going to take a special offering to see how many houses we can help finance for the widows in war-torn Burundi..." He told us that the cost of one home was just $600. Worship songs were sung and tears rolled down many cheeks. I remembered the things the children of our church had shared their thanks for: family, friends, their homes, food. These were the very things the children of these Burundian widows were uncertain of in their lives. What a simple and beautiful thing it would be to join together to be the hands and feet of Jesus to these people.
At the end of the service Pastor Josh stood up front, barely able to speak as tears choked out his words. The offering total was $10,194. Well, that was the total until one little girl realized we were only $6 short of being able to build a 17th house. She then added $6 so that we could have an even $10,200 and that 17th widow could be given a house. I was reminded of the miracle Jesus had done with a young boy's loaves of bread and fishes. He multiplied them to feed countless people. Seventeen widows were on Jesus' mind that night, and he brought all of us together there, having provided the means for us to give, so that he could once again work His wonders. I believe this moment was a watershed moment for our body of Christ as we were struck with awe at the way God works when, with thanksgiving, we give.