Thursday, December 11, 2014

Watching for God's Quiet Gifts This Holiday Season: The Gift of Offering

She slowly hobbled forward, her bare feet making a sound like a stiff bush sweeping the dusty ground. The tiny infant on her back bounced gently, not seeming to mind the tightly bound cloth around his legs and shoulders as long as his mother’s warmth was close. 

A Simple Offering
On the cracked floor the woman laid her small offering.  It was a bundle of dried corn, partially gnawed by the rats that shared her mud hut.  But mostly, the cob was full.

Next walked, almost marched, a man of indiscernible age, but certain dignity, his head held chiefly high. He placed a shiny new green and yellow package of chai, or dried black tea leaves, reverently beside the corn.

The scuffling in the back of the tin-roofed church caused us all to whip our heads around to stare then. Pulling and straining was a young man, strong and lean, determined to bring his offering to add to the others. 

We gaped while he cajoled, clicked, and jerked as a young female goat stubbornly followed him down the middle of the crowd to the front. Small beads of sweat gleamed on his brow as he reached his destination, turning and smiling brilliantly.

He remained in place, not trusting his offering to stay on its altar without help.

We watched with more riveted attention than Sneak Preview Night at the local movie theater back home. 

The Pastor stepped forward and the bidding began. Holding the corn high above his head, he waited. A small woman with a wizened, wrinkled face held up five shillings. The crowd waited in silence. Sold! Lunch for five shillings, to the lady in blue!

Next went the chai. Two men and one woman squabbled, until it went for twenty shillings to a little boy standing in the shadows. We all knew he was the grandson of one of the bidders.

All the while goat man stood to the side smiling, shifting his weight occasionally as the animal tried to make a run for it. The pastor approached him, took the rope, and held it before us. The once-raucous room went silent.  

A goat is a status-symbol. It means not going hungry. It means wealth. It means power.  

A goat can give you cheese, milk, or meat. It can give you more goats, which in a poor African village, means money. And perhaps most sacred, it is thought to give you power with your ancestors. Sacrificed, it is believed to appease them so curses will be lifted and blessings will come to your family.

Every mind was thinking the same thing. This is surely the most valuable gift being given today.

So we sat in the silence, the only sound the shuffling of impatient goat hooves. Even the children remained still.

Startled, I jumped as my husband’s quiet voice beside me said, “300 shillings”. He smiled at me  mischievously, I stared at him shocked, and the crowd watched with anticipation. “What does a muzungu (white person) need a goat for?” they whispered to each other.

After a long minute, everyone breathed a collective sigh as the pastor said, “It’s sold! To David’s wife! She is now a (respected, honored, worthy) goat owner!”

I approached Pastor uncertainly and took the rope he offered to me, placing the promised shillings in the offering basket. Because I didn’t know what else to do, I promptly turned, faced my smiling audience, and walked my goat the two miles home to my own mud hut.  

All along the way, villagers shouted the news: “Chizi has a goat! She is a real woman now!” The crowd of children following me grew into a parade of celebration by the time I reached my door.  

That Christmas in a small village in Kenya, I learned about the gift of offering. At Christmas time and around the year, we have the gift of being able to bring an offering to Him. 

We are no different from the African Aduruma in our giving, really. We bring what we have, shabby, small, and stubborn. 

We judge the value of others’ offerings and estimate their worth to God.  We deem some gifts to be better than others. And sometimes we have to drag our offerings kicking to the altar, standing guard to make sure they don’t run off.  

School Savings Account
When I left Kenya two years later, I gave my goat, who I had named Petunia, to my best friend Fatuma as a parting gift.  Petunia’s milk and babies paid for Fatuma’s youngest daughter to go to school. 

The stubborn goat became a school savings account, as it were.  I was very satisfied with the way that Christmas offering turned out.

But I suspect that in her little mud hut, bent over her cooking fire on the floor, the young mother who gave her corn was satisfied too.  Her humble gift opened her heart to the love of Christ that Christmas, and I saw a change in her. 

He took her gift of love and loved her back with a love so big she began to walk in joy instead of sadness, confidence instead of fear.

Regardless of the value of the gift, it is not the object that draws us near to Him. It’s the bringing. 

  • The Drummer boy in the famous Christmas carol had only a song to offer. 
  • The widow had only a mite. 
  • King David had shame and repentance.
  • Thomas had doubt. 
  • All received more than they gave.

What offering will you bring to God this Christmas? 

3 comments:

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  2. Beautiful. What a sweet message God has given you from your Missionary ministry. It brought to mind a young man's gift he laid at the altar recently at church. It must have been puzzling to others who saw it lying there. Only myself and his family knew the significance of the "gift"... the idol he surrendered to God that day. We knew... he and God knew... that the real gift was the surrender of his heart and life to Jesus.

    Thanks for sharing this story. I am looking forward to reading more.

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  3. Thank you Melissa for sharing. It is so comforting to know the Receiver knows the value of the gifts we lay down.

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