It happened a long time ago, but it has haunted me like the Ghost of Christmas Past. I had been serving as a missionary for two or three years and was in the States on a fund raising trip. We were visiting a Church in Southern Indiana when the nightmare came alive. Someone from the congregation led us to a musty back room in the Church building where several large boxes and crates were stacked.
“We had a yard sale a few weeks back,” began our excited host. “All the stuff in these boxes are the clothes that didn’t sell. We thought that before we took them to the landfill, you might like to go through them and take whatever you want.”
It didn’t hit me at first, the insult, I mean. It wasn’t until I was watching my children going through the boxes searching for gleanings that it came to me. This man just asked, “Would you like to go through our garbage to find clothes to wear?” It’s not good enough for us or for anyone else in our little town, but you missionaries might love it?”
The worst part is, we were so desperate we did it. We needed clothes so badly, that we salvaged what we could, beggars that we were. I’m not too good to wear 2nd or third hand clothes. I still do it to this day, but the way the offer was put to me cut like a knife to my soul. I had dragged my family halfway around the world to serve others and some people thought we should be eager to wear their trash. It didn’t sit well.
Fast forward about 3 years. This time we are visiting what is now Lifebridge Church in Longmont, Colorado. One of the Elders and his wife took us to an upscale department store in the local mall and said, “Go buy whatever you’d like. Suits, shirts, shoes, whatever you all need.” I was stunned bythe act of open handed (and hearted) generosity. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had new clothes. And I was putting cardboard in my shoes because the holes in the soles had become so big.
What a contrast between the two events. One was a living horror; the other was like my first Christmas.
I was reminded of those incidents recently, because I’ve been talking to people from some North Georgia food pantries about the donations they receive. It seems that many people are generous to a fault, bringing in bags, boxes and cans of some outstanding produce. Others, though, and not a small number, are bringing in donations near or at their throw out dates. At the very best, they are less than fresh.
I don’t ever want to be guilty of making someone feel that I am expecting them to wear, or eat, my garbage. I want to champion a better way.
What if we took the first of our harvests, of our freshly baked breads, of our free range eggs and donated those, instead of our surplus and leftovers? What if we could surprise those reliant on our generosity with baskets of the freshest, healthiest, most nutritious fare available? If it is ‘more blessed to give than to receive”, then just think what would happen if, like the old Hallmark card ad said, we “cared enough to give the very best.”
Back in the mid 90s, I was attending a large Baptist Church in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida. It really was an outstanding congregation. One of the highlights of my couple of years there happened between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I believe the year was 1994, but could have been 1995.
Each year, the Church put on a huge Christmas production. I don’t remember now, how many nights the program ran, but it was about 5, with several thousand in attendance for each performance. What is etched in my memory, however, was opening night. That performance was not open to the public. It was reserved for the homeless, for single mothers living in shelters, for battered women living under protection and for those living in halfway houses.
The evening began with a parade of busses going to various shelters and pick up points to collect the many hundreds of adults and children who would be attending the gala opening night. While we were collecting them (I was serving as an attendant on one of the busses and as a waiter for the meal), the Church commercial kitchen and dining area were turned into a banquet hall.
As the guests entered the area, the gasps were audible. The homeless, battered, recovering and lonely were greeted with linen covered tables, complete with center pieces and candles. There were real dishes instead of paper plates. Turkeys by the dozen had completed their roasting, filling the air with mouth watering aromas. There were mountains of potatoes, and gravy ran like rivers.
As I was wandering the room refilling glasses of tea and water, one little boy looked at me pleadingly, “Mister, could I have another roll?”
“Young man, you can have all the rolls you like.”
His eyes grew as wide as dinner plates as he turned and said, “Did you hear that, Mommy? He said I could have all the rolls I wanted. This is the best Christmas ever.”
I had to walk away. The memory of the conversation brings a lump in my throat and fresh tears, nearly 17 years later.
After dinner, the attendees were treated to a private concert, and then we took them home. There were far more smiles on the return trip than on the inbound one. Barriers were lowered, lives were touched, bonds were created. My life is better because I was a part of that evening.
It really is more blessed to give than to receive. When we give abundantly, the blessings grow exponentially. Trust me; I know what I’m talking about.
Let me finish this meandering ramble with a suggestion. Next time you decide to give something to a food pantry or a clothing drive or something similar, think about what you like to eat, wear or use. Imagine you’re buying for yourself or your best friend. Jesus said when we perform acts of kindness for others; we’re doing them for Him. I’m thinking He deserves the very best.