The young couple was living far from home, juggling college studies and part-time work, in preparation for overseas missionary work. Their first child was due and then complications set in. It was a difficult birth, and the hospital bill totalled much more than their meagre budget allowed. When the time came for the new father to take mother and baby home, the hospital authorities balked. Pay your bill first, they insisted. Neighbours in the small community came to the rescue, going from door to door to collect enough funds to cover the unexpected medical bills.
That is the story of the gracious generosity I experienced at the beginning of my life. Since then, many other stories have reminded me that good things happen when God’s people practise faithful giving. Generous people have given to charities I have been involved with, supporting media projects, hospital work, museums, congregations and a whole variety of community-based charities. I have seen donors give gifts large and small, believing in the vision and integrity of those who made the requests.
Several years ago, I witnessed this generosity up close, in my work at the Mennonite Foundation of Canada (now Abundance Canada). I handled the actual cheques that went to charities, inserting them into envelopes along with letters containing the donors’ intentions. Some days—even though I was handling other people’s money—I felt like Santa Claus!
These donors had taken stock of the resources available to them and had opened their hearts and hands to others. Some of them gave regular gifts, spread over many years. The gifts were of all sizes—from two digits to six digits. Sometimes gifts would go out with no donor name, because that giver wanted to bless a charity’s mission anonymously. For some, the generosity extended after their death, through their estate.
As I stuffed the envelopes, I imagined the joy that would pop out when their recipients opened them. Someone believed in the work of their charity—trusted enough to share!
While I have never had large amounts to donate, it is clear: I am rich. You probably are too. We live in a stable society, with many opportunities for work and leisure. We have access to information and education. Food is plentiful and healthcare is a given. War is far from our doors. (If you still doubt your wealth, check out this website to see how you rate against people in other parts of the world: globalrichlist.com.)
In our feature “Full stomach, faulty memory” on page 4, Dori Zerbe Cornelsen invites us to be active circulators of the gifts we have received from the Giver of all that is good. Elsewhere in this issue, we highlight stories of giving: the highly successful MCC B.C. Festival for World Relief (page 20), the volunteer who has packed 35,000 school kits (page 22), and the Ride for Refuge cyclists who raised funds for Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers (page 12).
At times when the balance in the bank account is low, it can be hard to believe that we have something to give. Fear sets in, or maybe even panic: I worked hard for this money; I deserve to keep it. Will I have enough to meet my own future needs? I know I should give more but. . . . Why does God ask so much of me?
Which brings us to the scariest hymn in Hymnal: A Worship Book: “Take My Life,” (No. 389). The poet Frances R. Havergal lists many elements of life—her hands, her feet, her voice, her time, her intellect, her will, her silver and gold, and even her heart—and offers them to God as an act of love. This hymn invites you and me to release those parts of ourselves to our Creator. As we loosen our grip on the things that bring security, can we trust that God will provide for our needs?
As we enter into a season when many requests for donations are coming our way, it is good to remember that we serve a generous God who cares for us. A God who seeks to unleash a spirit of giving in each of us. How will we respond? What new stories of generosity will we be able to tell?