Every week this year we are exploring the theme of “The People.” Today we jump in with……
“The People who taught me how to really give.”
Adam Tarver is the Minister to Youth at West Hills Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. He studied Religion and Applied Psychology at Carson-Newman University and received his M.Div. from McAfee School of Theology. Adam is an avid Atlanta Braves fan and disc golfer.
I know what you’re probably thinking…another blog about giving from a Baptist minister. This should be good…but just stick with me.
Giving is not always easy. We give of our time, talent, and treasure. And yet that still doesn’t seem to be enough sometimes. There are still all kinds of needs both inside and outside the church doors. How do you ever begin to know when enough is enough?
That was the question I was faced with when I found myself on the other side of the world in Calcutta, India my sophomore year of college. The need was unbelievable and beyond overwhelming. Everywhere we went we saw extreme poverty and the people that Jesus calls us to help- the lame, the orphans, the widows, the lepers, were on every street corner. How in the world were we supposed to ever determine who we should and shouldn’t help?
I wish I could say I left that trip with all the answers to who we should help, when, and how much we should give, but I didn’t. I struggled the entirety of our two weeks in Calcutta with what I was supposed to do. How could I do more than place a band aid on the gaping wounds that were all around?
Flash forward now five years later where I was a youth minister at a church in the middle of one of the richest parts of Atlanta. It was an ordinary Sunday morning. Our teenagers were all sitting together in the sanctuary. I was sitting with them hoping we wouldn’t have any major crises during the service today. I try to ignore that they all have their phones out…maybe they are just taking notes? Anyways, the time in the service comes when our ushers come forward and pass the offering plates and in the middle of an ordinary Sunday something extraordinary happened.
One of the boys in our group came from a very unfair and heartbreaking background. As a result, he and his family did not have much. As the plate reached our row I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. This young boy who had very little was digging through his pockets. When the plate got to him, I saw the boy take something out of his pocket and place it in the plate. A few moments later I realized what he had put in the plate- a stick of gum.
At first I wasn’t sure if I should be touched or angry, but then I realized that this boy was not laughing about it. He wasn’t doing it to see how I would react or to see if he could bait me into taking something out of the offering plate. This boy gave a stick of gum because it was legitimately all he had to give, and that’s a big deal. In middle of one of the richest parts of our nation, a boy gave a stick of gum and I will never forget it.
When we ask how much should I give of my time, talent, and treasure, often we are looking for a number. We are looking for a dollar amount or an amount of time. That boy was searching for neither of those. He simply gave what he had, and I imagine that is what giving is really all about. Isn’t there a parable about something like this?
As I think back to that time I spent in Calcutta I still struggle with wondering if I could have or should have done more. Sure, I probably could have bought one less gift for family. I could have lingered a little bit longer to hear another beggar’s story on the street. I could have put a few more band aids on a few more situations, but then again band aids really aren’t doing that much are they? The story of that seventh grade boy reminds me that giving is about more than how I see it. Giving is as much about the giver as it is about the recipient, and to those people that band aid stopped the bleeding even if only for a little while and that matters. To those people that matters and that should matter to me. I may not be able to put an end to poverty, but I can create change one person at a time. Even if for just one day.
As I thought back on my time in Calcutta as I was writing this I realized something. In so many ways that experience is still giving. Those people do not remember me, but I remember them, and I still dream about how I can help them by helping my neighbors here and afar. In this model giving is no longer something that we do once in a while when we have time. Giving becomes a part of us that holds on and won’t let go because God is always calling us to go further, to dig deeper, and live into the people that God is dreaming of us to be. In many ways this type of giving is no longer something that we do as it is something that we are and something that we are becoming.
I don’t know what happen to the gum that the boy placed in the offering plate. I imagine the counters picked it out and threw away with a roll of their eyes, but ultimately I don’t think it matters. What matters is that boy gave what he had because he felt led to give something precious to him. May we give like that.