It took me a long time to learn how much fun giving can be. For years, I was mostly into receiving and only gave grudgingly. It really wasn’t until we began our move to Africa and had to sell or give away almost all our stuff that I began to see the light. It was hard at first, but it became easier and easier until it became absolute joy. When almost everything was gone but old furniture and appliances I didn’t think anyone would want, I called a friend who was the head of Hispanic Ministries for the Methodist Church. I told him what I had and in less than two hours, five families with pick-up trucks had stripped the place bare. When you come to a new country with only the clothes on your back--a working refrigerator, a bed frame and mattress, an old microwave, even lawn furniture can become treasures. The people were so nice and so grateful I could hardly believe it. I have loved giving ever since and often give away more than I should, but I don’t think anyone ever gets kicked out of heaven for being too generous. My father was the same way, and I see the same thing being passed down as my son just gave our old television set to one of our workers and helped him set it up in his house. What I hadn’t realized, probably because I was living in the first world, was that almost everyone wants to give, but the really poor are struggling too hard just to live to have the luxury of giving. My wife (remember her?) was the first to point out to me that we could do that—we could give the gift of giving to the poor. We have an abundance of fruit trees and always have a bumper crop that we just cannot eat. My wife had our workers collect all the fruit and then had them give it away to the neighbors. She gave our workers strict instructions that they were to say the gifts were from them and not from us. We have since done the same with breeding goats for widows and gifts of clothes and school fees.
Christmas a year ago, Karen had another good idea. Here, for about fifty cents, you can buy a pre-wrapped box (the size of a shoebox) with a lid that can be lifted without destroying the wrapping, so it can be used again and again. They come with a small ribbon, so you can’t just lift the lid and see what’s inside. We bought a bunch of these for our Christmas gifts and had quite a few left over. So, on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas), Karen took all the pre-wrapped boxes we had left and filled them with mangoes and bananas and put a 5,000 Tsh note in the bottom (about $2.50). Then, she had our workers come up with lists of people who were hungry (we'd been in a drought) and had them deliver them to those people. Again, she gave them strict instructions that they were to say the gifts were from them and not from us. She gave them the gift of giving. When they came back to report on how the gifts were received, they just could not stop smiling. They were able to do what few in their positions ever get to do, they were able to give to others, to feed the hungry, and it made them so very, very happy.
The picture at the right is of a girl who is still not sure about why she was given a gift of fruit, but she is eating it. This is a long way from the way I was when I would get really upset if I gave somebody something and they didn’t respond with gratitude and a thank-you card. I would actually stop giving someone Christmas presents if I didn’t get the gratitude I expected. If you have to have a thank-you, you are not giving a gift. When you really give, it doesn’t matter how the receiver reacts, it is only how your heart feels from giving. Christ taught us that or tried to anyway. Took me a long time to learn, and my darling Karen taught me something else new—how to give the act of giving to those who never have had that experience. It’s something I will do again and again now that I know. I can’t tell you that this will fill you with joy if you’re looking for gratitude, but I truly believe that one of the greatest gifts you can give is the very act of giving to someone who doesn’t have the means. Imagine giving a homeless person a blanket. Now imagine giving that same homeless person ten blankets to give to other homeless people. You may not get the gratitude you crave, but you will find your heart strangely warmed—and that’s a good thing.