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A Different Kind of Thanks/Giving

Here in the States we’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving this week. Forget the pilgrims and corn—let’s just talk about the concept of thankfulness for a moment.

Many years ago I took my first trip to Nigeria with my friend Emmanuel. One afternoon we drove outside of Jos to a rural village with a tiny church and an even tinier house. Emmanuel wanted me to meet the first pastor he worked under many years earlier. The pastor was quite old, thin as a reed, and wore thick black-rimmed glasses. He was so gracious and excited to show me his office and library outside behind the house. It was not much more than a small henhouse, stacked with old dusty magazines and a hanging bare light bulb. I don’t recall seeing many books, if any. These were his references for study. Back inside his dark and barely furnished house of three simple rooms was a home-made inscription hanging on a wall. I took a picture with his permission:

My head was spinning thinking of my office jammed with books, my house with central air, a garage, a gas fireplace, and carpet under my feet. When I would return from Nigeria each time, I would find myself thankful to be home for so many of the right reasons: I missed my wife and kids, my church, my friends. And then there were the creature comforts: I didn’t have to worry about the water or eating anything that’s uncooked. I could take a shower and not a bucket bath. I didn’t have to worry about traffic jams on roads with no painted lines…and potholes big enough to swallow VWs…and hundreds of motorbikes carrying three people (and sometimes a goat) zipping past while clipping our car’s side mirrors. At home I could stop anywhere and get a Diet Coke with ice. I didn’t think twice about basic infrastructures: I knew that there would be electricity all day and not just a few hours. The National Electric Power Authority, or NEPA, was cleverly renamed “Never Enough Power Anytime” by the locals. Later, it became the Power Holding Company of Nigeria—PHCN, now known as “Problem Has Changed Names”. Nigerians have a great sense of humor. But all those things are really just comforts. On another trip we went back to visit the pastor’s widow. He had died a few years after that first trip. Emmanuel gave her a thousand naira, about seven dollars in those days, and you would have thought it was a lottery win. Which brings me back to an angle of thankfulness that I think I’ve overlooked. I’m embarrassed to reach this point in my life and to have missed the obvious: perhaps the real point of gratitude is that we’re thankful we have resources…to give. The early church encouraged fasting so they could give to the poor what they would normally eat. Augustine said it like this:

“Let the hungry Christ receive what the fasting Christian receives less of. Let the self-denial of one who undertakes it willingly become the support of the one who has nothing. Let the voluntary want of the person who has plenty become the needed plenty of the person in want.”

Leaders, we could really educate our followers…and help them see Thanks/Giving in a totally different missional light. Dave Workman | ELEMENTAL CHURCHES


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