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On the Journey...
Monthly Insight From Pastor Phil Yoder
The first time I visited Shena in the Philippines, I asked her if there were exceptionally poor people in her village. She told me that there were, that every village has people who live in shacks and have very little to eat. I told her I wanted to visit some of them. And we did. But before we visited them, Shena and I went to a store and bought several bags of groceries and a sack of rice for each of them. One of the people we visited was Francis.
Francis was extremely poor, that was obvious to me from the moment I first saw him. A tall, very thin man, dressed in rags, callouses on his hands and feet, scars covered his malnourished body, unshaven, missing most of his teeth. I don’t know if Francis’ feet ever had a pair of shoes on them or not. Francis has four children, but his wife abandoned him and their children because they were so poor. She had hoped for a better life, now Francis does what he can to feed and care for his children. Poor Francis does the best he can, hiring himself out as a day laborer to work in rice fields or climb coconut trees to shake out a few coconuts. But laborers are abundant, and work is scarce.
We visited Francis at his home. The “house” had no solid walls, only a cloth that wrapped around four wooden poles, one at each corner. The thin cloth offered a bit of privacy, but very little protection from the wind and rain that frequent the Philippines. No electricity, no running water (except when it rained and the roof leaked), no bathroom, the ground was the floor. The roof consisted of a few pieces of tin, but you could see light through it, which meant that when it rained, it leaked. Every day Francis gathers sticks and builds a fire to cook the meager food he has found for himself and his children for that day. We took Francis a sack of rice, some fish, some eggs, noodles, and some other food items so they would have food for a few days. I asked Francis if he had a pair of shoes, and he said that he did not. The next day we bought him a pair of flip-flops. He said he would save them for Sunday and for special occasions, and that he was not accustomed to wearing anything on his feet.
I enjoy doing this kind of thing, helping poor people. God has blessed me, and I endeavor to bless others as I can. Francis was very grateful for the food and for our visit. He thanked us, but more importantly, with tears, he poured out his heart in thanksgiving to God. I could tell that Francis prayed for food regularly. When he prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread,” it was because he didn’t have food in the house and was asking God for food for that day, now when God provided food for several days, tears ran down Francis’ face and his heart overflowed in thanksgiving to God.
A couple days later, Francis came looking for me, and he found me. He brought me a chicken as a gift. I suspect it was the only one he had. But he wanted to give me a gift, and a chicken was all he had. I really did not want the chicken. That poor chicken was as skinny as Francis was. And besides, what were we going to do with a chicken? Soon we would be on an airplane coming back to America, and we certainly could not bring a chicken with us on the plane. Can you imagine if we showed up at the airport with a chicken? “Do we check that in or carry it on?” But more importantly, I knew Francis’ children needed the eggs or the chicken much more than I did. How could I take this chicken when his family needed it so much more than I did?
But I accepted the chicken, and did so with thanksgiving, and this is the reason I did. This chicken was probably the most valuable possession Francis owned. He wanted to give it to me as an expression of his deep gratitude. The chicken was not just a chicken any more. It became something sacred because it was now an expression of love and gratitude. And now that I think about it, Francis gave me far more than I gave him. I gave him from my excess, but Francis gave me from what he needed to live. Francis gave sacrificially. I gave from my great abundance. Francis gave because his heart was moved with gratitude, and he could not have done less. I
gave because…, well because of compassion, I do care about the poor, but also because it makes me feel good. I still had a lot left over after I gave. Francis didn’t.
In a few weeks we will be celebrating Thanksgiving. I am glad that we have a day set aside for giving thanks We would all be far poorer than Francis if it were not for God’s gracious gifts that He continually lavishes on us. Should there not be an outpouring of gratitude to God for all He does for us? There is a kind of gratitude that flows out of the heart and results in an outpouring of praise to God and compels one to give the best they have in response. That kind of gratitude is a very sacred thing. And that kind of gratitude seems to me to be quite different from just being thankful for all the conveniences and toys we have, now pass the stuffing, please!
This Thanksgiving, as we consider the outpouring of God’s great gifts over us, both material and spiritual, and consider how poor we would be without God lavishing His gifts on us, I hope there will be a great outpouring of gratitude to God this Thanksgiving, and that we will be truly grateful from our hearts instead of complaining about how bad things are around us. The truth is that we are a blessed people, blessed more than we can comprehend, because we are God’s children, and we live in God’s constant care!