By Kevin Squires | Senior Director of Church Partnerships
Scandal – a circumstance that causes or ought to cause disgrace or outrage
Americans love scandals. Newspapers, magazines, cable television – they all profit off scandalous behavior. When they can’t find a scandal to report on, they often create them just to get a headline. Shamefully however, it’s safe to say they have their finger on the pulse of who we are as Americans, realizing the only way to jolt our apathy and comfort is by electrocuting our senses with a little shock-and-awe.
Fortunately, scandals don’t always end up badly. Some scandals kick start greatness. The scandalous death of Christ ushered in salvation to a dying world and kick started a church movement that continues to change the world today. Whether good or bad, there is one thing scandals have in common…they are eye-opening!
Last week, I found myself in the midst of a scandal smack dab in the middle of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. As the Senior Director of Church Partnerships for World Orphans, I lead mission trips to impoverished countries all throughout the world. Scandals are prevalent in countries like these as the effects of extreme poverty, crime syndicates, corrupt governments, and misappropriated funds frequently pepper the Majority World. But this scandal was like none I had ever seen before. This scandal had more to do about me, and what lived inside of me, than the act itself.
To help set the stage, I was leading a mission team to visit one of our church partners in Haiti. We were attending the early morning church service and had just finished the praise and worship time. As we prepared for offering, the baskets began to pass up and down each row, as hands dropped in coin after coin and bill after bill. This was a poor church, where approximately 70% of the congregation didn’t have steady jobs. Weekly offerings barely reach $50 at churches of this size (approx. 200 people). The pastors work full-time jobs away from the pulpit to provide what they can for their families. The offerings simply go towards operational expenses, but primarily to care for the poorest of the poor in their community. Well… that’s usually how it goes. But this day was different.
Now, I don’t speak Haitian Creole worth a lick, but having traveled extensively throughout the world, I have become pretty good at reading body language. As the pastor was bathing the offering in prayer, I began picking up on something that was quite alarming. I glanced over at our Haitian Country Director, a local Haitian himself, and a picture of his face told a thousand words. He was staring at me…eyes wide open… jaw-dropped…and was simply shaking his head. Although the pastor’s words escaped me, the message of his prayer was loud and clear…he was giving the entire offering to our team as an appreciation for us traveling so far to serve alongside his church!
Quickly, I relayed the message to the rest of my team as tears began flooding out from the streams of naked humility. Since our hearts were fixed on caring for the needs of the poor not the other way around, no one wanted to accept such a gift, but the gift had already been delivered. With pride guarding our emotional doors, receiving an offering from the poor was like taking a punch to the gut!
Throughout the rest of the week, the church extended more love by rallying together to feed us meal after meal. I humbly appreciated every bite of food and drop of water, but in the back of my mind, each bite and each drop was a constant reminder that the hungry was feeding the full…the thirsty was bringing water to those who had plenty to drink…and that the poor had graciously tithed to the rich.
That was a week ago. I’m home now, sitting in my comfortable chair, looking out my window at the sunny landscape surrounding my Florida home. The story has continued to grow in my mind, not because of the act itself, rather because I simply cannot imagine doing what was done for me while I was in Haiti. The cheerful and giving heart of that Haitian pastor rivaled how Abraham cared for his three guests and how Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with costly perfume. Meanwhile, in my reality, I often take out my calculator to figure out exactly how much “I’m obligated” to give to my church each week. This conviction that I feel today spotlights a scandal that I didn’t even know lived inside of me – my scandal of giving.
Highlighting the scandal of giving in the American church, John and Sylvia Ronsvalle (The State of Christian Giving) report that the richer Christians become in America, the less we give in proportion to our income. Recent reports estimate that American evangelical Christians give only 4.27% of our income, or about two-fifths of our tithe. Shamefully, in 2002, George Barna discovered that only 9% of American evangelicals tithe.
Over the past week, I buried my thoughts and myself in my personal scandal of giving. Why the sharp discrepancy and disconnect from one culture to the next in terms of giving? Why does the poor in one country often give so much while the rich in another country give so little? Does one culture preach tithing better than the other? Or is it simpler than that? Perhaps the solution to the scandal of giving rests in our journey to become a cheerful giver, someone willing to cheerfully give above and beyond…even when it doesn’t make any sense!
In 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, the Apostle Paul ushers in the point… “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
Reflecting on my time in Haiti, the one thing that wasn’t lost in the balancing act of my pride and appreciation of receiving the offering from the poor…of receiving the meals from the hungry…of receiving the water from the thirsty…was the cheerful heart of those who gave. Their smiles and joy, deeply rooted in a cheerful heart, escaped no one!
The beautiful thing is, not only could we not escape the joy, but I also realized that the cheerful giving is downright contagious! At the end of the week, I watched my team present an offering to the church that far surpassed anything I could have ever imagined giving…all of which was rooted in the heart of some very cheerful givers.
Going forward, my challenge at hand rests in how I choose to sow. Fortunately, I’m not forced to make that choice alone! God set His Spirit on a course destined to dwell in the hearts of those who call upon His name. The Spirit of Christ can bring joy and cheer to the hardest of hearts and the stingiest of givers…and thankfully can turn anyone into a cheerful giver!