A Meditation on Generosity

‘From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.’ – Luke 12:48

Last Sunday, as I sat in church listening to the final announcements after the end of Mass, a response to one announcement in particular has had me thinking a great deal about generosity, or a lack thereof, since.

I attend a fairly large Catholic church here called St. Joseph’s, about a 10 minute boda (small motorcycle) ride from home, and as far as I know, I am currently the only non-African in the congregation. That in itself has been an interesting experience. There seem to be just as many similarities as there are differences between attending church at St. Joseph’s and attending St. George back home. One of the main differences here is that the congregation is mostly (if not all) from semi-rural areas or villages, and the priest’s mode of transport is a boda instead of a car. That was the subject of the last announcement at Mass last weekend.

Apparently our parish priest travels around a lot to visit and say Mass at many of the sub-parishes in surrounding towns and villages. Riding a boda on dirt roads around Uganda is not exactly the safest or cleanest mode of transport. As a member of the congregation was sharing with us, Father often ends up having to lead Mass covered in red dust from his journey, and he is usually carrying the Eucharist with him. During the elections, when tear gas was sprayed around Kampala, Father was impacted on his way to a parish. Again… not the safest or cleanest mode of transport for a priest and the blessed Eucharist. He has been saving up for a few years already but does not yet have enough to purchase a car. On Sunday, we were asked if we would be willing to contribute to his efforts as a collection box was being set out. Almost every single person in the church got up to give what they could. I stayed seated.

My thought process as I watched everyone walk up to the front went something like this… I already gave more than I’d planned to during the Offertory, and I didn’t really bring enough money to donate to something else, even though it’s for a good cause. I don’t want to crawl over people again to get up to the front. Why do they keep asking for money twice each week, both at the Offertory and at the end? I need to remember for next week, so I can make sure I can contribute something both times, maybe giving less during Mass so I can also give some at the end. Then I won’t give too much. They’re giving out the mobile money number to help Father anyway, so I could just use that to contribute during the week if I need to. Can I really afford to contribute to this? I’ve already figured out a budget for my weekly contributions, and then I have my budget for food and activities laid aside. If I give for this, I might not be able to do all the cool things I want to do while I’m here, like a safari or rafting in Jinja.

Luckily, at this point, I caught myself, or rather, the Lord smacked me upside the head. How selfish can I be? Really? As often happens with me, I’m thinking of all the what-ifs of the future, relating to my needs or desires before considering what I might be able to give others out of my excess. And I thought I was getting better in this area. Clearly I have a very long way to go. Old habits die hard.

To provide more perspective, a new school year began this week in Uganda. Education is not free here. Every single family must pay to put their children through school. Often times, school fees consume most of a family’s money, particularly in more rural areas, if they can even afford it. As you can imagine, the more children in a family, the more difficult it is to afford education for everyone. But this didn’t stop the parishioners at St. Joseph’s. During the time of year when finances are tightest, they gave freely. Why didn’t I do the same?

Being a student currently trying to finish an undergraduate degree in Canada, I am by no means well off by North American standards, but I think of what I still spend money on (clothes, shoes, dinners out, movies, etc.) and in what sums, and I cringe at my own selfishness. What I would consider a relatively small amount of money is worth much more here. I did nothing to deserve what wealth I have, I was simply lucky enough to have been born in Canada, into a middle class family. My role might easily have been switched with a rural girl here in Uganda, but for some reason, God placed me where I am. However, as Luke reminds me, because I have been blessed with much, much will be demanded of me. I wrote that verse at the beginning of this post because it’s been on repeat in my head for the last little while, and it was the first thing I thought of after witnessing the generosity of my brothers and sisters in Christ last weekend. It is one of my life verses, serving as a reminder to me that as a daughter of God, I’m always called to serve those around me, especially when I’ve been blessed. I need that reminder often.

The equivalent of around $200 was collected last Sunday to contribute to the purchase of a car for Father, not an insignificant sum by any means, but I couldn’t help compare it to what might have been collected had a similar request been made at my home parish in London, even with only half the congregation contributing during a single Mass. Then I thought about how willing most people at home would be to give on the spur of the moment, after already contributing during the Offertory, when they were tight on finances, and I doubt there would be as large a turnout as there was here.

The thing is, in Uganda, and in many other places around the world, it is a collective society. This has both positive and negative aspects, as most cultural traits do, but I do think there is sometimes a better understanding of stewardship in collective societies. What you have isn’t yours alone. It really belongs just as much to the community as it does to you. Of course, as I said, this isn’t necessarily always a good thing, but the scene I witnessed in church last weekend was a beautiful example of collectivism in a positive light. It brought to mind Mark 12:43-44.

‘Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.’ ‘

I definitely struggle with this. When I give, I almost always give out of abundance, never truly sacrificing for others. I pray God continues to grow me in this area. I cannot do it without Him. I pray for perspective and for wisdom, but most of all I pray for generosity. I am ashamed at myself for the instinctive selfishness that directed my thoughts last weekend. I want my instinct to be generosity. The things I have aren’t really mine to begin with. Just as we came into the world with nothing, we will all leave the world with nothing.

Through action I want to live out the things I profess to believe. I want to live with an open heart and an open hand. When people encounter me, I want to become a mere vessel so it’s Christ they see instead of me. I can learn so much from the people here.

 

*Photo is not mine.

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