“Don’t come with me – this is for you,” said my translator last Sunday.
I wasn’t sure I had heard him right. I was feeling a little scrambled, having just preached in English, from French preaching notes and a French Bible, with translation into Lingala, at a church in Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. My partner and I had arrived late the previous night, after more than 48 hours of travel through Amsterdam and Johannesburg, for a week of training Congolese pastors in Bible comprehension and sermon preparation. It was wonderful to be back in Africa again, and my jet-lagged brain was doing its best to absorb the experience.
I had earlier descended from the platform, along with the other pastors, to participate in the church offering. As was often the case when we lived in Cameroon many years ago, the offering basket was kept on a table in the front of the church, and members walked (or danced!) forward during a song to bring their offering. Church leaders are expected to model that generosity, so we had started the process (no, I didn’t dance).
But this time, I was told to stay on the platform while others went down. I wasn’t sure I had heard my translator right, or what he meant when he said, “This is for you.” I simply enjoyed the music as others came forward and placed a few DRC Francs into the basket.
As we were preparing to drive away after the service, the meaning was made clear to me. A church leader handed me an envelope, on which was written my name and the phrase “Galates 6:6,” indicating a verse in the book of Galatians. Inside the envelope I found 28,000 DRC Francs, the equivalent of about $20. I quickly looked up the verse: “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.”
I was stunned. I didn’t know the life situations of all of the folks who participated in that offering, but I had a general idea. Estimates of average income in the DRC hover around $400 per year, yet the cost of living is significantly higher than that of the U.S. 70% of the population lives below the global poverty line, but Kinshasa is considered to be one of the most expensive cities in the world.
There is not the slightest doubt that I was by far the richest person in the room that day. I knew that, and my Congolese brothers and sisters knew that. I did not need the money they gave me – they needed it much more. But that was not the point. They felt compelled to respond in obedience to a verse in the Bible, and nothing else mattered.
They read the Bible, and they did what it said.
A financial gift to a speaker is referred to as an “honorarium,” and the word took on new meaning to me that day. I humbly accepted their generosity, honored beyond words by the most significant honorarium that I have ever received.
I had flown across three continents to teach people how to understand the Bible, and I was glad to help where I could. But the week had begun with an example of biblical understanding, and biblical obedience, that I will never forget.
The people in that service are my role models. I aspire to follow their example in my own faithfulness to God’s word.
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