Thursday, August 08, 2019

The Dignity of Giving

(Me, in Bangkok.)

Back in the 1980s, when I was a campus minister at Michigan State University, I took a team of students to Chicago to visit an inner-city church. This church had a strong ministry to the needy. I wanted us to see their heart for the least of these, and hopefully have that heart imparted to us.

One of the ministries was called The Olive Branch. Ray Bakke was one of the leaders. Ray is this amazing, global leader in urban transformation. I knew Ray from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary and Palmer Theological Seminary. 

It was a frigid winter night when we visited The Olive Branch. Street people came in wearing layers of clothes. The smell of their unclean bodies permeated the air. We sang some worship songs together. Ray gave a message. Soon, everyone would get a meal. But before that, something happened that was, for me, one of those life-changing moments.

After Ray's message, and before the meal, Ray said, "Now we are going to take on offering." Someone stood in front, holding an offering plate. Ray said, "Come forward and give.  If you have nothing to give, we still want you to come forward and touch the offering plate."

As I remember it, everyone in the place came forward. You couldn't tell if one person put a little change in the plate, or just touched the plate.

In my mind I was thinking, "What are you doing, Ray? These people have no money? They have nothing to give! And yet, knowing this, you still ask them to give?"

Afterwards, I asked Ray about this. I have never forgotten his words to me. He said, "We must not deny anyone the dignity of giving." 

I felt embarrassed to have missed what God was doing in that place, on that night. I had never thought of it this way. I have ever thought of it that way since.