I grew up in a very decent and religious background. I have read quite a great deal of the bible. But there is this particular book in the bible that keeps resonating in my mind each time I come in contact with people. It is called the book of Corinthians. In this book I find 2 Corinthian verses 7 quite appealing for a reason I do not know; maybe I need a supernatural being to explain that to me. And it reads: ‘every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him given; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.’ Men of God love this verse so much. It is always handy when the church is in need of funds and is soliciting for our financial support. So, the man of God doesn’t need to waste much saliva in preaching us into giving hugely; series of readings from the book of Corinthians does the magic. Even if you’re the stingiest person on earth your heart will melt at the mention of ‘God loves a cheerful giver’ such that you don’t even know when you give. Street beggars often feed into this verse to remind us in case we have forgotten that God loves us and convince us to give. This verse has been misconstrued and often times exploited adversely by those who want to extort something from us. Most of us are guilty of it. I have fallen several times a victim of that gimmick. Now my story goes.
My pretty friend, who I admire so much, invited me to their Sunday service (it is one of these new generation Pentecostal church). As a guy you never say no when a girl invites you to her church for the first time especially when you’re nursing some kind of intimacy towards her. In fact you will feel extremely happy to attend even if you’re an atheist. And then I honoured the invitation. We sat together. It was time for offering and series of collection went on in the name of ‘God loves a cheerful giver’ and I became a prey to the gimmicks that I had to empty my wallet in consonant with the scripture. I dare not fail to collect offertory envelope at each offertory session as failure to do so will definitely raise a question mark on my self-acclaimed ‘big boy’ status. I wasn’t sure of the number of times the offertory went on but I was sure that I exhausted the money in my wallet that I had to play pranks in the final session. What I did was smart and horrible. I picked up an envelope, with the mental torture that there was no money left in my wallet, I borrowed a piece of paper and a biro and there I wrote something.
I was in a tight corner. She was sitting beside me. You see that was why I could not dodge any of the offertory sessions. I gave and gave until I gave all. When I asked her for a piece of paper and a biro, she asked if I wanted to write a check to the church, I chuckled and uttered, ‘I could, if I had my cheque book, but you see I was just thrilled by the pastor’s sermon so I wanted to copy down the verses so I can revisit them when I get home. She was really pleased to hear that. If only she knew what I was skimming she wouldn’t be that pleased. Then I borrowed a paper and a biro from another brother behind us and I wrote in bold letters: GOD YOU LOVE A CHEERFUL GIVER, SO I PUT MYSELF IN THIS ENVELOPE AND I GIVE TO YOU. I put in the offertory envelope like every other person put money in the envelope and I dropped it in the offertory box. I liked doing crazy things; and that was one of such crazy things.
The service ended and people were going out slowly, exchanging greetings and chin-wagging. In this process I lost view of my friend who invited me to church. I thought the best thing to do was to stand at the front door to the exit; there I can have a clear view of who has come or gone out. While I was there I had the chance to observe the various interactions, especially the children having a good time among them and smiling. On the corner was an old woman; seemed like she was in her sixties but was actually an octogenarian. I noticed she was quite secluded and nobody seemed to notice her. How I managed to catch a glimpse of her I didn’t know. I was pushed by some unforeseen forces to walk towards her. On getting closer to her I noticed she was shivering a tad bit and she clasped her hands around her with her head bent down like she was cold. Then I started with those questions I learnt from health and safety training, like are you alright? Are you cold or something? Can you raise your hands? Do you need any help? But all seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. I went closer and touched her on the back to catch her attention and she jolted like she heard a bomb blast. And swiftly she got up and uttered “oh my God, the service is ended….. I’m finished….” and headed for one of the rooms in the church building. I became curious, so I abandoned looking for the where about of my friend and went after the woman.
Inside the room were chairs, tables and debris that easily revealed that foods were shared in the room without being told. Then I saw the woman sitting on the chair with her hands folded like someone whose world has crumbled. I walked up to her. This time she didn’t wait for me to ask anything before she uttered, ‘my son, I’m finished; I want to die.’ I had no memory of the last time I heard someone beckoning death to come and take him/her like the woman did. As scary as I was with the woman’s utterances I didn’t hesitate to calm her down with words of reassurance and conviction that everything would be alright. It was in the process that I found that the reason the woman was crying out her heart and beckoning death to come and take her was that she had missed her share of the foods that were shared in the room. The church normally call together paupers every Sunday at a specific time (which they were all aware of) to hand out foods and clothing people have contributed. According to my friend, 'this is what the church does every Sunday to help people who can’t afford food to at least feed on a day of rest.' She never missed any sharing session nor ever had she been late. But this time she missed the session because she had been sitting outside sleeping; that was because she was so cold that she went closer to the heater which was situated in the place I found her sitting; and there she fell asleep. All my consoling and heartwarming words fell on deaf ears. All she wanted was food to eat and take home for her two kids. I offered her my leather jacket to help keep her warm a tad bit. Phone call away, inside the church building, was a fast food stall run privately by the church.
There we were in the stall, I walked up to one of the staff and explained the woman’s situation to her and the response I got made me cringe. She made me understand how impossible it was to offer the woman any food. 'Pastor wouldn’t find it funny to see the woman hanging around the premises for food,’ I was told. Thank God I was with my debit card. I ordered foods; as much as she could eat and take home for her kids. There we sat, like every other person, on my insistent that she eats before she heads for home. I was feeding her as her hands were shaky like someone who suffers from Parkinson's disease. She fed to her taste like she never did before. She told me stories of her ordeal in life; how she was sexually assaulted severally by men; how she was betrayed by her highly trusted friends and family; how she was frequently battered and pummeled by her husband; how she was racially abused and ill-treated because of the colour of her skin and accent; and the story continued. As the meal exited, she thanked me, blessed me and wished me the best in my endeavours. She was really affected by my gesture; and she placed her hands on mine and uttered, ‘thank you for feeding me.’ My hand went straight to my heart and I was wordless. For some minutes I couldn’t speak. After a while, all I could muster up was, ‘thank you for letting me feed you and thank God.’ I escorted her out of the building and she headed home. I forgot to collect back my leather jacket and she didn’t even remember to give me back.
There I stood for quite a few minutes musing over the gravity of her words: ‘thank you for feeding me.’ I pondered about how the cold weather was biting hard and awed if she would have a place to warm herself when she got home. I couldn’t help my innermost feelings, but on a second thought I felt restored sense of gratefulness for the everyday things we so often take for granted. I remembered those words she uttered in the course of our conversation while we were sitting eating. For her, ‘it was not about the food like she pointed out initially; it was about spending time with her.’ She is homeless. Her home is slum. There are so many of them in the world. We often times assume bad things about them and talk down on them, but we do not know how they got there and we fail to listen to their stories. As humans we all have different stories. For that woman, it was important for her to feed her kids and also important for her and her kids to associate with the people. As she said, ‘you know my son; this is a good experience for me, but most importantly for my two kids. I do not wish them to grow older this way and experience what I have experienced in life.’ In the course of our interactions I tried to make a joke with the crazy thing I did in the service and to my surprise she brought out a little book and read out a quote from Khalil Gibran, Lebanese born American Philosophical Essayist, Novelist and Poet, and she read: “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” We both smiled over it.