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Last week was the grand opening of the Baptist University of the Américas’ new campus. Friends, donors, denominational leaders, faculty, staff and administrators, as well as current and former students celebrated and thanked God for these new facilities. It was a great day, indeed!
As part of the ceremony, I was invited to share some reflections. I spoke about the transforming gifts of giving and receiving, and the miracles that happen when people are involved with these actions.
I mentioned that BUA has been surrounded by miracles, especially the miracle of this new, modern campus. Then, I shared about the miracles that I see in the students. They arrive with many challenges, and somehow through their studies they are empowered to believe that they can be transformed in Christ’s name. Later as they embrace this process of transformation, they realize that they can also become agents of transformation in their circles of influence.
I continued by sharing that these changes are God’s miracles, indeed, but that together donors, faculty, staff and administrators are instruments in God’s hands to make these miracles tangible in the lives of the students and their communities.
As I prepared for the occasion, I remembered how I have been on both ends of the equation.
As a student, I was the recipient of generous denominational, institutional and individual donations that allowed me to obtain an excellent education. Others gave in a different way. When I was in seminary, I used to receive notes of encouragement every now and then in the mailbox. These were usually signed by a woman telling me she was praying for me, and often the envelope included a $5 or $10 dollar bill. Many of these generous people never exactly knew who I was, or who I would become, but in spite of this they gave faithfully and generously. I have always been grateful for their prayers and donations. They made a difference in my life.
After finishing my studies, I continued to experience donors’ generosity, yet in another way. Though today I am not usually the direct beneficiary of donations, I am always thankful for donors who have supported organizations where I have served either as a board member, faculty or staff.
As a recipient, I would have to write many columns to share all the ways that people have been generous with me. I have been transformed by their giving of financial means, prayers, time and opportunities. Furthermore, I have been challenged by their trust to give the best of myself.
On the other hand, I am also a donor. By no means do I qualify as a major financial donor of any institution, but I know that I tend to be a consistent one. While it is true that God does not need, or depend on my giving to accomplish divine purposes I know that I need to give because it is good for me. It makes me a better person. As a giver, I have experienced the joy of sharing as well as the enrichment and fulfillment that only generosity can bring to one’s heart. Furthermore, as a common donor with limited financial means, I have learned that giving is an exercise of faith and trust. As I give, I have faith that God will continue to provide both for me as the giver as well as for the receiver. I have trust that God will miraculously multiply the small resources that I have given.
While financial donations are crucial for the well-being and future of any institution, I learned early on that giving can take many different forms. As a member of the Girl’s Auxiliary (now Girls in Action), I recited often the GA Allegiance which included “to acknowledge my stewardship of time, money, and personality, to adorn myself with good works.”
Through the acts of giving and receiving, many miracles happen. Both the giver and the receiver become transformed. For Christians, these acts have as a context the diversity of Christ’s body. There are things that I cannot do, but the other one can do, and vice versa. As we join forces we can do it together.
As soon as I finished two of the most important tasks in my life, having kids and obtaining my doctorate, God began opening doors for me to get involved in ministries that required significant international travel. As I received these invitations, I felt called to participate, but wondered how I would get there. Personally I did not have the funds; neither did my institution.
As I prayed for this, a dear sister told me: “Do not worry about the money, I will find it, just say yes.” Weeks later, my university received a substantial check designated for my travel needs. I was blessed to know the donor, an older sister from my church who is now in God’s presence, and who was sensitive to both the service opportunity and my need. For years, this generous sister funded many of my ministerial international trips. She used to say: “I cannot go to these places. I do not know how to do what you do, but I will send you, and you do the work.”
In the words of Henri Nouwen, this sister and I met “on the common ground of God’s love.” She provided her resources, I provided my time and knowledge, and together, under God’s blessing, we accomplished many good things. Nouwen affirms: “When those with money and those who need money share a mission, we see a central sign of new life in the Spirit of Christ.” Neither this sister nor I will ever know the full impact of our joint actions, but I trust that in God’s plans, these efforts keep on producing new and abundant life.
I am not sure what your particular call is, but whatever it is, please do it.
If you are called to be a giver, do it generously, trusting that God will continue to provide, as well as multiply the funds that you are giving.
If you are called to be a connecting bridge between givers and receivers, do it diligently. Sometimes you are the only person who knows the giver and the receiver. By connecting them you will help unleash a powerful partnership that will bless many.
If you are called to be the receiver, welcome the funds with responsibility and gratitude. God and the donor have entrusted you with these resources, so be a good steward of the gifts. Furthermore, be thankful to God and the donor for their generosity. Finally, report back to the donor. I have heard many stories from donors who gave generously, and became discouraged because the receiver never thanked them, nor reported back regarding the way that the funds were used.
We all have a part in Christ’s body as givers, receivers and/or bridges. For some, these roles keep switching as simultaneously they are involved in all of them. Whatever your calling is, count it as a privilege and do it joyfully because as Henri Nouwen highlights, “In ministering to each other, each from the riches that he or she possesses, we work together for the full coming of God’s Kingdom.” Amen!