Miltant Generosity

Last Tuesday's UPI column

So There I Was…

Walking down a sunny avenue in Central Africa. I was on my way to church, and I had escaped my handlers. Three weeks in country and confident of my directions, I had slipped out the gate of the compound before my driver had arrived to take me to worship. The gatekeeper shook his head at me as I left, but he did not have the power to stop me and no language to caution me. I knew I would be ratted out within minutes, but I thought I could get quite a ways before I was caught. I was wearing my third world Sunday finery, and put up my rainbow colored umbrella to protect me from the already hot sun. I had a little bag over my arm with just the basic necessities; my Kiswahili Bible, a cell phone, enough small change for a taxi, a little water and a Japanese fan for survival during the three hour service.

The day was fine. I greeted passersby with bright “bonjours.” This was in 2003 and there was still a shooting war going on in Burundi, the UN had pulled their people out, so there weren’t any women who looked like me walking about that town at liberty that day.

About half a kilometer from home the van driven by my host caught up with me.

“Peggy, why are you walking? I was on my way for you!”

“It is a beautiful morning my friend, and I know the way; I decided to stroll.”

“Please, get in and let me drive you.”

“Am I unsafe walking?”

“No, you are quite safe, I think.”

“Then, please, allow me to enjoy myself.”

“As you wish.”

And then my friend went one street over and discreetly followed me downtown.

As I neared the city center, I picked up the usual entourage of street children. They seemed more curious than hostile, and I greeted them and proceeded.

I arrived at church feeling quite triumphant. I entered the back of the bamboo sided sanctuary and noted that the Sunday School lesson was just finishing. I advanced quietly to the last empty pew, and sat down putting my bag next to my feet. I was at least forty pews from the door where I entered. A baby, just walking, came up to me from the next bench forward. I leaned forward to pick her up and then sat back on the bench. It was in that moment that I noticed that my bag was missing. I stood whirled and saw no one behind me in the church. Not trusting my own eyes, I looked about. It was gone. The babe’s mother asked me what I was looking for, and I told her. This started a genuine uproar. I was their invited guest and I had been robbed in the church. The men and boys ran into the street, the women searched all the nearby children. I tried to calm things down – but my hosts were truly shamed. I just felt stupid. It was later determined that a street child had crept into the church behind me and grabbed and evaporated in the manner that only a truly desperate urchin can do. I figured I had paid my tithe to the poor.

After church and the noon meal, there was much consternation back at the compound. The children in the family seemed especially angry, and made much talk about how those bad boys should be beaten. I was more uncomfortable by the hour. I asked the children to gather the household on the lawn. I went through my things and found a present for every member of the family. I found another copy of the gospel, and we had a reading on what Jesus said we should do when we are abused or taken advantage of. I gave out presents and said that the lesson for the day was for me. I had been a victim of theft, and I needed to remind myself that though people may steal your things that you cannot let them steal your spirit of generosity. And then I sent the children of the household out with a few francs each in their hands, and told them to give it without comment to the first homeless child they encountered in the road.

This was cheap and easy for me. A gesture, nothing more. But it was a lesson that I had learned from the many brave souls I have worked with as a trauma healer; people who have been victims of crimes as vicious and wicked as humankind can inflict - torture victims, victims of violent rape. I have noted who does well afterwards; in fact, many of these people thrive. The ones who thrive are the ones that practice the Spiritual Discipline of Generosity with a truly militant attitude. They refuse to lie down and die, they refuse to give up their hope, courage or generosity. They take back their own sense of self. They find a way to turn their tragedy into a blessing for someone else. They may seek justice, but they do not seek revenge. Sometimes those who have had the most taken from them sometimes seem to find the most to give. They save themselves by walking this path.

They are planetary heroes.

We live in a world that loves revenge, a world drunk on anger.

But those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus are supposed know a better way.

I wonder how the world would be different here in 2007 if in the fall of 2001, America had not only sought to apprehend a small group of terrorists, but had at the same time started a massive effort to make sure that every Muslim child on the planet had enough to eat for a season. What if we had responded with an outpouring of generosity, just to show ourselves that we could not be made afraid, be made miserly, be made smaller by being hurt. What if we had taken the path of militant generosity?

I wonder.

A lot.

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