A Grateful Heart

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A few years ago, my husband and I went on a mission trip with our church’s youth group. We were two of a handful of adults designated as group leaders. Our destination was just south of the border in a little town in Mexico. I had never gone on this type of a mission trip before, one where we would leave the country and see a way of life so different than our own. I thought I would be prepared as I had already been told what to expect. But hearing and seeing are two totally different things.

On the trip, we were slated to build houses for the families who came to the mission seeking help. We brought wood, shingles, nails and all the tools necessary to put the 10’ by 10’ houses together. I knew it would be hard work for someone not used to wielding a hammer, but I was excited to get started and hopefully make a difference with my meager contribution. The group that I was with built 4 of these houses during the week we were there, but one in particular stands out to me. We left the mission just before sunrise and travelled the short distance to the building site. As we drove along the bumpy dirt road that wound its way through the town, we came to a neighborhood that was crowded with small buildings and shacks built into the side of a hill. We turned and drove up a narrow path with the tires of our vehicles skidding and slipping as we went. Finally, we reached a plateau where we stopped and parked. There to greet us was a smiling man and woman, along with several small children. It had been their job to prepare the foundation for their new house we were to build by leveling the ground and removing the large rocks from the center of the area. They showed us where we were to build and we got started. The man left and walked down the hill several miles to his job, but the woman and children stayed.

Throughout the day as we hammered and sawed the little children ran around us begging to help. They handed us nails and watched with excitement as their house was developing. When it was midday, their mother, who had been cooking over an open fire all morning, called us over for a meal. We had already been told by the pastor at the mission, that the meal she was to cook us cost the family one month’s wages. Amazing! We knew that she did it out of her gratitude and it would be a huge insult if we refused. So, we sat on the dirt and thankfully accepted the simple meal of chicken picante, rice, beans and tortillas. As I sat there and ate the delicious meal, I marveled at her generosity. Here she was, with virtually nothing to share, and yet, she and her husband had sacrificed one month’s salary to cook a group of comparatively wealthy Americans something to eat. Would I be so generous?

“As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘Truly I tell you,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on’” (Luke 21:1-4). 

After the meal we got back to work and within a few more hours, the house was completed. Our youth pastor called the family and all of us together and we stepped inside the little building. It was nothing more than a shack really. Made with plywood siding on a dirt floor, it was no bigger than what we might use to house a lawnmower. The roof was slanted and covered with thin asphalt shingles. There was only one window with a shutter and a single door.

The group of us, including the mother and her children, crowded inside and held hands in a circle. It was fairly dark, but as my eyes adjusted, I could see the joyful face of the woman standing across from me. Our youth pastor started out the prayer of blessing on the house that was soon to become this mother’s home, and tears began to form in her eyes. Then, in a shaky voice, the grateful woman joined in prayer in her own language. I couldn’t understand all she was saying, but as the tears spilled down her cheeks, the meaning was clear to me. She hugged all of us and I was moved beyond words. How could she be so grateful for this crude shack? I lived in a home more than 100 times larger. I had running water, electricity, plumbing, a floor and glass windows, and yet had I ever cried tears of gratitude for it? In that moment, as we prayed for this woman and her family, I was completely humbled.

Deep in thought as we left and drove back to the mission, I realized that my perspective had changed. I thought that through giving out of my plenty, I would be doing “my part” and maybe helping someone who had very little. But, what I learned was that I received much, much more than I gave on that trip. The few hours I worked and the few dollars spent, were nothing in comparison to what the woman gave from her heart. I gave because I had plenty, but she gave because she was grateful. Thank you, Father, for showing me the blessing of true generosity. Continue to teach me, Lord, to appreciate all the blessings in my life, and to always give from a grateful heart.

Living for Him,

Joan





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