The six months I spent in Nigeria this year have taught me a lot more than just learning to eat very spicy food and moving around a city without the help of Google Maps.
Joining a church there meant a completely different experience of Sunday services. Having spent the last four years in London, I had gotten used to the structured, orderly and polite way of celebrating together weekly. However, I knew I was in for a treat as soon as I sat amongst the congregation of brightly-coloured dressed Nigerians at the small church I joined in my neighbourhood not long after I had arrived in the country.
The music, the dancing to the beat of the drums, the loudspeakers waking up the whole neighbourhood, the interaction between the preacher and the congregation… All these are only stereotypes of African churches I had already experienced in the past. Some of these I embrace and enjoy, and others I find more difficult to engage with.
But I reminded myself of the richness of expressing our love to God with our cultural diversity. The story of David dancing in front of the ark came to my mind (see 2 Samuel 6:14-22). So, rather than starting to miss the way I do church back home, I asked God to help me learn as much as I could from the people amongst whom He had placed me.
Of all the spiritual practices I observed among that small congregation of faithful believers, sacrificial, joyful generosity was the one I expected to learn about the least. Yet it was whilst living amongst the poorest that I discovered that generosity is not about legalistically giving out of surplus, but about joyfully sharing out of need.
Generosity is a sacrifice, and if it wasn’t costly, we wouldn’t consider it a generous act. We follow the footsteps of the one that gave his own life so that we could live. What’s more, we know that whatever we have on this earth is given to us by our Creator, so being generous with it is like giving it back to whom it belongs.
Through countless examples, my Nigerian brothers and sisters taught me how this is lived out: the women’s fellowship made a collection to pay for the furniture of two Ethiopian missionary families coming to serve in their community. Most of them do not own much more than what could be transported on a bucket over their heads, yet they gave out of the little they had to love and care for these mission workers whom they didn’t even yet know.
But I also learned generosity is not just meant to be sacrificial, it is joyful. Every Sunday, as the music band sang the most upbeat worship song of the service, each member of the congregation danced towards the offering baskets with the widest smile on their face and the merriest heart disposition. Through dancing and music and wide smiles, the Sunday offering is celebrated as the most joyful bit of the service (much like David in 1 Chronicles 29). What a blessing to see this lived out in church today!
This is what I want to keep remembering every time I put my offering in the basket or click the ‘send’ button on my online banking app: Generosity is sacrificial and it is the most joyful, wonderful act. Will you join with me in celebrating costly generosity?