Adapted by Grant Swart
I will never forget the Easter of 1946. The devastating economic effects of the recent World War were still being strongly felt in South Africa. I was 14, Ocy was 12 and Darlene, 16. The three of us lived with Mommy and we were accustomed to getting by with fewer things than most. The death of my father five years earlier, had left my mother penniless, with seven children to take care of. By 1946, the four older children had already left home. About a month before Easter, the pastor announced that there would be a special collection made at Easter in aid of a poor family. He appealed to everyone to save up some money and to contribute as best they could.
On arriving back at home that day, we discussed what we could do to contribute to the collection. We decided to buy 50 pounds (about 23kg) of potatoes to feed ourselves for the whole month. This would enable us to save $20 on our grocery budget, which we would contribute to the collection fund. We also decided to use electricity sparingly and to save a little extra in that way. We offered to clean other homes and gardens and we leaped at every opportunity to do babysitting. Every 15 cents that we earned in this way, enabled us to buy enough wool to knit three potholders which we sold for $1. In this way we were able to save up another $20.
That month was one of the best of our lives. We counted the money every day to see how much we had saved. In the evenings we sat in the dark and discussed how the poor family who was to receive the money, would have a little joy put back into their lives. Taking into account that there were approximately 80 people in our church, we estimated that the congregation would be able to give at least 20 times more than our contribution. After all, the pastor was reminding the community about the special collection at every Sunday service.
On the day before Easter, my sister and I went down to the grocery store and exchanged all the coins we had saved for three new $20 notes and one $10 note. We ran home to show Mommy and Darlene. Never before had we had so much money in our hands. We could hardly sleep that night, we were simply too excited about the following day. It did not bother us in the least that we were not able to afford new clothes for Easter, as we had been able to in other years, because the $70 we had saved for the special collection was of far greater significance. We simply couldn’t wait to attend the church service that day.
It was pouring with rain that Sunday morning. We didn’t own an umbrella, but we were unconcerned about how wet we were. Darlene’s feet got soaking wet because her shoes were full of holes. We sat upright, feeling very proud in church that day. I overheard some of the other teenagers whispering to each other that we were still dressed in our old clothes. I looked at them in their new dresses, but still I felt overwhelmingly proud of what we had achieved. I felt rich.
When the collection was taken up by the stewards, Mommy placed the $10 note into the basket and each of us children put in a $20 note. On the way home we were singing with joy. Mommy surprised us with lunch. She had bought a dozen eggs and we were able to have “Easter eggs” with our potatoes.
In the late afternoon the pastor paid us a visit. Mommy opened the door, spoke to him very briefly and came back into the sitting room with an envelope in her hand. When we asked her what the envelope contained, she said nothing. She opened the envelope and a bunch of money fell out. There were three new $20 notes, a $10 note and seventeen $1 notes. As Mommy slowly picked up the money and placed it back into the envelope, no one said a word. We all sat and stared blankly at the floor. Whereas a moment before we had felt like millionaires, we now felt poor and worthless.
We had shared such a joyous life and we had felt sorry for others who did not have a Mom and Dad as caring and loving as ours, or for those who did not have a house full of brothers, sisters and friends who visited regularly. We regarded it as fun to share eating utensils and to wonder which we going to get for supper, the fork or the spoon? We had two knives which we passed around the table to whoever needed them.
We knew that we didn’t own as many things as most others did, but we never saw ourselves as being poor. On that Easter we found out that we actually were poor, because the pastor had brought us the money that had been collected for the poor family. Therefore, we were made to be poor! I didn’t like suddenly being poor at all, I looked at my old dress and worn out shoes and felt so ashamed that I didn’t want to go to church again. I realized that everyone else must have regarded us as being poor for a long time. At school I was first in my class of over 100 students. I wondered whether the other children also knew that we were poor. I decided to leave school, as I had already attained a grade 8 certificate, which was the minimum legal requirement for school leavers at the time.
We sat in silence for what felt like hours before silently making our way to bed. During the week that followed we spoke very little. On the following Saturday, Mommy broke the silence by asking us what we would like to do with the money. We wondered amongst ourselves what it was that poor people would have done with money? We didn’t know, because we never knew that we were poor to begin with. We didn’t want to go to church on that Sunday, but Mommy said that we must.
Even though it was a day filled with sunshine, none of us spoke on the way to church. Mommy started to sing, but nobody else joined in. A missionary was speaking at the service. He told of how people in Africa built churches with clay bricks which had been dried in the sun, but that they needed money to build roofs. He said that $100 would be sufficient money to build one roof. The pastor asked whether everyone present would be prepared to contribute something to help those poor people.
We looked at each other and smiled for the first time that week. Mommy reached down into her handbag and took out the envelope. We passed it on to Ocy, the youngest, and she placed it into the collection plate. After the money had been counted, the pastor announced that the total contribution was just over $100. The missionary was very excited as he had not expected such a small congregation to make such a large contribution. He said that there surely had to be some rich people in our community. That was when reality dawned on us. Our family had contributed $87 of the just over $100, which made us the richest family in the community. Had the missionary not said so himself? From that day forward, never again was I poor – praise the Lord!
You shall know the TRUTH and the TRUTH shall make you FREE. If JESUS therefore shall make you free, ye shall be FREE INDEED. John 8:32&36
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. Ephesians 1:3-6
Amidst this poor South African community, are possibly some of the spiritually richest people in the world. Praise be to the Gracious kindness of our Lord.
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What an incredibly beautiful story! It has most definitely made my day, and turned up the volume of God’s joy in my heart!