April 10, 2014
I love a bargain. I own very few clothes that haven’t come from clearance racks, thrift stores, or discount stores like T. J. Maxx (even there I still shop from the clearance racks). Last January I had a heyday at an end-of-season sale at Old Navy. (Don’t ask me why retailers think January is the end of season for selling winter clothes.) Of the treasures I got, one of the best deals was a wool, double-breasted pea coat for less than $12.
I like wool pea coats. This should be evident since I already had one. Now I had two wool coats. At first I was contented to put them both in the closet and wear whichever one fancied me on certain days. But during prayer I was reminded of Luke 3:11, which says, “He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none;” I had two coats. (Actually I had more than two because I had other types of coats besides wool pea coats.) Without much struggle I relented that I didn’t need to keep my first pea coat and that I should give it to someone who needed it.
The question was who? I could think of many people I could’ve given it to. Some of them might have really liked it, but to be honest, none of them really needed it. Like me, almost everyone in Maine owns several coats. I could’ve donated it to a thrift store, but I felt that I should keep it and pray about to whom God wanted me to give it. I put it away in my closet, but I didn’t wear it anymore. I didn’t consider it mine. It was someone else’s, but I didn’t know whose, yet.
Fast forward to September. I was on a trip to Tanzania, Africa with the assistant pastor of my church, Stephen Reynolds, Jr. We were teaching at a week-long pastors’ seminar in the region of Singida. This was not my first trip to Africa. For the majority of my previous visits I spent the time in the Kilimanjaro region. I would not have considered Africa being cold. We think of Africa as being hot, hot, hot. But Stephen and I found out that is not a universal truth of Africa. Nights in Singida got chilly—maybe even cold.
We were unprepared for this. On my previous trips I had only brought a single sweater, which was really just for when I got off the plane in America. Stephen had no sweater at all. We had one thin blanket to use. It didn’t stop the cold.
We had be be creative. Towels were used as blankets. Stephen wore three dress shirts over each other when he went to bed. I wore socks in bed. (That means it was cold, because socks annoy me when I’m sleeping, so I only wear them in bed when I really have to.) I’m sure there are worse problems in the world. We survived.
Besides teaching in the day, there were evangelistic services at night. These services started at 9 pm, and so it was already chilly. All the locals came in wearing blankets, sweaters, and winter coats. When I was a teenager I was helping prepare some clothing that was donated to be sent to Tanzania by cargo. Among the items were winter coats. I laughed thinking about the people who donated them. “Why would someone give heavy coats like this to Africa? Don’t they know how hot it is there?” You don’t hear me giggling anymore.
The man that invited us to this seminar was Bishop William Mnaywi. The jacket he was wearing stuck out to me more than any of the other coats people were wearing. This was because it was very loud in nature—a black, white, and bright-red checked fleece. Now don’t get me wrong, it was a nice jacket and it was obvious that he kept very good care of it. But here is a man that has been wisened by experience and who had the authority over thirty churches. The jacket was entirely presentable, but somehow it seemed he should be robbed with something more befitting of his position.
Then it clicked. This is the man to whom I should give the coat! In Africa! The last place that I would’ve ever thought to bring a wool coat. The coat had sat in my closet for months. I prayed about it at first, but to be honest, I had soon forgotten about it. I decided that the next time I would return to Africa that I would bring it and give it to its rightful owner.
So, here I am on that trip. The coat was one of the first things I packed. Last week Bishop Mnaywi came to visit me. (Which meant a lot because it meant a seven hour trip on a public bus.) We talked for a while about the Bible school that I am helping in (he provided many of the students we now have, so the subject interests him), and before he left, I gave him the coat.
He liked it a lot. I liked him liking it. This was a lesson for me about taking the Scripture literally. Many of us in America have a lot. Even some of us that think we are poor have more than most of the people in the world will ever have. We have extra. There are people with needs. The next steps should be obvious. It is more obvious to me now. It it obvious to you?
Written by Matthew James Derocher who writes about biblical subjects and teaches in a Bible college in Tanzania, Africa. You can follow him on Twitter