Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ministry Choices and the Savings Jar

Some time ago, I received an email from the ministry sponsoring the disaster preparedness course I'm taking this week. God had provided a new training facility and they were thrilled. When you read "new" what do you assume? Yep. Me, too. I anticipated a brand new, sparkling facility in pristine condition.

Imagine my surprise when I found that the "new facility" is actually an old rehabilitation hospital that has been converted to a safe place for families in transition. I was nervous when I had to call a cell phone to be admitted to the building and was given careful instructions about making sure the door is locked behind me if I leave. After I unloaded my car, I quickly learned that the elevator doesn't work, so I carried my absurd amount of luggage up the stairs. The young woman who unlocked the door helped, for which I was very grateful. 

When we arrived at "my" room, I found four sets of mattresses on the floor. There is a bathroom in our room. It comes complete with a shower that works and a toilet that doesn't. The toilet has a pretty bad leak, so a large plastic container has been duct-taped to the side of the toilet to catch the water. Someone comes by periodically to empty the "collection". I'm not sure why, but black plastic and duct tape have been used to completely secure the entire toilet bowl. Only the pipes are exposed. Bold letters on the duct tape announce "Out of order!!! Do not use!!"  As if we could. 

It was raining the evening I arrived. When we toured the kitchen and dining area, two large plastic containers were strategically positioned in the middle of the dining room floor. The ceiling has some serious leak problems. The containers were there to catch the rain water. 

As you might expect, I was, to put it mildly, very surprised. That surprise turned to shock when I learned that the heat doesn't work in this building. We have a space heater in our room. We wear our coats constantly. Sometimes, I take my sleeping bag to class. I'm embracing the chill. 

It was a question of stewardship for me. If God had provided this new facility, why wasn't the ministry stewarding it better? Truthfully, I assumed I knew the answers to that question, and very nearly left for home that first day. I'm glad I didn't. 

It turned out that the sponsoring ministry is a guest in this facility, which belongs to another ministry that is attempting to sell the building. The sponsoring ministry has chosen not to spend donated money on their own facility. Instead, they use the money that is donated to provide ministry for displaced refugees in Iraq. Not only do they provide food and basic medical care for the refugees, they also provide solar-powered Bibles in Arabic or Farsi with enough volume for 200 people to hear, and SIM cards and mini SIM cards for cell phones with the entire Bible, also written in either Arabic or Farsi. They show the Jesus film to groups of Muslims  to whom they have ministered and have found that 85-90% of the Muslims convert to Christianity. The fields are ripe for harvest and they are bathing it in prayer and bringing it in. 

It turns out that the facility issues are not a question of stewardship. They are a question of priority. You see, this ministry could have facilities or souls, but not both. They chose souls. That sounds dramatic, doesn't it? Could they have a nice facility and bring souls to Jesus? Yes, of course, but many of those dollars being spent in bringing people to Jesus would have to be diverted. From which Muslim would you withhold the gospel in order to have extra toilets? From which child would you withhold food in order to have heat? 

Once I understood the facts, I embraced the cold, the leaks, and the mattresses on the floor. It's not so bad, and it gives me great joy to know that my minimal discomfort frees up harvest resources. This is the reason I started a giving jar. This is the reason I've chosen to live to save. It makes a difference. 

The founder of this ministry has arranged for small prefab houses to be shipped to Iraq. A small home can be assembled by two people in thirty minutes and it costs $1500. My class has decided to sponsor one of those houses so that a family can have shelter until a more permanent home can be found. (Remember, the refugees lost their homes because ISIS conquered their town.)  

In case you've forgotten, my saving jar now has $217.76. I had all kinds of ideas about investing in the kingdom of God. It turns out that God had an idea about that money, too. There are displaced families in Erbil who need a roof over their head. The little sacrifices I have made to save this money seem pretty meager in comparison with what they have lost. My little savings jar contents are being added to my group's offering to purchase a prefab house for refugees. 

Do you know the best part of this story? November's not over yet! The savings jar is still in business!