“It is in giving that we receive.” Growing up in consumerist America, I have often failed to see the truth of this advice from Francis of Assisi. However, when I visited northeastern India with a mission team, I encountered a person who truly understood. Interestingly, my teacher was not a sage or an intellectual. Rather, my teacher was a humble twelve-year old named Rehan. He taught powerfully, teaching me a lesson that Jesus himself taught: the joy of unselfish, extravagant, yet simple giving. His unselfish gift in the face of his own poverty and his joyful attitude in giving etched itself firmly into my memory and inspired me to return home and give in the same way. A crumpled bill forever changed the way I view giving.
Rehan’s mother died when he was a young child. His father earned only approximately 300 rupees—about 4 American dollars—per day, and Rehan’s education was only possible because of sponsors. Rehan was one of the many students who took part in the Bible quizzing program that my team facilitated in the spring of 2015 in Hmarkhawlien, India. On the evening of April 1st, my birthday, the school prepared a small celebration. The children energetically sang “Happy Birthday” and the stream of birthday hugs and wishes was nearly endless. Just as I prepared to leave the school, Rehan approached me, unravelling a dirty, wrinkled handkerchief. Beaming from ear to ear, he pulled out a crumpled bill worth 100 rupees. Looking at me with sincerity and excitement, he said, “For you, miss!”
I knew that accepting the money would take away from him some small pleasure that is readily available to me. I tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to keep it. Insistently he replied, “No, miss, you must take it.” Tears sprang to my eyes at his generosity, but finally I capitulated, knowing that to refuse the rupees would be more hurtful to him than receiving them would ever be. I wondered how he could give so abundantly when he had so very little.
When I returned to the States, I wanted to follow his example. Rehan was happy even though he inconvenienced himself by giving. In him I saw something that was missing in my own life—something I wanted to cultivate. The beauty of his gift was his eagerness to give. His eyes were dancing, his face was beaming, and he was giddy with excitement. I never before saw someone who was so desperate to give. It was as if his heart would have been broken if I had refused his gift. No one told him to do it, and there was certainly nothing he would gain materially from the gift. In fact, now he was short one hundred rupees. Yet his exuberance in giving reminded me of the words of Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
Growing up in a Christian home, I knew the words of Jesus. In theory I knew that giving provides greater joy than receiving. But in practice I never gave in a way that put me in a place of need. And I certainly never experienced the pure joy in giving or receiving that radiated from Rehan’s face. His gift drove the reality of the joy of giving deep into my heart because he taught by his actions, exemplifying perfectly what I, as an entitled American, had gotten backwards. I was conditioned to have nearly everything I desired. I was implicitly taught by the attitudes of others that receiving was better than giving because it brought more convenience to me and it allowed me to do more of what I wanted to do. I gave, but mostly out of my abundance; I certainly never inconvenienced myself to give. The irony is that I received in abundance much more than what Rehan ever received—yet his joy in giving eluded me.
If joy comes from living in abundance and receiving much of what our hearts desire, Americans like me should be the happiest people in the world, while people like Rehan should be miserable. However, Rehan’s example provides a stark contrast to this. If I focus only on what others can give to me, I remain unsatisfied—for there is always something more I can desire. On the other hand, by focusing on bringing joy and pleasure to others, as Rehan did, I can find immense personal happiness in their happiness.
Although only twelve years old, Rehan taught me more about giving than any sermon ever had because he displayed generosity in a tangible way. He embodied the happiness of giving, and he was happier in giving than most are in receiving. His gift to me was a powerful lesson, a testament to the truth of Jesus’ teachings about giving.
Crystal Johnson is a second-year student at Sattler, majoring in Biblical and Religious Studies. She was born and raised in the rolling hills of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. After graduating, she spent a few weeks in northern India with a team to organize Bible quizzing in several Indian schools. Before attending Sattler, she taught at Faith Mennonite High School in Kinzers, Pennsylvania. Today, she lives in Boston with her husband Zack and fellowships with Followers of the Way.
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