Have you ever seen someone overcome with gratitude to the point that they were simply beside themselves with thankfulness? It is a beautiful thing to see. In America, we are blessed with such abundance that real gratitude can be a rare thing. We have an embarrassment of riches; for even the most mundane items we have endless options from which to choose.
It is easy to forget that others in the world are not so blessed as we. I was reminded of this during my first trip to Africa several years ago. Three weeks in the bush country of Zambia bred within me a new sense of gratitude. It was convicting to watch the Zambian people react to common items our mission team members possessed. Basic things like a knapsack with pockets and zippers, or boots with Velcro “laces” were studied in speechless awe by the impoverished Zambians.
In prepping for the missionary trip, I had decided that I wouldn’t eat the heavily-salted “MREs” (“Meals Ready to Eat”). There is a reason that military style “MRE’s” have expiration dates stretching beyond a decade: So many preservatives are used that a slice of ham, for example, could double as a vulcanized rubber replacement sole for a boot.
No kidding—the MRE food was terrible. So, I packed a three-pound jar of my favorite peanut butter, deciding that I would subsist on a spoonful or two every day. (I practically live on peanut butter anyway back in the states). My packing was finished as I hurriedly grabbed my Scofield study Bible from seminary days for the preaching and teaching I would be doing in Africa.
In the first village where we found ourselves, our guide was a dedicated Christian man named Abel Tembo. He was a pastor, evangelizer, church planter, farmer and teacher at the village school. Abel’s impact for the Lord was amazing; he was so full of joy and yet lived in conditions that no American would tolerate. I wanted to honor this tireless ambassador for Christ, and I asked how I might pray for him.
My selfish heart sank as Abel said that he was “saving up his money” to go to town and purchase a treat he loved but could only experience about every other year: His own jar of peanut butter. I’m ashamed to say that there was a momentary struggle in my heart! But when I gave my jar to Abel he fell to his knees weeping. He cried tears of thanks over the jar of peanut butter.
Sometime later on the trip, we were helping a fledgling church make bricks for a planned sanctuary. This village, too, was led by a selfless, joyful and hardworking Zambian pastor. I felt like I was living a scene from the book of Exodus, making bricks from clay and straw and leaving them to bake in the sun as the ancient Hebrews had done. It was an honor to work alongside the amazing African believers, so I asked this pastor, “How may I specifically be praying for you?”
His answer surprised me, though it shouldn’t have: “Brother Alex,” he said, “If I could ask the Lord for something, it would be for a Scofield study Bible.” Keep in mind that we were 100 miles from Zambia, deep in the bush country, literally in the middle of nowhere. How he had ever heard of the Scofield edition, I’ll never know. “Hang on,” I said. “Let me get something from my duffle bag.” The man sobbed as I handed him the Bible I randomly selected while packing. Holding it up to heaven, he cried out, “Thank you God, thank you! You heard my prayer!”
We have it so good in America. We are so abundantly blessed. Let’s remember to be sincerely and consistently grateful to our Lord, and let’s not forget that with blessing comes responsibility.