Africans have a different way of viewing money, and it can be very confusing to those of us who grew up in western thought. I read a book once that discusses these kinds of cultural differences, and I found myself audibly exclaiming “aha” and “oh, that makes so much sense now” after essentially every page.
For example, an American doesn’t want to be the kind of friend who is valued for their money. We think of money as superficial, therefore friendships need to be based on more than that. On the other hand, in Africa where everything is shared in community and there is very little personal privacy, money is no exception. If you have it, you are expected to share it, and it is not a private personal matter. Following the same thought, every true African friendship includes the sharing of money.
So If an African friend asks you for money, especially if you know the person and have established a relationship with them, it is actually a way of honoring you and complimenting the depth of your friendship. (There are exceptions to this, but let’s just go with this line of thought for now.) Asking for money is a way of saying that they count you a friend. Pretty backwards, huh? Yeah, I’m still trying to culturally adjust to this one.
I have an African friend who is not afraid to ask me for help when a need arises. This person wrote to me recently with a request, and I have to confess that my western-minded side was initially bothered. Thinking of good missionary things like “sustainability” and “God-complex” and “when helping hurts”, I wanted to politely decline. After all, this person doesn’t need to become dependent on me. This person needs to learn to plan ahead for expenses, stick to a budget, and work for what they earn instead of always asking. This is definitely not the first time they have asked of me, nor that I’ve given to them. So part of me was tired of the demands and part of me didn’t want to keep feeding the habit of giving money, a habit that is only going to get harder to stop.
But this person is also a very dear friend. And a new word came to mind.
Oh how many times I come to the Lord with my requests! And oh how thankful I am that he never responds to me by telling me that I need to stop asking and start working to earn what I’m asking for. He never tells me that I really should have thought it out better or planned in advance before I made my request. My prayers never weary or bother him, and he never tires of my asking. He just always gives me more and more out of his deep stories of wealth, wisdom, strength, and spiritual blessings. In fact, he is honored when I ask of him. (So maybe Africans are onto something when they consider it an honor to ask!)
I’ve been studying Galatians recently, and one resounding theme I am learning is that people who really know God’s extravagant grace live lives infused with extravagant grace.
So I blew all proper missionary advice about handing out money in Africa for the sake of one thing: grace. I don’t plan on making a habit out of this – giving out money, that is – for I do value sustainability and I recognize that giving money to everyone who asks is not helpful to anyone. I do, however, plan on making a habit out of grace. And sometimes (not every time, but sometimes), this means being a friend more than being a proper rule-following missionary.
For we are commanded to share with those in need. We are commanded to look out for the poor and widows and orphans. We are commanded to love our neighbors. We are commanded to live open-handed and give generously. We are commanded to store up treasures in heaven instead of fill storehouses on earth. And since my African friend confided in me enough to ask, I want to honor our friendship by giving, not at all because I’m being her savior, but because I’m being her friend. And because I know what crazy amount of grace has been given to me when I’ve asked for it, and what she is asking of me is only peanuts in comparison.
Who is asking something of you today? Whether it’s an amount of money, time, space, commitment, or emotional energy, remember one word.
We live in a generation that loves to talk about setting limits and boundaries, and I’m all for it. To an extent. God is teaching me to be more about grace than I am about boundaries. We do need boundaries…but they better be grace-infused ones.
For the immeasurable amount of grace that has been given us, let’s loosen our grip and live open-handed lives of generosity and grace.
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