Bob demonstrates “Hilarious Giving” during Stewardship Seminar.

[NOTE: We are back in Jinja tonight getting ready to leave Uganda on Monday. We apologize for the lack of posts this trip. We have had consistent internet problems everywhere we’ve been, making it impossible to post most nights. This post may send or not. Even now, internet is on and off, and it has taken more than an hour just to get this much prepared to post. I will do follow-up posts after we get home where the signal is stable. ]

One of the surprising successes in my choice of classes for Ugandan church leaders has been a subject that is pragmatic and needed but unexciting to many Americans. The subject is Stewardship. I teach it because it is important and widely misunderstood here. Talking over and over again about tithing and giving offerings is good, but hard to teach in ways that keep people interested. So I do some things in the class that spice it up for me and for everyone. Still, I am always amazed at the reaction to this subject from the students.

“We have never heard such things!”

“No one has ever taught us this!”

“You have changed us forever!”

“You are changing the face of the Ugandan church!”

Really? Gail and I have tithed now for at least 47 years, having begun as soon as we heard of it during our first year as believers. I wondered how people seemed to be so organized in their giving at church while we were depositing whatever we had in our pockets every Sunday. Then, when I asked the question, a deacon explained tithing to us. I guess, in retrospect, that conversation did indeed change our lives because we have never backed away or questioned the commitment we made to the Lord at that time. Personally, it is a point of worship for us to this day.

Bob continues to demonstrate “Hilarious Giving” during Stewardship Seminar.

So it is important! But even so, the reaction of the people everywhere I teach this subject is surprise, conviction, amazement, and yes, joy! One young man told me after one of the sessions on this subject that he had tears in his eyes as I explained hilarious giving from 2 Cor. 9:7 – “God loves a cheerful (hilarious) giver.” I always try to show them by demonstration what hilarious means since they’re unfamiliar with that English word. So I expect laughter and even confusion as the students watch my demonstration and wonder if the musungu has gone a little crazy. But this pastor said it brought tears to his eyes to realize the spirit of giving that God desires from us.

It is evident to me that Christians across Uganda want very much to worship God, and, though they have often been told many untrue things about giving, many of them try earnestly to obey what they have been taught out of deeply sincere hearts. One told us that his spiritual parents (those who led him to Christ and discipled him) told him always to send his tithe to them, so he has done that for years. Others give their tithe directly to the pastors who put it into their pockets because that is what they are taught and what they tell the people. Others insist that they must send their tithe back to their home church where they first met Christ, even though now they are attending a church very far away in a different place. Others teach that if you give your tithes, it obligates God to prosper you, so give generously – ah, yes, the prosperity gospel has made its way even to Uganda.

But imagine my surprise several weeks ago to have someone stand and ask this question: “Can you comment on

And yet again…

tithing our children.” I was shocked and asked him what he meant. He explained that if he has ten children, should he tithe one of them to the Lord? I discussed the fact that children are not income and that tithes come from income. And then I commented on human trafficking, an issue Uganda is struggling with and which has only recently been in the news here from villages close to us in eastern Uganda where there is apparently trafficking and slavery of humans. I thought that I would never hear that strange one-of-a-kind question again about tithing one’s children and ascribed it to the deep village we were in that such a question would be asked at all.

However, soon after, in a completely different place while I was teaching on the same subject, a young man, barely twenty I think, approached me on a break and began to thank me for the teaching, saying some very nice things about how the teaching was freeing them and giving them hope. Then he said, “Can you help me? Please, my parents offered me to the church as a tithe.” I looked into the eyes of this boy, and he was dead serious and deeply troubled. Hearing this for the second time in such a short period of weeks, I dismissed my shock that such a thing could happen and asked him some questions to find out what exactly he was describing.

Apparently, in the denomination he has come out of, he was number ten in his family. When he was born, his parents, in a misguided application of Hannah and her son Samuel from 1 Samuel 1, offered their son as a tithe. When I asked him how this affected his life today, since an evangelical church has no way to accept such a tithe, he explained that he wanted to get married and have children, but that this matter of the tithe restricted him in his life severely. When I pursued how it restricted him, he indicated that his parents expected him to become a priest and to live a celibate life. So, even though he had prayed to receive Christ personally and was now worshipping in an evangelical fellowship, he was still bound to this matter of the tithe of his parents.

I explained to him that tithing did not apply to people because, of course, they are not property or income. I also told him that he was free in Christ and not bound by the demands of his parents now that he was grown up and no longer part of their church, and that in the kind of church he is in now, all Christians are priests to the Lord (1 Peter 2:5, 9). We spoke for a few minutes, and he came to realize that in Christ he could follow the leadership of God in his own life rather than someone else’s plan for his life. I prayed for him that he receive his freedom and that he ask God about His purpose for his life, and that he might have the power of the Spirit to follow God’s direction, whatever it might be.

He seemed much relieved after prayer. I look forward to following up with this boy on my return to Uganda to see how he is faring in his new understanding of both tithing and freedom of purpose. I remain, after this experience, much more open to understanding the clash of cultures these people are living in, and how so often, my western perspective limits my ability to grasp just how religion can twist the teaching of scripture. While we enjoy the fruits of both American political freedom and spiritual freedom in Christ, I sometimes miss just how revolutionary it really is to many of these sweet people to discover that the great God of heaven actually wants to have more than the practices of rules and laws and obligations that so many are bound up in. God wants to have a deep, personal, “walking-alongside” relationship with them, one that is practical and daily.

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