Article of the week: What shall I give him?

30 May 2020

REFLECTION

Bill Hamilton recalls a woman of faith and obedience 

THE Lord, as the apostle Paul was eager to tell the early Christian Church, loves a cheerful giver. In 2 Corinthians he emphasises that when it comes to giving, motive matters. It matters to us and, more importantly, it matters to God. Our offerings must come from the heart voluntarily, not grudgingly or from a sense of compulsion.

Many Salvation Army soldiers, as well as adherent members and regular worshippers now tithe through a standing order, which can attract gift aid if they are taxpayers. Before committing themselves they no doubt consider prayerfully and carefully the amount they should give and whether it is an adequate reflection of God’s generosity.

Others prefer to give via the weekly collection plate but, with corps buildings closed because of the coronavirus, this is no longer possible. The hope, of course, is that when the crisis is finally over the weekly givers will respond, having safely stored the equivalent of many weeks of offerings.

It reminds me of a remarkable story I was able to relate as the first TV news correspondent allowed into Albania in 1990, just before the communist government finally collapsed. For 46 years the nation was ruled by a ruthless dictatorship, the majority of those under Stalinist Enver Hoxha. He banished religion, destroyed all the churches and either executed members of the clergy or sent them to labour camps.

Yet many believers refused to allow the worst excesses of those dreadful years to extinguish the Christian flame that burnt brightly within them. On the second floor of a crumbling apartment block in the capital, Tirana, I was introduced to a remarkable old lady who saw every act of suppression as irrelevant to what God would eventually achieve.

Meropi Gjika was one of a tiny band of Albanian Adventists who had been converted to Christianity by Daniel Lewis, a missionary who had settled in the southern town of Korçë. In 1951, along with his Italian-born wife, Daniel was arrested by the secret police and thrown into jail for his missionary zeal. He later died under torture after refusing to work on the Sabbath.

At great personal risk and under the most severe psychological pressure, Meropi had visited Daniel regularly in prison, bringing him food and washing his clothes. More importantly, she vowed to carry on his work in secret.

As little groups of believers arrived at her house for worship and prayer she would search for hidden microphones and blacken the rooms to foil the efforts of the secret police to photograph proceedings from the opposite side of the road.

Just three years short of her 90th birthday, Meropi was finally baptised in an improvised pool right under the dome of the museum that had been erected to immortalise Enver Hoxha, the man who had counted the banishment of religion as among his finest achievements. He was now dead and visiting preachers were quick to spot an opportunity to bring the Bible message back to this corner of the Balkans.

After the ceremony Meropi invited me back to her home. From under her bed she pulled out a wooden box. Inside were her offerings, which had been faithfully given and stored every week for the previous 25 years.

The Adventist pastor was completely taken aback, but Meropi had more to show him and our BBC camera. Out came sheet after sheet of old A4-sized paper. During those years of oppression she had translated the entire New Testament of her Greek Bible into the Albanian language. What an example of faith in action!

Meropi told me she had three dreams: to be baptised, to hand over her tithes and to see the building of a church that would spark a religious renaissance and prove that faith cannot be wiped out by decree, bulldozers or bullets. Her first two dreams were fulfilled but, at the age of 97, she passed away just months before a new church opened its doors.

It strikes me that those in our congregations who prefer to give their offerings each Sunday via the church plate might like to follow Meropi’s example by putting aside the money week by week until the pandemic passes and bringing along the total collection when meetings finally resume.

Just like Meropi, remember that God is always there, so let’s stay strong in the faith and have confidence in a generous God who promised never to leave or forsake us.

 

BILL IS AN ADHERENT MEMBER AT ST ALBANS

 

 

 

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