I’ve been freshly inspired this week from my friend David Swanson, senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church in beautiful downtown Orlando.
Several weeks ago David was a guest on my radio show, and at the close of that visit, we talked about an amazing thing that happened in their congregation earlier this year. It had made an impact on their church, but one in Europe as well.
David joined me again this past week for a followup conversation on “Afternoons With Mike” on the Shepherd Radio Network (link here).
As a background, it would be important to note that David has long been concerned about the truly low percentage of churchgoers in America that give anything at all to their local church—around 30% nationally. After praying and teaching on this topic, First Presbyterian has watched that percentage grow, but David says that it still has a long way to go.
Back to what happened in his story: David and his elders were on a retreat, and they watched a video from northwest India called “A Cup of Rice.” Rice is the staple in that part of the world. The women in this video would set aside a cup of rice—sacrificially from their own modest pantries—to be given to a larger collection for those in need.
This initiative raised over $1.3 million dollars in U.S. currency. Out of their own extreme poverty, these churches and individuals raised an enormous amount of money to help feed others. Needless to say, David and his leaders were moved.
Later, David was preaching on giving in the first of two Sunday services, speaking about how Paul was approached by the Macedonians, who were in poverty themselves. Yet, they still “pleaded with him,” asking if they could participate in an offering for those in need.
David commented that he couldn’t remember anyone ever “pleading” with him, asking to be part of an offering. But the end of that service, he received a text from a group of families at First Presbyterian who had been deeply moved, and that text was itself a plea. These individuals set up a matching fund, and challenged others in the church to give to a “Good Samaritan Fund” that would bless others around the world in need. What resulted was a true move of God. People at their church gave and gave, and over a few weeks, they raised $1.8 million!
What happened next is also amazing. As David and the leaders began to seek God as to where to invest those funds, they heard of a need in Ukraine, freshly under attack from Russia.
David had a conversation with a Ukrainian leader and asked him what they needed most. David couldn’t believe the answer.
“What we need is rice,” the leader told him.
The very example that started this most amazing move of generosity was the exact thing those churches needed. First Presbyterian not only provided rice, but they purchased several vans for the Ukrainian churches to deliver food, giving means to the Ukrainian pastors who would drive the vans through the bombed out streets and highways, feeding the Ukrainian people.
Other needy groups were also blessed out of this abundant provision, all of it made possible because people gave just a little—and together, it amounted to so much.
I encourage you to listen to the entire story and remember that God loves a cheerful giver. Our call is to freely give away, even as we have freely received from God.