One of the formative experiences of my life was at the age of twenty, when I spent a summer for working for Operation Mobilisation, selling Bibles door to door in rural France. It was formative in many ways, most of them good, but in particular for the discovery that God can answer our prayers for money. Sounds so crass, doesn’t it?
The way OM worked was simple. We were sent off all over Europe in teams of a dozen or so with several boxes of Bibles and other Christian books, which we then went door to door trying to sell. If we sold enough books, we had money to buy our daily bread. If not, not. So we prayed, and we went door to door (with our halting French—using phrases I still remember), and we sold books. And each day we had enough to buy food and other necessities. So far, so good.
But the exercise got more complicated towards the end of our time, when we needed not only enough food for one day but for three days, since we were heading back to HQ in Belgium, a drive that would take two days, during which time we would not be stopping to sell books. Added to that, two of our team had to leave early, so we needed extra money to pay their train fares—and lost two of our modest sales force. Then, on top of that, on the last day, we only had half a day to go selling before we had to leave. All this meant that, in a shorter time than usual, with fewer team members than usual, we were in need of three times our daily income. Suffice it to say: our prayers were answered. Suddenly everyone wanted to buy Bibles. We were all amazed. And (as you gather), I have never forgotten the experience.
All this meant that when I joined IVCF staff in 1973, and was told that staff were only paid whatever was sent in for their support, that didn’t seem as scary as it might otherwise have seemed. And, in fact, during 25 years or so of working for IVCF, there was only one month when I received less than I was supposed to receive. (There was a salary scale, but of course it was more of an ideal than a guarantee.)
I told my spiritual director about this a little while back, and his response was interesting: “Oh yes, that kind of thing has always been a part of the training of the Jesuits. They would be given $5 and sent off to find their way to the other side of the country.” As with Operation Mobilisation (in some ways the opposite end of several spectrums from the Jesuits), the intention was that Christians learn in very basic and practical ways what we say we believe: that God takes care of us.
Not everyone is called to live this way in the long term, though undoubtedly some are—I think as a witness and reminder to the rest of us and to the world. But I believe all of us would be more confident in our discipleship, not to mention more joyful in our witness, if we each had at least one notable experience of having God very obviously provide for our needs when there simply was nowhere else to turn.
This would change the way we approach regular congregational life, where there are always financial stresses; and it’s even more important in pioneering ministry where there isn’t (yet) a faithful congregation you can simply appeal to to dig a little deeper.
God loves us. It’s the most basic of Christian claims, isn’t it? But in what concrete (and financial!) ways have we actually experienced the love of God? Something to ponder. And pray about.