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A letter from Liz Searles in Romania

Fall 2013

I was speaking to a Kindergarten Sunday School class and showed this photo, of giving back to seniors, oversized. "Is that really Santa?" One asked. "What do you think?" I responded. A 4-year old boy jumped up and exclaimed: "I think it is a really skinny ELF!"

Betting the Farm   Luke 2:1-4

The generosity of the poor can offer an example to all of us.

When I was a struggling graduate student in Chicago, I thought I was poor--really poor.  A Bolivian family lived in the one-bedroom apartment down the hall.  The young boy slept on a cot behind the dining room buffet.  Two girls shared the tiny bedroom, and Mom and Dad had the sleeper sofa.

They ate simply, yet invited me to many meals.  They tithed 10% off the top (before expenses) at church.  They worked intermittently and very hard, sent money to family in Bolivia, spent all day Sunday at church, and laughed a lot.

In Romania, too, strangers in the street invite me to fish dinners or a glass of palinca (Romanian home brew).  Institutionalized children with nothing may hold out to me their special toy.  At the meal following Bible study, each makes sure the rest get enough.  No one seems to mind that the grown boys who do dock work all day get extra bread.

Americans can be generous too.

Orphans in Romania wait for NOROC's Grannies, who bring them daily nurture, activities, safe relationships, and most of all, love.

When I speak in USA churches, I am most moved by the elderly woman who approaches me quietly after the service, slips a $20 bill in my pocket and whispers: “Use this for a needy child.”  Often she is wearing a coat that has known too many winters, or she clearly needs an updated prescription and glasses.  She doesn’t color her hair or get her nails done.  And yet she gives in faith.  She gives for the love of God and the love of neighbor.

Their giving reminds us of Luke 21 (The Message):  “Just then he looked up and saw the rich people dropping offerings in the collection plate. Then he saw a poor widow put in two pennies.  He said, “The plain truth is that this widow has given by far the largest offering today.  All these others made offerings that they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford--she gave her all!”  Giving all.  Betting the farm.

NOROC delivers Christmas shoebox gifts to many institutions, as well as giving each child a gift bag with their own name.

Jesus, over and over, encourages his followers to invest everything in what is most precious to them.  Jonathan Hodgins says it well: “In a temple full of theologians and religious followers who hedged their bets and gave some of their wealth to God, one woman boldly went up to the collection plate and laid everything she had down on God.  What everyone else assumed was a gamble, she knew was a sure thing . . . We can hedge our bets and invest ourselves in the various philosophies and attractions of this life, or we can decide that when a sure thing comes along you should bet the farm on it”  (“The Treasure,” Newsletter of The Presbyterian Church of Wales).

My Bolivian friends and the giving women extravagantly bet the farm in faith.  Of them, Jesus would say: “They gave by far the largest offering today.”

Older ones reach out. Each year the Bible Study group (now 50 strong) prepares a Christmas program of traditional lessons and carols to take to the youngest, and to institutionalized seniors and handicapped.

Lives, time, talents, money--we have so many choices in this season of extravagant giving.  What would Jesus say?  I think he would say: “Bet the farm.  Give more than you think you can afford.  Give extravagantly to heal what is broken in the world.”

In this season of giving, receiving, and thanksgiving, your faithfulness, prayers, and giving are especially on our minds.  The needs are great. Here in Romania, halfway houses are closing, orphans who have aged out of the system are on the street, and we are being asked to meet more and more emergency needs, both inside the institutions and beyond.  Your willingness to give your all in the love of Jesus Christ transforms and saves lives in concrete physical and spiritual ways. That's one sure thing!

God’s promises never fail.  As the parable of the loaves and fishes teaches us, when we give, there will be enough.  And sometimes it takes strangers, orphans, or widows to teach us that.

Blessings to you all in this season of giving!

Liz in Tulcea, Romania

Partnered with NOROC - New Opportunities for Romanian Orphaned Children

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, Romania, p. 287
Read more about Liz Searles' ministry.

Write to Liz Searles
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  Give online to E200499  for Liz Searles' sending and support
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Give to D507503 for Liz Searles' sending and support

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