Reflections from the Frontline

A shared space to encounter God’s marvelous mission among all peoples

Roberta Updegraff with a group of children in MalawiGet your generosity groove on
Reclaiming God as King Merrymaker for Mardi Gras

by Roberta Updegraff

It is hard to imagine our Lord dancing in the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras, but I have certainly experienced God as King Merrymaker. God takes joy in interacting with creation and in empowering us to participate in God’s mission. The Lord parades all the wonderful acts of love, mercy, generosity, and goodness we accomplish together with God. Accentuating the miraculous, or the positive, not only makes us grateful, but also inspires hope, which translates into more excitement for God’s next cooperative venture.

God desires that every human being should live life abundantly—brimming with generosity and gratitude. I include generosity first because it is the spigot that fills gratitude to overflowing—not vice versa. I guarantee that if you spend time with God you will be infected with God’s generosity. Gratitude will follow, overflowing into everything you do. 

Traditionally Lent is the season of penance. We are called to give up pleasures, make sacrifices, fast, and repent. The 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday seem the antithesis of celebration, but, in Roman Catholic cultures particularly, Lent is launched by Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday). It begins with the generosity of Epiphany (Three Kings Day), and though it has often evolved into debauchery, it celebrates abundance. It was Christianized to shine the spotlight on life with Christ and, in doing so, to spark the gratitude needed to carry believers through the Lenten weeks of penitent reflection.

Just as our human friends coax us to embrace the passions of their hearts, God beckons us to discover what delights God. We often embrace vocations, hobbies, or adventures because of excitement instilled by friends and mentors. Their fire ignites ours.

We don’t think of God igniting a wild rumpus, but God often does. Whenever we recognize what we have accomplished together with God, celebration erupts. And bystanders beware! God’s party spirit is contagious.

In my travels for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, as well as during other mission trips, I have caught that contagion. I have experienced the choral music and dancing that lifted the tin roof of a little church in famine-stricken Malawi where they sang in celebration, “Hunger cannot separate us from the love of God.”

‘We don’t think of God igniting a wild rumpus, but God often does. Whenever we recognize what we have accomplished together with God, celebration erupts. And bystanders beware! God’s party spirit is contagious.’

I have met many of God’s other friends—coworkers and nationals recruited to participate in God’s latest operations in generosity. “Well done, good and faithful servant” is not reserved for our arrival at the pearly gates.

I have been swept away in the excitement villagers and mission workers felt for the progress being made in sustainable agricultural and universal literacy. They introduced me once to a little girl who had been saved as an infant from starvation at the PDA feeding center. Patricia, now a robust five year old, was the obvious miracle-apple in the eyes of her family and a source of great pride for mission workers who’d responded to God’s call to help.

In India, I admired the new net that had transformed a suicidal young man into a grateful and generous fisherman. His family had survived the tsunami but lost their means of income. His seaside village boasted of hope restored because of the generosity of God’s friends who reached out to them from across the globe.

I embraced a jubilant elderly woman on her return almost a decade after Katrina to her volunteer-renovated home in New Orleans. (Unscrupulous contractors had cheated her out of the insurance money she received.) The folks who gathered for her home dedication were ecstatic, proud of the accomplishments of hundreds of volunteers in the year of rebuilding leading up to that celebration. I felt God’s applause.

In just a few weeks the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), will launch the first of our four annual Special Offerings. And they are special—each one unique. These offerings are strategically woven through the liturgical year to allow us opportunities to give to projects that complement the biblical texts and celebrations.

The longest running, and the most popular offering, One Great Hour of Sharing, began as an ecumenical plea after World War II to help alleviate the results of that human disaster. OGHS continues to be received from seven denominations, including the PC(USA).

The funds collected are divided between Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Self-Development of People, and the Hunger Fund, each representing a facet of Jesus’ ministry to the poor, hungry, broken, and disenfranchised. These three ministries celebrate the compassion and dignity bestowed so freely by Jesus in supporting projects that do likewise.  

The second opportunity to celebrate is a birthday party. Pentecost honors the younger generations with offerings to help equip them for service. It provides funds for children at risk, youth ministries, and the Young Adult Volunteer program. And a part of that offering comes back to the local congregations for their own youth-oriented projects.

On World Wide Communion Sunday, we celebrate as the family of God. The Peace and Global Witness Offering targets peacemaking and reconciliation projects, as well as World Mission initiatives. God revels in reconciliation, wanting all to know and enjoy their Lord. I will remember always that Hindu young man, later showing me his catch and acknowledging the Fisherman who had made his dreams come true.

Last but not least is the Christmas Joy Offering. Wrapped in gratitude are gifts that help current and retired church workers. We also extend educational opportunities at Presbyterian-related racial ethnic schools and colleges. With grateful hearts, we give to the ones who helped our faith grow deeper and stronger. We give in appreciation for the greatest teacher of all, our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, go ahead! Reclaim Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) as a day of gratitude! God’s got exciting generosity opportunities planned. Allow God to give you the true desires of your heart and make all your plans succeed. So, get out your celebration clothes and get ready to party with spiritual abandon.

Roberta Updegraff is the author of six mysteries with Guidepost Books and was featured in their compilation Prayers for Every Need. She writes regularly for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s Mission Mosaic, and her photographs have been featured on the cover. Her work has appeared in diverse publications including Christianity Today and Focus on the Family. She is also an ambassador for Special Offerings. She and her husband support Hogar de Niños Renacer (Home of Reborn Children), an orphanage in Honduras where Roberta volunteers several weeks each year. They live in northern Pennsylvania. Visit her website.