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So poor and yet rich

A slightly different Christmas story about true Christian charity and sharing

Christmas 1946. I was 14, my little sister Nelly was 12 and my older sister Darlene was 16. We lived with our mother and we knew what it meant to have to do without a lot.My father had died five years before, leaving my mother completely penniless with seven schoolchildren. My older sisters were already married and my brothers had moved out of home. A month before Christmas, the priest announced that donations would be collected at Christmas to help a poor family. He asked everyone to save money for this.

We consulted on how we could contribute. The result was to live on 25 kilos of potatoes for a month. This would save us 20 pounds of household money, which we could in turn donate. If we turned on the lights as little as possible and didn't listen to the radio, our electricity bill would be less that month. Darlene took on as many cleaning jobs as possible, and she and I went babysitting to all sorts of people. For 15 pence we could buy enough woollen string to make cachepots, which we sold for £1. We made £20 from the planters. That month was one of the best in our lives. Every day we counted the money. At night we sat in the dark and talked about how much the poor family would enjoy the money. We were about 80 worshipers in our small church congregation. No matter how much we would give, the donation would surely be 20 times as much. After all, the pastor had reminded us every Sunday to save up for it.

One day before the 3rd of Advent, Nelly and I went to the shop to change our saved coin money into three brand new £20 notes and one £10 note. We ran all the way home to show them to Mother and Darlene. We had never had so much money before. That evening we were so excited we could hardly sleep. We had saved £70 for the offertory.

We couldn't wait to get to church! On Sunday it was cold and wet and it was raining cats and dogs. We didn't own an umbrella and the church was over a mile from home. We then sat in church, wet but proud. I heard some people talking about the fact that we were wearing old clothes. When everyone dropped their offering money in the basket, we sat in the second row. Mother put the £10 note in the basket and we children each put in one of the £20 notes. On the way home we sang all the way. For lunch, mother had a surprise. She had bought some sausages and we ate sausages with our fried potatoes for the first time that year. Late in the afternoon, the priest drove up in his car. Mutti went to the door, talked to him for a while and came back with an envelope in her hand. She didn't say a word. She opened the envelope and out fell a wad of banknotes. There were three brand new twenty pound notes, one ten pound note and seventeen one pound notes. Mother put the money back in the envelope.

We were silent, just sitting there staring at the floor. It was a strange feeling. We children led such happy lives that we pitied all those who didn't have parents like us and a house full of brothers and sisters and other children who came to visit all the time. We thought it was fun to divide the cutlery between us and see whether we got the fork or the spoon in the evening. I knew that we didn't own many things that others had, but it never occurred to me that we were poor. On that Advent Sunday, I found out that we were poor. The priest had brought us the money that had been collected for the poor family. So we had to be poor. I looked at my clothes and my worn-out shoes and felt terribly ashamed. I even didn't want to go to church any more. Probably everyone there already knew we were poor! We sat there in silence for a long time. Then it got dark and we went to bed. All week, we girls went to school, came home and nobody talked much.

Finally, on Christmas Eve, Mother asked us what we wanted to do with the money. We didn't want to go to church tonight, but mother said we had to go. Although it was a beautiful December day, snow had just fallen, we didn't speak a word on the way. Mother started to sing, but none of us joined in, so she stopped after one verse. A pastor from Africa was preaching. He told us that churches in Africa are built of air-dried bricks. But they needed money for the roofs, it would cost 100 pounds. The priest said: Can't we all make a sacrifice to help these poor people? We looked at each other and smiled for the first time that week. Mother reached into her pocket and pulled out the envelope. She gave it to Darlene. Darlene gave it to me and I gave it to Nelly who put it in the offering box. After the money was counted, the priest announced that just over £100 had been donated. The African priest had not expected such a large donation from this small congregation. He said, "You must have rich people in your congregation."

Suddenly we understood! We had given £87 to the just over £100. We were the rich family in the community! From that day on, I have never been poor again.

(Author unknown)

Bild: Shutterstock

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