I do not recall hearing about stewardship when I was growing up in the Church. In fact, it has been only in the past few years that I have noticed that word being used in conversations about faith and discipleship. But as I came to understand more about living as a Christian steward, I realized that I had been taught about stewardship years ago from the masters of grateful response.
Eighteen years ago, I moved to Haiti to become director of the Aid to Artisans program based in Jeremie. Aid to Artisans’ mission is to create economic opportunities for low-income artisan groups around the world where livelihoods, communities, and craft traditions are marginal or at risk. I hoped to be able to help local artisans escape desperate poverty by improving their technical and artistic skills as well as helping them access markets, so they could sell their handicrafts.
One November, an American artist/business woman came to host design classes for groups of women embroiderers. We decided to target the most remote artisan groups because they were in greatest need of assistance. We arranged for the women to be transported to Jeremie so they could enjoy a few days away from the rigor of daily life in rural Haiti.
The women were so excited to be away from home for a few days as they arrived with their babies strapped to their backs carrying their meager bundles of personal belongings. The women were thin, prematurely aged and dressed in faded and worn out clothes. Several of their babies had uncorrected cleft lips and other birth defects. Before we could begin the workshop, the group leader asked if she might start with a prayer on behalf of the group. In her prayer she thanked God for the many, many blessings they enjoyed as a community. She expressed gratitude that God would send them this wonderful opportunity to bless their lives. She asked God’s blessing on the facilitators of the workshop and thanked Him for sending Aid to Artisans to their community. The consultant and I were deeply moved by the gratitude and depth of faith possessed by these women, who by outward appearance had very little for which to be thankful. I tear up again as I write this and remember it was several minutes before the consultant and I could proceed with the training.
This scenario repeated itself over and over during my time in Haiti. Each time my team went to a village to meet with artisans, we were welcomed with a song of joy and gratitude and prayers of thanksgiving to God for his abundant blessings. I tried once to counsel my housekeeper to save money while she was working for us so that if we moved away and she didn’t have another job right away, she would still be able to care for her sons. She must have thought I was crazy. How could she save money when she had a niece who needed school fees and a father who had medical needs and a mother who needed to be buried in a style commensurate with the love her daughter had for her?
What did I know about the grateful response of a disciple? My friends and neighbors in Haiti knew that everything was a gift from God and meant to be shared with others. Resources were not meant to be saved for later, when there was a need for them now. And they weren’t calculating percentages to see how much they would share. My friends in Haiti tried to teach me to be grateful for every good thing in my life as a gift from a generous God, and to pit it all in service to others.
Christians are called to radically follow Jesus Christ. We are called to radical trust in God’s provenance.
Radical means changing the fundamental nature of something. Our encounter with Jesus Christ should affect a fundamental change in who we are and how we live and act in the world.
Too often we allow our layers of wealth, possessions, power and status to separate us from encountering God in a transforming way. Too often, when we come face to face with Jesus, we, like the young man in last week’s Gospel, walk away sad.
This season of stewardship is reminding me to look to the example of my friends in Haiti and hold nothing back in expressing my gratitude by returning all that I am and have to God.
Vicki Compton is the Coordinator of Faith Formation and Mission at the Cathedral. She can be contacted by calling the Parish Offices or emailing her directly at [email protected].