Giving It All
Stewardship as a total commitment
By Penny Brink
God entrusts us with abundant gifts and blessings. When we return our time, talents, and treasures to God, it means we have understood that everything is His gift to us in the first place. As Stewardship Sabbath approaches on December 3, 2011, read two inspiring stories about stewards who understand this concept very well.
FAMILY VISIT: Sacrificing their “retirement years” to live and work in Vanuatu, Jill and Alastair Macgillivray enjoy a rare moment with their visiting grandchildren.
Time in Vanuatu
Jill and Alastair Macgillivray, longtime missionary volunteers, are good stewards of God’s gifts. On the South Pacific islands of Vanuatu they are giving back, by sharing the skills and talents that God has given them, in order to meet the basic needs of the Ni Vanuatu. They are committed to sharing God’s love with others.
Tourism drives the economy in Vanuatu, but little of that wealth filters through to the majority of the local population. Many social issues and religious practices on the islands today evidence a lack of Christian education. Physical hunger is rare because fruit is plentiful, but the Ni Vanuatu hunger for education in useful skills. At Listair Institute (www.listairinstitute.com), the Macgillivrays’ students graduate with better prospects for their lives and are better equipped to take good care of their families. Best of all, many have joined God’s family at Listair.
Alastair’s father brought the family from Scotland to Australia in the 1950s in an attempt to keep the Sabbath and stay employed. Alastair’s Scottish brogue and his compassionate smile are, however, not his only distinguishing characteristics. He is the definitive craftsman, with skill in almost any area of practical work—and a perfectionistic streak to boot.
Jill finds that she has lived out her childhood dreams inspired by the mission stories she heard as a little girl in Sabbath school and from books in the church library run by her mother.
ALMOST SEA-WORTHY: Students at the Listair Institute in Vanuatu repair a large boat, working underneath the massive hull.The faithfulness of generations past has played a part in their choices. Jill and Alastair both trained atAvondale College, but they first met while teaching at Carmel College in Western Australia. This couple could have chosen a different path, but they responded to a call to dedicate themselves to mission and volunteer work. They were married in May 1972, and by the next year they were in Western Samoa.
During their 11 years of teaching in Samoa and Tonga, Jill and Alastair brought four of their six children into the world. After some years back in Australia for medical needs in the family 12 years ago, they once again felt the tug of the mission field. This time the division invited them to Aore Academy in Vanuatu. When Alastair’s father passed away, he took his own inheritance money to buy the machines, and the training began.
The school and its furniture industry made a good name for itself in the community, and students went on to get top jobs. Eventually the Macgillivrays felt that there were more skills that needed to be taught. This vision of a dedicated school with the infrastructure available on Santo Island, Vanuatu, was realized when Listair Institute opened its doors in 2002.
Today, Listair students take accredited courses in furniture making, building construction, and boat building. Future accreditation will include courses in mechanics, home electrical wiring, plumbing, and sewing. Students who excel at Listair are targeted to become the future instructors of their institute. Says Nelson, a student, “At home I was no good at anything useful—no employment [skills]. Now I want to finish the course and become a teacher and help other young people.”
CATTLE CALL: The Lord’s cattle are counted and branded as a form of tithe on Kegalale Gasennelwe’s farm in Botswana.Best of all, Jill and Alastair do this with “nothing”! “God knows what we need,” Jill says, “and He provides!” For example, the other day, when she needed cabbages for the evening meal, God provided! Listair’s only fund-raising strategy consists in its leaders’ relationship with their Provider.
How do people pay tithe when they don’t earn anything? “We pay on whatever comes in,” Jill says matter-of-factly, referring to furniture sales, and Alastair broadens this fundamental take on stewardship: “We belong to God, everything belongs to God—our time, our resources, our energy, our talents. Better give it all back to Him.”
The real payoff is evening time at Listair. Jill and Alastair catch up on administrative work while the students complete their homework in the same room. In this close atmosphere students feel free to ask the important questions about life, and eternal life. “They are our family!” says Jill. “We are missing out on our grandchildren who are growing up far away from us, but we’ll have eternity to make up for that,” she firmly believes.
Alastair confidently confirms that “we felt we’d better just get on with what the Lord has placed in front of us to do.”
ON THE FARM: Kegalale Gasennelwe, widely known in Botswana for her expertise and work for the government in education and health, is also “Mum” to many local young people. Here, Gasennelwe has a conversation with South Botswana Conference secretary Kago Rammidi.On Sabbaths they all sit side by side on makeshift benches while grateful hearts give God the glory. Moli, another student, says, “I have learned more than just a trade at Listair—I have learned about Jesus, my Redeemer.”
The Lord’s Farm
Imagine an enclosure full of livestock. A high breed of shuffling cattle causes the dust to rise as they pass through a fenced channel. A man stands ready with an outstretched herders’ rod.
This is a farm in Botswana, where a group of men and one woman eagerly observe while the man counts: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.” The rod falls, symbolically marking that particular living, breathing animal as God’s tithe. It is branded and led into a separate enclosure. This continues rhythmically throughout the afternoon, because it is the season, and “Mum” Kegalale Gasennelwe, a medical doctor, is paying her tithe!
Live animals are a strikingly tangible sort of tithe—especially here in Africa, where cattle embody so much symbolism and usefulness in daily life. “We use cattle to pay ‘Lobola’ for marriage, plow the fields, pull carts, provide fuel for fire and material for building or decoration,” Gasennelwe explains. “They provide milk, food, clothing, and blankets. They are the substance of a family’s wealth and status.”
But tithing on her cattle farm in her retirement is not the only way in which Gasennelwe has given back to the Lord. She has led a life of giving. Indeed, since her nursing days and through to her positions of leadership in the nation, much of all she has achieved has been for the benefit of others.
This seems to be a pattern with those who give. Giving builds trust, trust builds generosity, and life through other-centeredness. Gasennelwe likes to involve her children and grandchildren in these seasons of tithing, hoping it will be continued as a family legacy in generations to come.
This legacy began with Gasennelwe’s father, who emphasized taking care of those less fortunate. He had never gone to school, but he read his Bible twice a day. His interpretation was that in its simplest form, Christ’s mission is for us to look after the widows and orphans. Gasennelwe remembers her mother cooking food for the children in the local community, setting a similar example. In fact, old tradition in Botswana holds that if your neighbor is struggling to take care of his family, you are obliged to help by loaning livestock to them. The chief may have even stepped in to make sure that you did your duty.
These childhood and cultural influences have kept Gasennelwe constantly aware of the needs of those around her. She is “Mum” to many local young people, and this gives her a feeling of great satisfaction. She goes regularly to the nearby villages with her local Adventist outreach ministries, helping where there is need. The highlight of every year is the party that she hosts for the community kids, with lots to eat—and they all love her for that!
Professionally, in the government ministries of education and health in Botswana, Gasennelwe has a reputation that she rather enjoys. She confides that “I like nothing better than to be in a position where I can make sure that the money gets directly to the people it is intended to help!”
Things have not always been easy. Gasennelwe experienced the untimely loss of her husband, and then her only son. “There must be a purpose,” she insists, “and rather than asking questions that we will never have answers for, I believe that God is in control.”
Gesennelwe believes the Lord keeps His promises (Mal. 3:10). “He does,” she is adamant, “He does. We did not always have these cows,” she explains. “We started off tithing with goats—from a government grant! My husband heard that the local pastors needed support, and he felt that giving tithe was important. Now everything on this farm belongs to God, not just the cows. Everything!”
“Tithing is linked to a concern for others,” Gesennelwe adds. “If you cannot give to God, you cannot give to others, and if you cannot give to others, you cannot give to God.”
That’s what generosity is all about, and that’s what keeps her smiling!
Penny Brink is assistant director of stewardship for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States. (www.adventiststewardship.com)