The British Half-Penny

We were really proud of Southern Baptists. In Transkei, South Africa we had asked for and received $10,000 to help believers develop their own style of Bible study and Sunday Schools throughout the country. My wife and I, along with our 3 small boys, traveled to the mountains of Transkei to spend the weekend with a very small country church. They were so isolated from the rest of the churches in Transkei that we spent a lot of time simply sharing information from many of the other churches to the one we were now visiting. Almost without thinking, near the close of the time I had to share about what God was doing within the other churches, I mentioned to this small congregation the gift of $10,000 their brothers and sisters had sent them from America.

Unlike anything we had ever seen, a spontaneous love offering exploded inside this mountainous, country church! 

I am guessing you have never seen such an offering? These Xhosa speaking believers lined up between the simple, rough, wooden benches. Their line trailed all the way out of the crookedly hung back door of this isolated church. They begin to sing, dance, and sway toward the simple wooden altar table down front of the church. As they approached the altar table, these women would dance in harmony, slapping their change back and forth on the altar table all

together-sometimes three or four times. Children would ask for money from the adults, run outside of the church, cross the street – where they would enter a simple store to get the smallest change possible for their money so they could dance repeatedly in the aisle of the church, slapping their offerings together on top of the altar table.

This spontaneous offering went on for over 30 minutes!

All of this joy and offering was in response to a gift given by believers in America whom these African brothers and sisters had never seen. They danced, sang, and praised God as they gave, in joy, their offerings in response to the love offering they had received. We were so caught up in the moment, as we watched our brothers and sisters give their gifts to God, our sons began to ask us for change so they could go and slap their offerings on the altar also. It was one of the most joy filled times of giving we have ever experienced.

Until the old, arthritic woman began to limp down toward the front of the church.

As she stumbled down the aisle of the church, she reached inside of her ragged blouse and pulled out a knotted handkerchief. With her crooked fingers and teeth, she tried for many minutes to undo the knot in her old handkerchief. Finally she was able to untie the knot and inside of it was one over-large, copper coin. As she neared the altar of the church, she took that one copper coin, rubbed it with affection, and then placed it gently on the altar table. Then she slowly walked back to her seat. Curious, because I had not seen such money, I went to the altar table, after the spontaneous offering was finished, and picked up the large copper coin. I took it to one of the leaders and told him what I had seen. He went to the old lady and spoke with her for some time. He returned with tears in his eyes as he told me her story.

What she had given as her offering to God, in response to the $10,000 from America, was a British half-penny. This half-penny represented all of this woman’s money in the world; it was her retirement fund. My heart was broken when the leader of the church informed me this half-penny had been discontinued as “real” money since 1963. It was all she had owned for her retirement and it was useless. I was so broken by this old woman’s offering, her giving all she had to Jesus, that I laid a significant offering on the altar, placing her British half-penny in my pocket. For many years I carried this half-penny wherever we went. Whenever I felt we had given all we had to Jesus and it was time to quit, I would remove this half-penny from my pocket, remember this old, arthritic Mama in the mountains of Transkei, and understand that we had a long way to go before we gave all we have.

Mark 12:41-44 “And he sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.’” RSV