Last week I mentioned a kid whose nickname was Grasshopper (see “Trophies or Crowns?”) that played on my church baseball team. He lived in the Terrace Apartments, a low-income housing project that was across the street from our church on Crump Boulevard in Memphis. My family was not wealthy, and I would say most of the families in our church were not wealthy. But from the perspective of the kids that lived in the Terraces, we were wealthy.
It was not uncommon to meet a kid from the Terraces in Sunday school. I always kept my distance from them because I lacked the maturity to treat them as equals. They just seemed different than “we suburbanites” were, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be associated with them. I was only about ten years old, and had heard stories of families in the Terraces that were affected by parents who were alcoholics, or who had no jobs and were living on welfare and food stamps. They just couldn’t be trusted.
One afternoon, one of the kids from the Terraces invited a group of us boys over to his apartment for homemade ice cream. It may have been our baseball team or Sunday school class, I don’t remember. But homemade ice cream! Now that was something to break the barrier. I loved homemade ice cream, and would do just about anything to have some. So, some of us went, and a couple of dads came along with us. We met the kid’s dad, who was outside turning the crank on the ice cream freezer. He was cordial, but I was afraid of him. I figured he probably beat his wife and kids or something.
We took turns turning the crank, and as the ice cream froze, it became harder and harder to turn. Finally, when even the dad couldn’t crank it anymore, it was pronounced ready. Man, I couldn’t wait to dig my spoon into some homemade vanilla ice cream! It would be so cold and sweet and good. But as I put the first spoonful in my mouth, I could hardly keep myself from spitting it out. Powdered milk! They had ruined my homemade ice cream with powdered milk!
I didn’t say anything to the kid or to his dad, but I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Not only did they live in the projects, they made homemade ice cream with powdered milk. There had to be something wrong with them. We eventually left, and I don’t think I ever went back to the Terraces.
As an adult, I now understand that they were offering something special to us. It was probably a great sacrifice for their family to even make powdered milk ice cream. I’ve experienced similar situations on mission trips, when the villagers have made great sacrifices to feed us. My first tendency often is to refrain from what they are offering. But then I realize that they have sacrificed and offered me their very best.
God has blessed us tremendously. Most of us have everything we need and more. Even when we feel like we’re struggling, we often have everything we need. We just don’t have everything we want. If those that are truly living in poverty can be generous with what they have, we, who have been so richly blessed, can certainly be generous too. These verses caught my attention this weekend:
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” I Timothy 6:17-19 ESV