No Strings Attached


Talking on a cell phone while driving in Jakarta traffic is not advisable, but I was in a hurry.  In my haste (three miles per hour), I caused a fender-bender when I stopped too late to avoid hitting the car ahead of me. The Muslim Sudanese gentleman was kind, but, in typical Indonesian fashion, wanted to make arrangements to get his car repaired immediately.

In his car, while driving to the garage, he asked why I was in Indonesia. I told him I was working on the tsunami disaster response.

“Good,” he said. Then, in a somewhat more somber tone he said, “Where is all that money going anyway?”

I explained that the agency I worked with was building more than 2,000 homes and 500-plus fishing boats, rebuilding five or six schools, restoring salt flats, and doing a couple of public health projects.

“That’s good,” he said, “but what would someone have to do to get a new home?”

“Nothing, except help design it and build it,” I said.

Then he said something that still rings in my ears: “If there are strings attached to a gift, then there is an agenda. But, if there are no strings attached, that is truth!”

It seemed to me that this devout Muslim man was saying that, in his experience, gifts are rarely given without some expectations. Such gifts are not truth and they lead to resentment. But if a gift were ever given freely, which he doubted, this would indeed be truth.

I thought, yes, grace has no strings attached. The more strings that are connected to a gift—conditions, requirements, expectations—the less graceful a gift becomes. Grace leads to truth all by itself.

This is a tremendous encouragement to those of us who want to point others to Christ and don’t have much to give, because grace is not measured by the size of the gift. In fact, according to Jesus, the smallest gift can be the greatest evidence of grace.

Grace is absolutely essential in transformational development because only without preconditions can beneficiaries make impartial and free judgments about proposed changes in habits, traditions, and values. Such charity requires faith on the part of practitioners, partners, and donors.

We sometimes think, Where is the gospel in all of this? What must Christians do, say, or require that will convince people of the truth that is in Christ? Then, we remember that our message is judged not only by its content, but by the conditions with which it is delivered.

Our world is fractured by doubt, mistrust, anger, suspicion, violence, and prejudice. It needs copious measures of grace.

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