Pay it forward

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Suddenly, I found myself overseas in Korea and out of work with no income for two months. I had been dismissed two months before the end of my contract. The manager told me she had already started another teacher, and forgot when my contract finished. Usually I lived from month-to-month with very little money left at the end. But now I had to stretch this final month’s income for three months. My accommodation was linked to my job, so I was effectively homeless during this period.

I had already signed a contract to work in the Adventist Junior High School located on Sahmyook University campus, starting in two months at the beginning of a new school year. Due to the Korean government’s visa rules it would have been impossible to get extra work during those two months, at least legally. As a Christian, I was not willing to work illegally and if I had tried to, I risked being prosecuted or deported.

This was in the middle of winter, with snow on the ground. Not the best time to be homeless. I was in Korea with my two young children: one preschool and one lower primary school age. However during this time, because of God’s grace, we never spent a night without a roof over our heads and never missed a meal.

Although for many people this would be a time of panic, God granted me peace throughout, which flabbergasted others and impressed them to help me.

The previous year I had heard a distinct call from God to go to Korea. I was willing to go but everything I tried to do towards that goal fell through. 

I was failing spectacularly and finally I told God I was willing, but if He wanted me to go, it all was in His hands. During the next few months, I watched barrier after barrier disappear. Because of this experience I knew I was exactly where God wanted me to be. I knew God was capable and willing to care for me during this time, even if I didn’t know how —hence the peace I felt.

I have so many stories about this time, I could probably write a book about all the things that God did to support me during this two-month period. Of all the stories I could tell, this one has stood out because of its long-term effect:

One day I was at the English-speaking church company on the Korean Union Conference campus. The Serviceman’s Centre was set up by the General Conference to be a home away from home for the American Adventist soldiers based in Korea. This church group was run by the chaplains who managed the centre. Primarily for the soldiers who were off duty on the weekend, the group was always open to any person who wanted to worship and fellowship without language barriers. 

Completely out of the blue, after church that day, I was handed an envelope. The money inside was worth approximately $A300; not so much now but worth much more then. I had not told anybody my need but God knew. The person who gave this to me was an English conversation teacher at Sahmyook University. 

I wished to repay the money, but I couldn’t. The teacher who gave me the money was from New Zealand. By the time that I was working again and had the necessary finance, the new school year had started. The lady who gave this money to me had finished her contract and returned home. I did not know where in that country she was from, so I could not do anything about returning the money. Because I couldn’t return the money I was impressed to pay it forward instead.

Several months later my dad was visiting me in Korea. When he left Korea, he went home via Thailand. For many years, he had supported the education of Thai students, Karen refugees and other minority group students. He was visiting to reconnect with several of them and other people who he knew. He also planned to visit Mission College (now Asia-Pacific International University). During previous visits to his students there, he had befriended the chaplain and he was going to visit him.

I gave my dad the equivalent amount of money I had been given. As I knew he was going to be visiting schools in Thailand, I asked him to find a student who was in need to give this money to. I left it at his discretion who he gave it to, ie God’s prompting. So who did he find? 

Dad found a student at Mission College. This student was studying to be a pastor. He planned to return back home to Africa to do his ministry there. He should have been graduating soon, but faced a serious problem. His sources of funds had dried up and he had fees owing that he couldn’t pay. Things had gotten so bad that instead of graduating he was facing expulsion. The money that I sent was exactly what was required to pay his back fees so he could finish his course and graduate.

He begged Dad for my email, so he could thank me. He wanted to pay me back, but I said that instead when he was financially stable himself, he should find someone else in need and pay them—to pay forward—then tell the person he had helped to do likewise. Only heaven can know the result of this: How many people have been helped by paying forward? What have they been able to go on to do to spread the gospel in their own area? What impact has this graduating pastor had in his own ministry?

There is no question that this money was very useful for me as at that time I barely had two coins to rattle in my wallet. But this money I was given also helped an African student in Thailand and only heaven knows how far this has gone or if it is still going. 

I have recently realised another rather profound thing. I was paid in Korean Won and this is what I gave to my father. This was converted in Thailand to the local currency, Baht. I was given the exact amount needed for the African student’s bills, not yet due at the time I was given the money; and taking into consideration the Won to Baht conversion rate when it was given to the student about five months later. Only God could have known how much to give me. But this is just like God—He loves double (or triple etc) dipping of His blessings.

He has forgiven us and told us to forgive others. Everyone who learns of the good news of God’s salvation is to share this news as far as possible. We experience the love God has shown for us in Jesus’ sacrifice, and we should be a mirror reflecting that love to others who we come in contact with, in our attitude and actions. This principle can be found in many places in the Bible, but I will quote just one:

”Be kind to each other, be understanding. Be as ready to forgive others as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you. As children copy their fathers you, as God’s children, are to copy him. Live your lives in love—the same sort of love which Christ gives us and which he perfectly expressed when he gave himself up for us in sacrifice to God” Ephesians 4:32–5:2 (Phillips). 

I like how Ephesians 5:2 is put in the New King James Version. It talks of Christ loving us and giving Himself for us, as an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. When we reflect this love to others around us, we are also like this top-shelf perfume to them.

Juanita Hughes is a member of South Brisbane church, Qld, and an active dementia advocate, a ministry she feels called to.

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