Rethinking Generosity and Offering in South Africa

April 2018
Andrew Steele

In my career, I have the opportunity to travel all over the world to see what God is doing through our companions in mission. I am often amazed by the ministry that I bear witness to, ministry that is vibrant and growing. One of my early lightbulb moments was when I was serving in South Africa as an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Young Adult in Global Mission volunteer.

While serving in South Africa, I attended church every morning with my host family, where my host father was also my pastor. While the service was in another language, Sesotho, the liturgy was quite familiar. My church was a congregation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, a companion to the ELCA, so I knew when we were reciting the creeds, saying the Lord’s prayer, and receiving the benediction. But while a lot of church was similar, one thing about worship really stood out as quite different.

When it came time for the offering at my first worship service in South Africa, I got my South African Rand bills out for the impending offering plate to be passed around. However, I quickly realized that was not what was going to happen. Instead, members stood up and began singing and dancing. We would dance up the aisle to where a basket was waiting to receive the offering. Wow! What a sign of joy in giving! So I joined the line, did my attempt at dancing — not one of my better skills — and put my few Rand into the offering basket. It was fun! It was joyous! It was a new way of giving!

I sat down, and then became quickly confused when an announcement was made about the next offering. What!? Another offering? I learned there would be four offerings during worship. The different offerings would range from general offerings to offerings for youth outings or building repairs. I sat there sheepishly, embarrassed to be the only one not dancing up the aisle again. That was, until my host mom leaned over, handed me some Rand, smiled and pulled me into the dancing line.

The folks at church who may not have had cash or coins to give in offering would bring vegetables, meats, and other goods from their homes that could be given as an offering. After church services, there would be a small auction for the items brought by members: eggs, avocados, chickens, fresh vegetables, and more. Other members of the congregation would purchase the goods, and the proceeds would go into the offering. All had the ability to give!

The small act of physically showing the abundance you feel from God’s gifts, and the ability to give, was powerful for me. The act of giving should be a happy, joyous occasion, not boastful but thankful for the gifts God bestowed on us: the gifts of grace and boundless love. I have not thought about offering the same way since, even going so far as to try to introduce the dancing offering in my home congregation. While the dancing did not catch on, I think the joy in giving started to take shape.

Andrew Steele is Director, Global Church Sponsorship with the ELCA in Chicago, Illinois. He is pictured on Christmas Day in 2010 with his host family, the Monamas.

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