ONTARIO, Calif. When time came for the mission offering, a young Cuban Christian took the patched shirt off his back, came forward and put it in the box.
It was all he had, but he gave it gladly.
Another believer gave his socks. Several offered their watches and rings. Another contributed a handkerchief with words from the Bible written on it: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
A Southern Baptist missionary witnessed this scene on a visit to Cuba, where he spoke at a mission training conference involving more than 300, mostly young, home missionaries from around the island nation.
"I have never seen that kind of sacrificial givingnot in my country or any other country where we've served," the missionary told International Mission Board trustees during their meeting early this year in Ontario. "They gave what they had."
The impromptu mission offering came after the missionary finished his planned participation in the conference. The Cuban Baptist pastor who organized the annual session then made an unexpected announcement.
"We're glad our missionary brother is still with us. Brother, right after lunch I want you to come back and share for 30 minutes about what God is doing in the world. Would you do that?"
The missionary gulped, agreed and cobbled together a quick global overview during lunch. After he presented it to the conference participants, the Cuban pastor took the podium again.
"We're going to be involved in world missions," he said. "We can't go and share around the world, but we are praying for missions and today we're going to give. Some of you might say, 'We don't have anything to give. We depend on others to give to us so that we can reach our own country for Christ. One day when we have more we'll give.' But if we wait until we have more, we won't give then, either. We're going to give today. Brother, what place in the world needs our grain of sand, our mission offering?"
The IMB missionary suggested China, where hundreds of millions of souls have yet to hear of the saving love of Christ.
"We're going to give an offering to China, then," the pastor declared. "Let's pray."
As the hundreds of Cuban workers bowed their heads, the missionary thought about their financial resources. Most of them work for local churches and make an average salary equivalent to $10 to $12 dollars a month. He winced at the thought of challenging them to give to others far beyond their needy shores.
"What happened next was completely unexpected on my part," he said. "When the pastor said amen, the young people ran to the front and began emptying their pockets into these boxes. When the final tally was made and converted into dollars, it was an offering of $201.55."
Later, the missionary told the Cuban pastor he would be glad to "redeem" the items given with an offering of his own so that essentials like shirts, socks and food money could be returned to those who gave.
The pastor was offended.
"Brother, they didn't give these things to you," he sternly informed the missionary. "They gave these things to God, and God is going to use these things the way He sees fit. They're not going to take them back."
He wrapped up the items and money and gave the package to the missionary, with orders to see that it go toward ministries in China. The missionary heard later that they had begun praying God would multiply their offerinlike the loaves and fishes of oldinto 1 million Cuban pesos. That's about $53,000.
"They believe God is going to do that," the missionary told the IMB trustees. "I do, too. I don't know how, but He's going to do it."
Then he presented the Cubans' offeringpatched shirt and allto trustee Chairman John Floyd and Chuck McAlister, chairman of the trustees' overseas committee. Included was an additional $160 from a Southern Baptist youth group who gave their own offering after hearing about the Cubans' sacrificial gift.
"This is a sacred offering," Gordon Fort, IMB vice president for overseas operations, said. "When the Lord looked at the widow's mite, He said, 'Of all things that have been given, this is the greatest.'"
Numerous trustees in the room rose to ask if they could contribute also. As the package containing the patched shirt and other items from Cuba was passed around, they gave $2,867.
The multiplication the Cubans asked God for has begun.