In preparation for an upcoming interview, I asked Irene if she had a favorite Bible verse. She referred to the five loaves and two fish passage. Jesus multiplied the sack lunch of a small boy to feed a huge crowd with 12 baskets full left over. This passage has special meaning for Irene in two ways.
First, as a child Irene was always cared for by loving Christian parents. She grew up in Zimbabwe as the daughter of the tribal chief. Her father was the first person in the region to embrace Christianity. When Irene went to school, her mother always sent a snack consisting of a sweet potato, a banana or some other fruit. At recess, because so many of her friends had nothing, Irene would run behind the building and quickly eat her snack before returning to play. She did this because knowing the greatness of the need, she felt like Andrew, “But how far will they go among so many?”
The message from the five loaves and two fish is this: What we keep to ourselves is too little to meet a large need, but anything offered to and blessed by God can be multiplied to meet any need. Small gifts in God’s big hands work miracles.
God revealed a second understanding of this truth as Irene went to Cambodia. Having worked for many years with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Irene felt she had a great deal to offer hurting people. Upon arriving in Cambodia, Irene, who speaks several languages, found that the Cambodian people did not speak English. Her ethnic background distanced her even more from the local people.
Having little to offer due to language and racial barriers, Irene felt very much like the little boy with the five small loaves trying to feed the multitude.
Irene offered herself and her limited resources to be used and blessed by God. One woman from the village came to her with a medical need. Not knowing the language and with no health clinic available, there was little Irene could do to help. Irene offered to pray for her. The next day this lady brought another lady, and Irene prayed for them both. More and more women began coming to Irene for prayer. God took what Irene offered and began to build relationships and spiritual connections with the people of Cambodia.
Irene has now served for more than six years in Cambodia. The church consisting mostly of a younger generation is growing among a Buddhist culture. Irene speaks and ministers health, education and the love of Jesus Christ to the lovely people of Cambodia. May her life be a living example to us of the truth of the five loaves and two fish. Whatever we give to God is multiplied and used in glorious ways. Are you hiding your small gift or are you placing it in the big hands of God to be blessed and multiplied?
Randy Bain is the Senior Pastor of Oakland UM Church located at 1504 Bedford Street in Johnstown. You may reach him through the church Web site www.oaklandumc.com.