Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Sightseeing (08/08/05)
TITLE: The Altar at the ATM
By Karen Schravemade
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My shriek of delight caused a few pedestrians to glance sideways, but I didn’t care. I clutched at my friend Katy’s hand and let laughter bubble up inside me like champagne. Before us lay the Champs Elyssees in all its glory, elegant and glamorous and swarming with long-coated Parisians. The air was crisp, and autumnal trees lined the boulevard with shades of red and gold.
“This is SO incredible,” Katy agreed. She slung one arm around my shoulder, and her tone turned momentarily serious. “You know, thanks for making me see this through. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
I grinned wordlessly, touched by her admission. As impoverished college students, we had nurtured this impossible dream of travelling together to Europe through many a long night spent poring over brochures and punching numbers. It had taken a year of juggling casual jobs; waitressing, washing dishes, tutoring kids after school – but eventually, the money was there.
For me, anyway. Katy had never been much good at saving. Unlike mine, her parents were well-off, and she’d never before had to budget. But I was so fiercely determined to see it through that I stood over her as she applied for extra work and lectured her about spending money on non-essentials.
“We did it together,” I said to Katy now. “You, me and God.”
I hadn’t told Katy about the brochure that arrived in the mail the week before I was due to pay for our flights. There was a humanitarian crisis in Rwanda – a flood of refugees without food or medical aid, sleeping in tents, barely surviving.
I locked myself in the bathroom and cried, the brochure clutched to my chest. I cried for my dream of travelling, because I knew without a second’s doubt what God was telling me to do.
“Give them the money.”
How could I selfishly spend my money on a luxury holiday, while children were crying themselves to sleep with hunger? I was shaken to the core by what I knew I must do – because I desperately didn’t want to.
“How can I, God? I’ve worked so hard for this! I’ve saved up all year! Why are you asking me to do this now, of all times?”
And yet, after the outburst of tears came resignation. I didn’t understand the timing - the trip would have to be called off – but after a long internal struggle, I chose to obey. The ATM in the mall became my sacrificial altar, and like Abraham, I was momentarily stunned when my no-holds-barred offering was declined. I had exceeded my daily withdrawal limit – and it was a Saturday. The banks were closed.
I stood for a moment, a slow smile spreading across my face. I felt God’s assurance whispering through me. Well done, daughter. I had been tested, I had obeyed, and God had been gracious. I withdrew half the money, instead of everything, and sent it to Rwanda with a glad heart. I had enough left to pay for my flight, and if I worked hard, I would be able to pinch and scrape enough to cover the tour.
I now had no spending money, but my conscience was light. I borrowed luggage, bought my thermals from opportunity shops, even threw a “Bon Voyage” party where the guests were asked to bring rolls of film. My suitcase was stuffed with packets of powdered soup for when I inevitably ran out of money to buy food.
The day before we were due to leave, Katy’s Mum pulled me aside with tears in her eyes.
“I’m so proud of you,” she began. “You know, Katy keeps blowing whatever money she’s saved. In the end she asked me to pay what was owing. I know that you haven’t had it as easy as that. So I wanted to give you this. Don’t open it ‘til you’re on the plane.”
It was an envelope stuffed with money – exactly twice the amount that I had given away.
Katy’s Mum had no way of knowing about the Rwandan refugees. Even Katy didn’t know. I told nobody. But God saw, and he was faithful.
So here I stood in Paris, not sure why tears suddenly sparkled in my eyes, infusing the air with diamonds on that sunny autumn day. How had God turned my altar of sacrifice into such a place of blessing?
I shook my head in wonderment, and smiled.
“C’mon,” I said to Katy. “Let’s go shopping.”
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