Wednesday, April 1

No strings attached

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I DID not think much about it when I first saw it on social media – rice bags, printed with the face of Machang MP Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub and words such as ‘Datuk Lan, Ahli Parlimen Machang’, plus the BN and 1Malaysia logos – being distributed to flood victims in Peninsular Malaysia.

Certainly, my eyebrows were raised.

I thought it was rice, a much needed food aid, and no matter how it was packaged, bless the donor. Never mind, so be it, he was a co-dependent gift giver.

The important thing was the aid of 500 bags of rice would feed the hungry and cold flood victims.

But the rice bags printed with the MP’s face went viral with netizens condemning Ahmad Jazlan for delaying flood aid because, according to them, he wanted his face and the BN logo printed on the rice bags being given out.

An upset Ahmad Jazlan countered by saying the rice were leftovers from the 13th general election campaign and he wrote on his Facebook: “The sin of slander is worse than murder. You will answer to God in the afterlife. Don’t just call yourselves an Islamic party when you don’t practise it.

“When disaster struck and there was a shortage of aid supply, I took out my stock of 500 bags for immediate distribution. This is no time for politics. This is a humanitarian mission.”

Ahmad Jazlan may call it a humanitarian mission but the fact is his co-dependent gift giving has hurt his bottom-line and damaged his relationship with the rakyat when they sensed his rice came with emotional strings attached.

Dictionary.com describes gift as:

(1) Something given voluntarily without payment in return as to show favour towards someone, honour an occasion or make a gesture of assistance.

(2) Something bestowed or acquired without any particular effort by the recipient or without it being earned.

To the true sense of the definition as given by the Dictionary, Ahmad Jazlan’s bags of rice with his face printed on them and from leftovers pulled out from his previous election campaign, are not gifts.

It’s probably politically correct to say these are enticements or bribes or payoffs.

Since Ahmad Jazlan talked about being “answerable to God,” probably this little story which I am always amused thinking about, will fit better into “answerable” – and “credit” we received for our offerings or gifts.

In one of his sermons about the “cheerful giver”, the late preacher Ray Stedman told this little narrative in his usual mirthful way: “Dr H A Ironside used to tell the story of an old Scotsman who inadvertently dropped a gold sovereign in the collection bag at a church service.

“In Scotland, when the ushers take up the offerings, they use a long pole with a bag on the end of it, which they pass among the pews.

“This old Scotsman put in a gold sovereign by mistake when he meant to put in only a shilling. As soon as he realised his mistake, he tried to retrieve his sovereign.

“But the usher pulled the bag back and said, nah, once in, always in! The old man said ah well, I’ll get credit for it in glory. The usher replied nah, you’ll get credit for the shilling!”

Actually, there was no need for netizens to be so bothered by how the rice were packaged that they should start attacking Ahmad Jazlan and be brazenly judgmental – lest they themselves be judged.

Biblically, giving is not giving unless it is sacrificial – it is impoverishing us in order that another might have.

Here’s another story that tells of sacrificial giving – giving until it is painful –which we all can take a lesson from.

In one of his books, Dr Roy L Laurin told of a Christian businessman who went on a tour and saw a teenaged boy pulling a plow with his father holding the handles.

The businessman, while snapping a picture, asked the tour guide whether they were poor and thus doing the job when it should be easily done by an ox.

The tour guide replied they were indeed poor but spiritually they were rich.

As the story unfolded, the businessman learned that a few months ago, the church planned a new building and parishioners were asked to contribute.

The father and the boy were eager to give something but too poor to give anything – except their only ox.

They decided to kill the animal, sold the meat and gave all the proceeds to the building fund and now they had to pull the plow themselves.

While the businessman thought it was a most remarkable sacrifice by the farmers, the guide said the farmers did not think so.

“They thought they are rather fortunate to have an ox to give.”

The businessman went back to his own country and told his pastor the story.

“Pastor, I want to double my contributions to this church this year. I have never given anything that cost me something. I want to plow for Jesus Christ.”

And remember, our ability to “give” is actually by the “grace” of God. With His grace, we can be a member of the family of charity, mercy, kindness, favour, goodwill and thanksgiving.

I would urge netizens and all Malaysians – whether giving with a grateful heart, willingly, cheerfully, generously, with compassion or with emotional strings attached – to spare a thought for the flood victims and the families of the passengers and crew of the Indonesian AirAsia airliner and pray to God of comfort to be near them at this hour of need.

“Freely ye have received, freely give.”