the auction

MY PASTOR HAD just finished his sermon when he turned to our current church building situation. A new ceiling was recently installed, but the walls still needed to be repainted. The paint job would require some 1 million pesos. Where would that money come from?

The pastor started writing on a piece of paper. He said, I’m putting my name down … for 100,000 pesos.

The air buzzed with murmurs and gasps.

Who will join me? the pastor asked.

His congregation returned his gaze with thoughtful silence. Was he joking or was he serious? Then my friend’s dad raised his hand. Cien, he saidOne hundred thousand pesos from his family.

Another person called out, Cien.

And one-by-one, voices rang out. Like a heating pot of popcorn kernels, the atmosphere was initially punctured by sporadic pledges. Cien here, cien there. Then someone said tres ciento (300), and everybody was raising their hands. Cincuenta, cien, treinta, cien! 

It was like being at an auction, except that there was no highest bidder and every offer was taken.

I remained motionless in my seat, thoughts flying, motor skills failing. How were they so open about their giving, their finances? How could they be so generous? Not only that, but they were also excited. They spoke with such assurance I started thinking they’d had advanced notice.

My home church has talked about a new building for nearly 15 years. The initial projected cost was $1,000,000. They’ve held meetings, taken votes, created deacon positions and formed committees for this project. Some have even left the church or stopped talking to each other due to conflict over the decision. Last I heard, concrete plans for the move are underway, though we are still in the same building. I’m not sure how close to our fundraising goal.

I know painting walls and moving to a new location are very different things. But both represent an investment.

To put things in context, $1 = about 3,000 pesos. Or, 1 peso = .03 cents.

While 100,000 pesos ($30) may not seem like a big chunk of cash in the States, in the Colombian context it is a moderate sum of money. A meal of 15,000 pesos (about $5) is considered expensive for many people. So 100,000 pesos is not an amount you’d normally offer at a moment’s notice.

Yet there they were, my brothers and sisters cheerfully offering more than they would pay for a meal for the improvement of their church building. They didn’t say, “I need to think about this” or “I need to pray about this”. They were united in their desire to make their meeting place even more hospitable. They were willing to sacrifice financially for their goal. Just as astounding to me was the fact that they felt safe enough to announce in front of everyone how much they would give.

It was a spectacular moment of God’s people pooling their resources to build up their community.

After about 5 minutes, the pledges were added up: over 2 million pesos! Double the amount asked for. The pastor said they could use the extra funds for things besides paint. The women behind me said, ¡Aire! and chuckled.

Air conditioning, that sought-after luxury, may not be such a far-off dream after all.