We hauled the old kitchen table out to the curb the other day.
My wife found another table she liked at a yard sale. The old one was battered and beat up, so it had to go. We called a charity group to pick it up. I was in a hurry to go somewhere. My wife had errands to run, too. So we left it there. No moment of silence. No fond farewell. When we came home that afternoon, it was gone.
I felt a pang of sadness when I thought about it later. That old table deserved a better send-off than we gave it.
It wasn’t an antique or a fine work of craftsmanship, just a pine table from a low-end furniture store. But it was the center of our home for nearly 30 years. It’s where we got to know each other, where we talked, argued and made up. The first time our infant son laughed out loud, he was watching an empty pop bottle roll across the tabletop (he thought that was hilarious for some reason). The kids spent countless hours wriggling around underneath it as toddlers — and countless hours doing school projects atop it. My parents, both gone now, rocked their grandchildren to sleep beside it.
How many meals did we eat together around that table? How many prayers did we pray?
“Things don’t matter; people do,” was the motto of Martha Myers, the late, great missionary physician who spent her life — and ultimately gave it — serving the people of Yemen. For her, things had significance only if they could be used to help the needy. She had little interest in personal possessions for their own sake.
Martha was right. Things don’t matter. But things do have meaning, if we use them for people. That’s the difference between selfishly accumulating stuff and blessing others with it.
A missionary in Africa broke one of his sandals recently. What to do? “I did what I have always done,” he wrote. “I went to what I considered a nice store, sought out a pair of sandals that I thought would be serviceable and purchased them for $24. An astronomical price for the Africans, I am sure. But I am an American. When things break we don’t fix them; we throw them away. My new sandals broke two days later. I asked a local friend what he would do.
“‘Fix them,’ he replied. Apparently there are men all over town who repair shoes for a living. He took my old sandals home. The next morning he brought them back, having sewn the sole of my favorite sandal to the upper part. Amazing! They still work. They feel great. Cost: $1. I had them fix my new sandals as well for the same price.”
The missionary also brought a new soccer ball with him from America, but it wouldn’t hold air.
“I went and bought another ball. The Africans with whom I was playing asked if they could have my broken ball. ‘Why?’ I asked.
“‘Because we can sell it,’ they replied. They were able to get $4 for it. Apparently one of the boys from the area took some glue and inserted it into the hole and plugged the leak. Who knows how long it will stay inflated, but some kid and I are each $2 richer!
“What have I learned? God is teaching me how to be a better steward of what He has given me. Can what I am about to throw away be repaired or used again in some other way? In America, when something breaks, you replace it. In Africa, we are learning to see things differently — and even find the value in something that looks ‘broken.'”
I wish I had done that with our good old kitchen table.
Erich Bridges is an International Mission Board global correspondent.