A few days into the #GiveThanks challenge issued by President Russell M. Nelson in late November, I was already feeling sensitised to the many blessings around me. I noted with thanks my beautiful family, my job, the gospel, and the sunshine we enjoy almost every day of the year in South Africa.
And then, on Tuesday, the doorbell rang.
I had just managed to get my three-year-old daughter down for her afternoon nap. Our young baby was also fussing and tired. As a working mom of three small children I too was in a haze of fatigue. On top of that, I was in pain because I had sprained my ankle while running that morning, and was feeling a little sorry for myself because I had been participating in a fitness challenge that I knew I now wouldn’t be able to finish.
I felt concerned that the noise of the bell would wake my sleeping daughter, irritated at the inconvenience of moving my sore ankle and impatient to get my baby to sleep, so that I could get back to my work deadline.
I limped to the door.
A man who was doing construction at a house down the road stood outside the gate. He said he hadn’t brought his skaftin (lunchbox). He asked if I could I please give him some lunch.
My husband mentioned that this was the third time that someone from the same construction project had come to ask for food.
I told him this was a bad time: I was trying to get my baby to sleep.
He said please, just a piece of bread, just for him.
“I’ll give you something simple, but please try to remember your lunchbox tomorrow,” I said.
I went into my kitchen and opened my fridge. It was teeming with fresh, healthy food. In that moment, I felt a simultaneous sense of gratitude and guilt: grateful for the abundance of food I enjoy each day; guilty for having felt inconvenienced by his request.
The scripture of Matthew 25:35 came to mind: “For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.”
The Spirit prodded me with a question. Was I a true follower of Christ if I wasn’t willing to inconvenience myself to help someone in their time of need?
I hobbled outside to my gate, holding my baby in one arm; two peanut butter sandwiches and two apples in the other. I smiled and told him the bread was still slightly frozen.
My offering was meagre and hastily prepared, but the man looked genuinely surprised as I handed him the four items through the gate. Both sandwiches? Both apples? All for him? His eyes seemed to ask.
Then it was my turn to be surprised. I saw his eyes well up with tears. “Thank you, Mami,” he kept saying, “Thank you. Mami, Mami . . . this will go a long way.” I looked away—embarrassed at his reaction to my small donation, scared I might also tear up, and bid him goodbye.
What did it take to give someone four minutes of my day and two peanut butter sandwiches? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
What did it mean to the man at the gate? Evidently, a whole lot.
It occurred to me that, due to the downturn of construction projects and the huge spike in unemployment in South Africa following the outbreak of the Coronavirus, this man might have been earning money for the first time in several months. It occurred to me that he probably needs every cent he earns to help support several other unemployed family members.
It occurred to me that he wasn’t forgetting his lunchbox at all.
It occurred to me that he couldn’t afford to eat lunch.
In the few moments following that tiny interaction, I felt almost overcome with emotion. My action had been small and flawed. Yet despite that, it had made a huge difference to the man I helped. I felt a deep sense of gratitude that the Lord would allow the weak and simple (See D&C 1:23) such as myself to help achieve his ends.
I give thanks for the millions of lessons such as this one that Heavenly Father offers to us; for these small opportunities of connecting with other human spirits. For the grace of God in allowing us—through no qualification of our own—to breathe tiny particles of goodness into others’ existence.
I give thanks for the lesson I learned from the man at my gate.