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We have shared this story over the years, labeling it as the most curious gift ever sent to missionaries.

“Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil
to the house of the Lord your God.”

—Exodus 23:19

My husband, Nick, and I were missionaries in Oaxaca, Mexico, a number of years ago. January was always very special because we would get Christmas cards from friends and family back home. It takes longer for the cards to get to another country, so we would get cards throughout the month. Sometimes we might even get a package! Missionary friends of ours once received a package. They went to the post office in their village to pick it up, paid the customs duty, eagerly took it home, and excitedly opened it. When they got the outside paper off, they found a large box of tea bags. When they opened the box, they found it was full of dried-up used tea bags. A note from the woman who sent the package accompanied the box. She explained that you could get two cups of tea from each tea bag (in her frugal estimation), and she wanted to share the second cup of tea with the missionaries.  

We have shared this story over the years, labeling it as the most curious gift ever sent to missionaries. Some people agreed that it was a questionable gift and wondered if the tea bags might even have been moldy. Others thought it was a sweet, thoughtful, and well-intentioned gesture—she had lovingly saved the tea bags, dried them, packed them, and paid the postage to send them to Mexico—but one that was nevertheless inappropriate. Many wondered why she didn’t use half the box two times herself and send the unused tea bags to the missionaries. Who knows?  

I’ve always considered the gift this anonymous woman gave to be somewhat absurd. Who would do that? Then one morning, as I pondered this story during my devotional time, I realized that this woman is me! I don’t give my inappropriate gift to a missionary or to another person. I give my inappropriate gift to the God of the universe. Sometimes the gifts I give to God are no more than dried-up and crumpled tea bags. I give him leftover time and a dried-up spirit. I use the best for myself and then rationalize what I am going to give to God. I might even carefully package it before giving it to him. My heart was smitten with guilt, repentance, and a fresh resolve to give God my best.


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