‘You are what you say you are …’


One of my all-time favorite gifts was a few simple words placed in a frame. Pictured below, it’s a reminder my wife had custom-designed for me by our friend, Brittany White. This is the story behind it …

I was Skyping with a pastor in Uganda who has become a dear friend. Ronald’s church was preparing to take a pair of special offerings. One was for an 11-year-old girl whose leg was being eaten from the inside by a parasite and would need to be amputated if funds could not be raised for medical treatment. The other was for a region a couple hours south of his church that was especially hard hit by this year’s dry season. He was asking his people to give money, food — whatever they could.

“People are literally starving,” the pastor told me. “What is very sad is that the government is not coming in to help. But we have a responsibility as Christians to come in and help.”

“I’m sorry, I’ve got to stop you right there,” I said. “You’ve told me a good offering at your church is $20. The vast majority of your congregation is unemployed. Why would your church help? Don’t you have enough needs of your own?”

Pastor Ronald laughed.

“In America, you have an expression that doesn’t make sense to us in Uganda: ‘You are what you eat.’ If that was true, we would all be matooke — a field of matooke. But we have a similar expression in Rutooro: ‘Oli eki ekyokugamba oli.’ It means, ‘You are what you say you are.’

“When I have visited America, I have been amazed at all the generous people. But there are also some people who always think they need more. My goodness, there are children who are complaining they have six pairs of shoes, and they want daddy to buy them another pair. I have some children whose Sunday best is barefoot, and they are walking 5 to 10 miles to church barefoot in the rain. Sometimes on empty stomachs.

“If you are materially wealthy, if you have six pairs of shoes, but deep inside yourself you still think of yourself as poor, it is very hard to give. You never go beyond what you think you are.

“But it is possible to be rich from the inside, even if you do not have much. Even if you don’t have shoes. The Bible talks about being faithful with much — or with little. We are accountable to be faithful with what we have.

“There are people who materially they are rich, but they are poorer than anyone you can think of, because they think it is all about me. Being rich comes from the heart, not from the outside. When you view your wealth as coming from the outside, you begin to see you are not rich enough. You find a hurting person and don’t even help. You think of yourself instead, because you say, ‘I do not have enough.’

“‘Oli eki ekyokugamba oli.’ You are what you say you are.”

Being rich comes from the heart, not from the outside.

Pastor Ronald, Uganda

Whenever I visit and hear him speak, I like the way Pastor Ronald talks about Jesus, whose humble birth similarly turned the definition of riches on its head. He told the rich young ruler to give everything away, lectured on greatness by washing dirty feet and built a Kingdom not with palaces and power but with grace and truth and love.

In short, he knew we needed help with that ultimate definition we all grapple with: our identity, our “oli eki ekyokugamba oli.” Oh, to be rich from the inside.

While you’re here, would you do me a favor?

If you enjoy articles like this one, join the CoffeeJosh mailing list. It’s hurry-free, spam-free and also free … free. As a thanks, I’ll send you a PDF — you guessed it, free — that has 10 of the best coffee shop orders in the Spokane area. (All 10 are drinks and treats local coffee shop owners make for themselves. In this case, expect to pay for your order and feel like it was totally worth it.)

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