Pay It Forward: An Oldie But a Goodie

Paying it forward

It was the fall of 1992. Our 15-month old daughter’s cry echoed in the church basement. My wife and I did our best to comfort her, smiling as we greeted the men and women of the congregation. As I shook hand after hand I glanced at my daughter’s anxious face and thought to myself, ‘I know how you feel, kid.’  Just a few weeks earlier, we had moved 2,000 kilometres from everything we knew to take on the title and hefty responsibility of ‘Youth Pastors’ at a church in southern Ontario. Now here we were  ̶ young, scared, broke, and unsure about this new venture.

We spent the first few weeks after we moved settling in. We unpacked, set up bank accounts, did paperwork to make ourselves ‘Ontarians’, stocked cupboards, and began learning the ropes at our new job. The days were long and tiring. Everything was new and different. Grabbing a forgotten ingredient from the grocery store was suddenly a multi-step process that started with learning the local grocery chain names, progressed through unfolding a map to find out where the store was located, and ended with standing in the aisles trying to figure out unfamiliar brands and prices and packaging (Does one need a special pitcher for milk that comes in a plastic bag?). We were exhausted, and the change felt all-consuming.

And then the bills started to arrive. We knew that money was going to be tight. We had student debt and very little in our account, but we had lived on a strict budget back in Manitoba and had done our best to plan for expenses. However, we soon discovered there are a lot of hidden costs associated with a long-distance move. And they added up quickly. I was worried about how we were going to make ends meet and hoped and prayed we would be alright.

And then one day an unexpected act of generosity changed everything. My wife and I came into work and found an envelope sitting on the desk in our office. It was addressed to us, and inside was $300 cash. At that moment in our lives it was a huge sum of money. The note that accompanied it was simple, “Welcome to our church. I am so happy you’re here. Thought this might help.” It was signed by a member of the congregation.

What an incredible gift! And it had arrived just at the right moment. It wasn’t just the money. It was the act of generosity; it was the warmth and kindness of spirit that prompted this good man to share with strangers. The gift was so helpful, both practically and for our peace of mind. It left us with a strong sense that we would be okay in this new place.

My wife and I invited our benefactor for dinner to thank him and to get to know him better. He was a lovely man who had lost his wife a short time earlier. He said he knew what it was like to settle into a new place, and to be a stranger with very little. People had helped him back then, and he appreciated it and wanted to pay it forward.

Over the years since that dinner conversation, my wife and I have tried to live up to his example. When we see young people starting out, strangers moving into our community, people struggling under financial obligations, we try to remember his kindness and pay it forward. Money isn’t tight anymore, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to share and help others. Hopefully, in time, the new recipients will be willing and able to pay it forward too.

Paying it forward isn’t a new concept, but it’s one that bears repeating because sometimes a simple act of generosity changes everything.

Contributed by Darren Pries-Klassen

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