The Rich Family in Church

While I was searching online for something related to my book, I ran across this story. I was immediately moved to tears and knew that I had to share it here. Also, if I may be so bold, share this everywhere. The world needs it.

Listen or read below.

The Rich Family in Church

by Eddie Ogan

I’ll never forget Easter 1946. I was fourteen, my little sister Ocy, twelve, and my older sister Darlene, sixteen. We lived at home with our mother, and the four of us knew what it was like to do without many things. My dad had died five years before, leaving Mom with seven school kids to raise and no money. By 1946, my older sisters were married, and my brothers had left home.

A month before Easter, the pastor of our church announced that a special Easter offering would be taken to help a poor family. He asked everyone to save and give sacrificially. When we got home, we talked about what we could do. We decided to buy 50 pounds of potatoes and live on them for a month. This would allow us to save $20 of our grocery money for the offering. Then we thought that if we kept our electric lights turned out as much as possible and didn’t listen to the radio, we’d save money on that month’s electric bill. Darlene got as many house and yard cleaning jobs as possible, and both of us baby sat for everyone we could. For 15 cents, we could buy enough cotton loops to make three potholders to sell for $1. We made $20 on potholders.

That month was one of the best of our lives. Every day we counted the money to see how much we had saved. At night we’d sit in the dark and talk about how the poor family was going to enjoy having the money the church would give them. We had about 80 people in our church, so we figured that whatever amount of money we had to give, the offering would surely be 20 times that much. After all, every Sunday the Pastor had reminded everyone to save for the sacrificial offering.

The day before Easter, Ocy and I walked to the grocery store and got the manager to give us three crisp $20 bills and one $10 bill for all our change. We ran all the way home to show Mom and Darlene. We had never had so much money before. That night we were so excited we could hardly sleep. We didn’t care that we wouldn’t have new clothes for Easter; we had $70 for the sacrificial offering. We could hardly wait to get to church! On Sunday morning, rain was pouring. We didn’t own an umbrella, and the church was over a mile from our home, but it didn’t seem to matter how wet we got. Darlene had cardboard in her shoes to fill the holes. The cardboard came apart, and her feet got wet, but we sat in church proudly, despite how we looked. I heard some teenagers talking about the Smith girls having on their old dresses. I looked at them in their new clothes, and I felt so rich.

When the sacrificial offering was taken, we were sitting on the second row from the front. Mom put in the $10 bill, and each of us girls put in a $20. As we walked home after church, we sang all the way. At lunch, Mom had a surprise for us. She had bought a dozen eggs, and we had boiled Easter eggs with our fried potatoes!

Late that afternoon the minister drove up in his car. Mom went to the door, talked with him for a moment, and then came back with an envelope in her hand. We asked what it was, but she didn’t say a word. She opened the envelope and out fell a bunch of money. There were three crisp $20 bills, one $10 bill, and seventeen $1 bills. Mom put the money back in the envelope. We didn’t talk, but instead, just sat and stared at the floor. We had gone from feeling like millionaires to feeling like poor white trash.

We kids had such a happy life that we felt sorry for anyone who didn’t have our mom and dad for parents and a house full of brothers and sisters and other kids visiting constantly. We thought it was fun to share silverware and see whether we got the fork or the spoon that night. We had two knives which we passed around to whoever needed them. I knew we didn’t have a lot of things that other people had, but I’d never thought we were poor. That Easter Day I found out we were poor. The minister had brought us the money for the poor family, so we must be poor.

I didn’t like being poor. I looked at my dress and worn-out shoes and felt so ashamed that I didn’t want to go back to church. Everyone there probably already knew we were poor! I thought about school. I was in the ninth grade and at the top of my class of over 100 students. I wondered if the kids at school knew we were poor. I decided I could quit school since I had finished the eighth grade. That was all the law required at that time.

We sat in silence for a long time. Then it got dark, and we went to bed. All that week, we girls went to school and came home, and no one talked much. Finally on Saturday, Mom asked us what we wanted to do with the money. What did poor people do with money? We didn’t know. We’d never known we were poor.

We didn’t want to go to church on Sunday, but Mom said we had to. Although it was a sunny day, we didn’t talk on the way. Mom started to sing, but no one joined in and she only sang one verse. At church we had a missionary speaker. He talked about how churches in Africa made buildings out of sun-dried bricks, but they need money to buy roofs. He said $100 would put a roof on a church. The minister said, “Can’t we all sacrifice to help these poor people?”

We looked at each other and smiled for the first time in a week. Mom reached into her purse and pulled out the envelope. She passed it to Darlene. Darlene gave it to me, and I handed it to Ocy. Ocy put it in the offering plate. When the offering was counted, the minister announced that it was a little over $100. The missionary was excited. He hadn’t expected such a large offering from our small church. He said, “You must have some rich people in this church.”

Suddenly it struck us! We had given $87 of that “little over $100.” We were the rich family in the church! Hadn’t the missionary said so? Deep down, I knew that we were actually a rich family.

MH

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  • Steven Tessler

    Imagine how many times this has happened before this story and is happening today.

    Back when I was going to my small Christian school the church was taking donations for Thanksgiving baskets.

    We brought the food they wanted and we were so happy to help.

    My parents had divorced and we were basically living yourselves while me Mom just worked and worked day and night. So my brother, sister and I stayed home and we would see my Mom when she came home if we weren’t sleeping but more often then not we would see her in the morning when she came to take us to school.

    We were not eating very healthy and a lot of the time we would eat Mac & Cheese on a good day and the other days we would eat catsup or mayonnaise sandwiches.

    One night when it was close to Thanksgiving we heard a knock at the door. It was the older kids in the youth group. They came to give us a Thanksgiving basket.

    My mother accepted it and as soon as she shut the door she was upset and mad. “WE ARE NOT GOING TO EAT THIS!” We had always eaten with our grandparents but that year they were out of town.

    “WE ARE TAKING THIS DOWNTOWN AND GIVING IT AWAY!”, my mother screamed.

    Just like in the story, that is when we realized we were in fact a needy family.

    That next week in school after Thanksgiving break I told the students that brought the baskets to us thank you.

    • This is interesting Steven. I’m thinking in many different directions about this situation. What do you take from it?

  • Alice Roberson

    When I was growing up on a farm in Asheville with my grandparents, I never realized I was different from other kids til I had to complete a family tree. My tree was “one sided”:(. My grandparents were my maternal grandparents. My mom, worked 2 shifts as an RN at a local hospital and my dad left when I was 2 yrs old. My grandparents worked 3rd shift in a cotton mill. So my two sisters (cousins raised together) were almost always alone. We played, helped on the farm and wore homemade dresses. I never knew that a family tree could be so devastating to a fifth grader. My life changed that day. I felt “very poor” cause I did not have a family tree with all the branches bearing names of family on both sides. This childhood assignment made me a strong woman. I made up my 5th grade mind–never to let anyone know just how poor I felt I was. I went on to college and then married my childhood sweetheart. When my kids came along they were never left alone. We played with them. We took them to church and we taught them what “being rich” is. We did not have a lot of money but we had a family tree with branches that continue to grow with love and care for one another. This is “very rich” and no one can take it away.

    • What great memories, Alice. Thanks for sharing them with us.

  • LOVE this, Matt!

  • Great story Matt. Reminded me of my mom who grew up during the depression. She would tell me that often all they had for dinner was black eyed peas (the girls would take turns getting the bacon cooked with the peas) or cornbread and butter milk. Before and after school they would walk to Georgia Tech to work in the cafeteria serving the students (mostly ROTC cadets during WWII). My mom worked hard while I was growing up. My dad died when I was just 11. We were a typical middle class family. However, often at night though she would pour herself of glass of milk and crumble up cornbread in the glass. Black eyed peas were a common vegetable for our dinner.

    My mom may not have had a lot of money growing up – but she did not grow up “poor,” Her faith, family and friends made all the difference. Simple foods brought back those great memories.

    • Jon, I love that story and it reminded me of my grandmother. She always cooked black-eyed peas and cornbread, probably for the same reason. True richness, indeed.

  • Jane Tuttle

    What a wonderful story! Loved it!

    • Thanks Jane. It touched me so deeply that I had to share it. I’m so glad others are taking to it as well.