Today I decided to take my double-cab bakkie (a smallish pick-up truck, for the benefit of our non-SA readers) in for repairs, as the clutch was starting to "take" lower and lower on the pedal and I didn't want to run the risk of it failing completely, as this would not only leave me stranded but also cost me a small fortune. So off I went to GWM Pietermaritzburg, armed with a quotation for the work to be done, and seeing as the 30000km service was already overdue, I decided to have that done at the same time.
The employees of this particular branch of GWM were quite evidently Muslim, if their dress as well as the many Islamic prayers and the like that were pasted on office walls were anything to go by, and the quality of their service clearly went beyong doing just enough to extract some cash from my wallet. I was given a lift back to the seminary after I had dropped the vehicle off; was contacted when the vehicle was ready; and duly collected from the seminary to go and fetch my (now much cleaner) vehicle.
While I was going over the work done as per the job card, the workshop manager asked me what sort of work I did, and when I mentioned that I was a Methodist minister in training, he responded with some frenzied tapping on his computer keyboard, after which he presented me with a bill that was R300 less than the original quote.
Almost tripping over my mouth that was hanging open in amazement, I was led to the accounts office where my credit card payment was to be processed. Electronic devices being what they are at times, the transaction was declined even though my own bank had sent me an SMS to state that the transaction was authorised. Some frenzied 'phone calls from me to my bank ensued, as I was anxious that the money would have left my bank but not been transferred to GWM.
All the while the staff were completely unfazed, even being prepared to release my vehicle to me in the meantime while I sorted things out with my bank over the next couple of days (bearing in mind that they don't know me from a bar of soap, and I've only been in Pietermaritzburg for three weeks). Talk about trust!
Anyway, between Investec and Nedbank we managed to get the transaction processed, although I'm not altogether convinced that the transaction either went through twice or not at all! No problem to my new friends at GWM, who said that they would check their own bank account, and if they were paid twice they would not hesitate to refund me.
But the clincher was as I was leaving. I asked them to contact me urgently should the payment (for whatever reason) not come through on their side, and they responded: "Don't stress about it. You're a man of God - you won't run away".
As I was driving away in my purring, clean vehicle with a clutch that is as light as that of a Toyota Yaris, I was thinking: Here's a group of Muslims, who have demonstrated by their dress, office accoutrements, and actions that they are sincere in their faith. I'm a Christian, and a minister, but they couldn't see that from my dress as I was in shorts and a golf shirt. The only possible clue might have been the small cross hanging from my rearview mirror. Yet they extended me the utmost courtesy, respect, and geneosity, even going so far as to afford me a substantial discount (I know this as a fact, for the major service and clutch repairs came to just over R1600, whereas I'd been quoted R1200 in Johannesburg last month for just an oil change on my wife's Camry). They didn't know me from Adam, but were willing to trust me to come back and make payment for the work done if my credit card transaction had failed.
And I wondered: Would I, as a Christian (if I was still in business and not in the ministry) do the same for an ordinary Joe who walked in off the street? And would I buy his claim to be an imam or a rabbi in training, substantially cutting my profit margin in the process? What's more, would I display the same level of service, courtesy, and trust shown to me today? I'd like to think I would - after all, when I did run a business I always strived to be ethical and go the extra mile. But to this extent? I'm not too sure that my Christian brotherly love would have reached out to the same degree that I received this afternoon.
Clearly I have some repenting to do, for that needs to change. And it ties in with Neville Richardson's prayer this morning in our chapel service, in which we confessed the church's relative lack of response to the Haiti disaster when compared with that of Muslim organisation Gift of the Givers. I'm also reminded of the outpouring of generosity during the xenophobia crisis in 2008, when Muslim and Hindu organisations contacted me with offers of assistance (I still don't know to this day where they got my number from!) - all I had to do was rock up with my bakkie, and they would load up as much tinned food, baby food, and the like as I could carry.
If I truly believe that I serve a living God - One Who loves unconditionally, Who has saved me from my sinful state, and has poured out on me all forms of blessings (both material and spiritual) - I need to start acting like it. Just like Peter, if I claim to love Jesus, then I need to feed His lambs.
So thank you, Lord, for using some of my Muslim brothers and sisters to remind me what true Christian generosity is all about!
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