Friday, December 22, 2006

A water buffalo, a chocolate cake and a Christmas gift

What do a water buffalo, a chocolate cake and the most important gift catalogue in the world have in common? We discovered the answer to that question at the church I serve over the course of the last few weeks. The answer came fully alive on the third Sunday of Advent, appropriately known as Joy Sunday in the Season of Advent.

The short answer to the above question is the Heifer Project. For more than 60 years, Heifer International and its friends and supporters have been proving that there's no better way to help a family escape poverty and hunger than by providing them with sustainable means of supporting themselves. Since 1944 Heifer has helped more than 7 million families in more than 125 countries improve their quality of life and move toward greater self-reliance. Heifer started with heifers: pregnant cows, that upon arrival are not only ready to give birth- making it possible to quickly pass on the gift of offspring- but will also provide life-giving milk almost immediately.

That's where the chocolate cake and the water buffalo come into the story. We began promoting Heifer as an alternative for Christmas giving at our church. At one of our minutes for mission during worship, a church elder commented that pledging money for Heifer animals could be a wonderful way to give a gift on behalf of a loved one. Instead of giving someone another sweater they don't need, or a gizmo toy that would soon fade in interest, why not give a gift card pledge on behalf of someone at Christmas.

That's where the chocolate cake comes in. In one of those intuitive moments that sometimes strike me, I said, "Let's hold a pie, cake, and bread auction during our Christmas pot-luck on the 3rd Sunday of Advent. I'll even bake a chocolate cake myself to auction."

That's where things got out of control! A woman sitting in the church piped up and said, "It had better be a cake baked from scratch, Pastor Hart. And the chocolate icing should be from scratch. And I think it should have some of those shaved chocolate swirly pieces on top." Wow!!!! What had I gotten myself into?

And that's where the water buffalo comes in. Another member commented to me, "Wouldn't it be great for us to raise enough money to buy a water buffalo for $250?"

Joy Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent arrived. In the fellowship hall, I saw pies and cakes and home made bread collecting on several tables. And our church has unusually good cooks. I figured we'd easily raise $250. Little did I count on the generosity of people. The church treasurer announced before the auction even started that three people had already pledged to buy 3 water buffalo.

Our auctioneer started the bidding, which I had first suggested range from $5-10.
Another elder in the church said that was too limiting. She had told her husband to offer some challenging bids. And so the fun began. I bought a shoe-fly pie for $9.
Then the bidding started going higher. Back and forth people bid, with pies and cakes going for $15, 20, 25 and $30. I bought a lemon meringue pie, myself, for $26. It was the best pie I ever tasted! One family really got into the spirit of things and bought a table full of chocolate pies and cakes. And yes, my chocolate cake brought some spirited bidding, after I explained it was a sanctified chocolate cake! Guaranteed to improve one's spiritual life with each bite!

By the time our auction ended, our treasurer announced that we had raised almost $1,000 from the auction alone. We had raised enough pledges for a small herd of 7 water buffalo, assorted goats, sheep and chickens. I saw happy, joyful faces all over the room that day.

And now more about the water buffalo. Because water buffalo can provide a family with protein-rich milk, organic fertilizer, and pulling power, they are among the most sought-after livestock in many parts of the world. So mild-mannered in fact, that children often become fast friends with their water-buffalo and take an active role in its care. With the pulling power of a water buffalo, a one acre field that takes two weeks to sow with a hoe can be plowed and planted in just two days. That's why many small farming families are able to plant Four Times more with a water buffalo than by hand.

Water buffalo, pie and cake, and the best gift catalogue in the world all came together for a delightful Advent family church dinner on Joy Sunday. Check out this giving option at While you're at it, read more about Heifer Project online at


At 9:31 PM, Anonymous Scott Hughes said...

I agree with Heifer's and your philosophy: the only way to help the poor (and anyone) is by helping them help themselves, and thus giving them the opportunity to be self-reliant.

Scott Hughes
Hunger & Poverty Forums


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