Castles, Pandas and Roses

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Talk about gifts given over the course of history, and a handful of interesting examples arise.

Gifts of Deceit

Homer once wrote about Greek warriors who had a carpenter build them a huge wooden horse. They wanted it to be hollow and to have a secret door. Once complete, they concealed a few warriors inside and left it in front of the city of Troy as a gift to the goddess Athena. Once taken inside the city, however, the secret warriors waited till nightfall, exited the horse, and opened the city gates for the rest of the Greek army. What looked like a gift to the city of Troy was really intended to give Troy as a gift to the Greek army.

Gifts of Romance

Relationships often involve gifts. When Marilyn Monroe passed away, her prior husband, Joe DiMaggio, ordered roses to be sent to her crypt every couple of days and maintained that order for twenty years. It is said that Cleopatra once had a carpet delivered to Julius Caesar as a gift. When it was unrolled, to his surprise, he discovered Cleopatra herself was at the center. Then, we have the Taj Mahal and the hanging gardens of Babylon, which were also given as romance-related gifts.

Gifts to Political Leaders

A couple of years before Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg church, decrying the papacy’s adulterations, Pope Leo X received a literal white elephant named Hanno as a gift from Manuel I, the king of Portugal.

Numerous gifts have been given to government leaders. Many are under the table, but here are a few that were above board and involved American presidents. China gave Richard Nixon two Panda bears, a new fascination on U.S. soil at the time, and Theodore Roosevelt received a lion from Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II. President Truman was gifted with a bowling alley by anonymous donors from Missouri and installed under the West Wing, and an eagle made of beer can tabs was given to Gerald Ford by Kentucky Cub Scouts in celebration of America’s bicentennial in 1976. Other presidential gifts have included a puppy, a Komodo dragon, sandals, swords, salt, candles, jewelry and even candy.

International Gifts

And then there are gifts between nations. Arguably, one of the most famous in American history was the Statue of Liberty, designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and engineered by Gustave Eiffel. Yes, that Eiffel! It was given by France in honor of freedom and our close relationship. Although gifted a year earlier, “Lady Liberty” arrived in New York Harbor in June 1885. Another high-ranking gift came about when Yukio Ozaki, the Mayor of Tokyo, Japan, was told of plans to plant cherry trees along the bank of the Tidal Basin (West Potomac Park) in the District of Columbia. He donated two thousand trees for the project. When they had to be destroyed because of pests, he had three thousand more carefully grown in a pest-free environment and then shipped over in 1912. More than a hundred years later, thousands still enjoy their springtime blossoms.

Gifts for All Occasions

Elvis Presley is said to have found particular pleasure in giving Cadillacs away. Other interesting gifts given through the ages include cities (see 1 Kings 9:11), castles, slaves and babies. Battleships have even been given as gifts. I have seen gifts sitting in spirit houses, at the feet of idols, and floating down rivers. They have become a part of nearly every culture and are often used to recognize special occasions of both poor and rich alike. They have been exchanged to build trust and to express love, and they have been used to elevate, humiliate, secure brides, deceive enemies, and even as a form of competition.
Gifts to the Unreached

Ever since the late 1980s, Adventist Frontier Missions has been the recipient of thousands of gifts as well, and they have come in all different sizes and with a wide range of backgrounds. Birthday gifts have been forwarded to us, and so have Christmas and wedding gifts. People have sent us gifts to thank God for the gift of children and miracles that brought healing or spared lives. There have been gifts that helped the givers with their income taxes, gifts in memory of lost loved ones, and gifts to fulfill pledges. We have received gifts as a portion of business deals, annual income, house sales and garage sales. Retirees have sent them in, and so have children. Grandmas have turned their heat down so they could send in a small gift. Missionaries even send gifts to support each other’s work. And yes, we have received vehicles; maybe not Cadillacs like Elvis gave because we didn’t need them. But we have certainly received high-quality cars and vans that have proved a huge blessing to our work.

Gifts Worth the Most

Despite what is often touted as the reason for our gifts, most of this giving is intended to take God’s gift of salvation and make it available to the unreached. This gift is worth more than all the gifts ever given to popes, presidents, warriors or paupers. We are grateful for what God has given to us and want to share it with others.

The greatest annual timeframe for gift-giving has just drawn to a close. It’s a time dedicated to remembering God’s precious gift by sharing gifts with each other. And due to your gifts sent during this season and throughout this past year, missionaries all over the world are able to continue bringing salvation to the darkest corners of our planet. On behalf of all of us at AFM and the unreached who can’t speak for themselves, we offer a tremendous “Thank you!” for your gifts.

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