I doubt I will ever be rich in the material sense of money and things. As a minister I make a modest salary, which I am grateful for and content with.
From time to time I hear about people like Manute Bol who have possessed large sums of money and spend it not on personal comforts but on a greater good. I wonder if I would have the spiritual courage to do the same.
Manute was spotted playing basketball by an American college coach in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. It was hard to miss a man who stood 7 feet, 7 inches tall.
Manute moved to the U.S. and attended high school at Case Western in Cleveland, then played college ball at the University of Bridgeport. Bol was drafted by the San Diego Clippers in 1983 and played 10 seasons in the NBA. He is the only NBA player to average more blocked shots per game than points, ranking second all-time with 3.34.
Manute Bol died of a rare, painful skin disease called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome last week at the age of 47.
From a spiritual perspective, here is the statistic that matters the most. One of his former teams, the Washington Wizards, released this statement: "Despite his accomplishments on the court, his lasting legacy will be the tireless work and causes he promoted in his native Sudan and the cities in which he played."
Bol donated nearly all of his $6 million in career earnings to his native Sudan.
This calls to mind a classic sacred teaching story.
"Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, worth only a fraction of a penny."
Stay tuned, the spiritual punch line is to come. Bol's native country has been ravaged by civil war since at least 1983. He was a product of Southern Sudan, where people are primarily Christians, like himself, or animists.
Murder and slavery have been used against non-Muslims for decades in Sudan. Bol, a native of the Dinka tribe, said he has had some 250 family members "killed at the hands of Muslims" through the years. But Bol, insisting extremists were the problem, championed the cause of unifying the warring factions.
He took part in peace talks, appeared before Congress and protested outside of embassies. He visited refugee camps and gave millions of dollars to support a rebel group.
"Manute gave his life for his country in all kinds of aspects," said Bol's friend, Tom Prichard, executive director of the humanitarian organization Sudan Sunrise.
According to reports, Bol exhausted the last of his money supporting 20 family members while were trapped in Sudan. The government accused him of being a spy after the U.S. bombed Sudanese targets in response to the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Bol wasn't allowed to leave until he paid a bribe, which required a yard sale of his furniture and other possessions.
Even as he rested on his deathbed, Bol was planning appearances to raise funds. He was a busy advocate for peace and the end of oppression in Sudan. His final contribution was a pledge to build 41 schools in the country.
As Jesus is surfing the heavenly web today he is reprising the lofty praise he offered in regard to the impoverished widow 2,000 plus years ago.
"I tell you the truth, Manute has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but he, out of his poverty, put in everything -- all he had to live on."
Manute Bol embodied the riches of the adherents in Jesus' sermonette and the spirit demonstrated by the widow.
As Jesus declared elsewhere, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."