Three Lessons from Lijo Mathew, United Arab Emirates

Each month, we introduce you to a Christian who is on the generosity path, and we ask them what God’s taught them about giving.

This month, meet Lijo Mathew from the United Arab Emirates.

1. God Reshapes Our Desires. 

“Growing up with lack in Bahrain made me want to make myself something successful,” says Lijo. “My parents were all about giving – feeding people, funding missionaries. But I wanted to be a billionaire.” Lijo ended up doing post-war reconstruction, commodity trading and focusing on supply chain in the Middle East. “Then I had a radical experience with God. Now I’m inspired by the double bottom line, conscious capitalism. God’s blessed me with the ability to make money, so we’re going to give. We give a minimum of 20 percent and I’m very excited about it. The lie about money is that it’s yours. The truth about money is that you’re a resource manager with what you’ve been entrusted with.”

Lijo is quick to acknowledge that he, like all of us, has a lot to learn. “There are places in my journey towards generosity that are still waiting to be explored,” he says. “There are parts of being generous like Christ that God is still dragging me into kicking and screaming. You know people can be smarter than you or not so smart, more talented or less talented than you, they may be stronger or weaker than you but whether you become more generous than everyone in the world is entirely in your hands. This is one thing we have control over that makes us genuinely like Christ.”

There are places in my journey towards generosity that are still waiting to be explored.

2. Discern a Giving Strategy.

“We give to missions, strategic partnerships, and regional transformation,” says Lijo.

  • On missions: “India is a mission field,” says Lijo. “Indians needs to set up to see people saved as opposed to asking for white people’s money. Indians are rich, but India is poor. We have the capacity to see the Gospel come to India, so we sow into missions there.”
  • On strategic partnerships: “We bought the rights to distribute the ‘Christmas Candle’ by Max Lucado,” Lijo says. “Too many Christian movies don’t have the quality to attract an international audience. A Muslim won’t watch it. So we did a bridge loan and got in on making a movie to reach this part of the world.”
  • On regional transformation: “I want to build a grassroots marketplace movement here in Dubai,” says Lijo. “Lots of people come to Dubai to save a dollar to build something back home. No one thinks of living for a generation in Dubai that they won’t see. How do we change the way business is done here, improving labor laws and salaries and improving Dubai?”

3. Leave Space for the Spontaneous.

“When giving opportunities come up, I go to my wife with it,” says Lijo. “I don’t have the mental or spiritual capacity to gauge some things. I am learning to base myself on what the Holy Spirit is saying to us as opposed to what I feel. I sleep on it for 72 hours.” God has a way of bringing smaller opportunities across our paths: “We need to meet the needs people have. The blind man coming to Jesus – his utmost need is to see. We’ll say to a family that’s struggling, ‘We’ll buy your groceries for a month.’ Let’s just do it. We don’t need to pray about it.”

Lijo loves to give to… other businesses:

Normally we use this space to have our featured giver point out a specific ministry they support. But Lijo tells a story about generously helping a supplier get started.

“We used to send a lot of supplies into Afghanistan. We knew a guy who was out of a job. God was leading us and we said, ‘If you’re able to figure out a flight path from here to Tarinkot, we’ll give you the business.’ But he didn’t really have a business. He ended up starting a business to serve us; he was running two flights a day. We were his only client for the longest time. Now he runs all over the world. We had the chance to mentor and train him. Whatever you do, find someone you can sow into. To reach people in a bar, you don’t send a pastor; you send an ex-alcoholic. To reach people in business, you send people who know business.”

Lijo explained how he came to this whole-life approach to generosity. “The word ‘generosity’ comes from the word ‘generative.’ You will never become generative until you become generous. True generosity is when you lay out your life, when you sacrifice, when you decide to give more than you’ve imagined. It is in the context of sacrifice that miracles come.”

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