The $20 bill




My pastor concluded his sermon on generosity, reached into his pocket and pulled out a $20 bill. He held it high. “Who would like this?”

His question was met with silence by the congregation. He asked again, “Who would like this? It comes with an assignment. You have to give it away.”

More silence. Once again, he asked, “Anyone?”

I raised my hand. “I’ll see that someone gets it.”

Church was over, but my assignment was just beginning. I was meeting a friend for an overnight visit in Bismarck, so I began brainstorming ways I could find someone “needy.” I had some items to leave at my favorite thrift store and certainly needy people shopped there, so my plan was to browse the aisles and see if I could spot someone in need of this money.

Before leaving Wishek, I decided to have a little fun while finding a deserving recipient, so I bought a package of wrapped chocolates and filled my coat pockets.

The first thing I did when I got to Bismarck was to head to the thrift shop. I dropped my items at the back door, then found the front door. I pretended to look at items, but I was assessing the folks shopping.

Honestly, everyone looked like me. They didn’t look hungry or disheveled. One woman wore a headpiece that made me think she was from a foreign country. But, when I imagined myself handing her this now burning-hot $20, I felt it would seem I was judging her by the way she looked.

So, I left the store. Around town, I doled out my chocolates. “My church is doing a series on generosity,” I’d say holding out a fancy-wrapped chocolate, “so I’m passing this along.” Everyone took the candies with a smile. But, I knew I had that $20, the real reason I was looking closely at these people. Were they candy people, or the $20 person?

By the time I met my friend, I hadn’t found one person that even tempted me to pass along the money, but I was almost out of chocolate. At the hotel, my friend quickly fell asleep. I lay down and thought through my day. What was I supposed to do with this money? I recalled my stop at the thrift store. I’d parked in the wrong spot and had to walk halfway around the building to find the door. And that’s when I remembered seeing a bike rack where I had mistakenly parked. What if I bought a bike for a little kid? I went to sleep with that on my mind.

After my friend and I went our separate ways, I drove across town and went into the thrift shop. The rather-not-so-friendly clerk was finishing with the only other person in the store. I stepped to the counter and explained, “My church is doing a series on generosity and I’m wondering how much one of those bikes outside costs? I might want to buy one.” (I didn’t tell her how much money I had. I was thinking I might have to throw in an extra $10, but that would be OK, since we were talking about generosity.)

She pulled out a set of keys and gruffly said, “Let’s check.” She unlocked the side door and we went to the bike stand. There were four bikes chained there. She told me two of the bigger bikes were expensive. More than $100 each. I then pointed to the littlest bike. “How much is that one?” She bent and looked at the weathered sticker. “It’s $5.” Well, I had more to spend than that. “How much is that one?” I asked, pointing to a green bike. Again, she bent and squinted. “This bike is $15.”

I hate math, but suddenly I loved the fact that five plus 15 equaled 20. What were the chances those two forlorn little bikes would, together, cost exactly $20? In God’s math, the chances were 100 percent.

“I’ll take them both.” I went on to explain I didn’t want to take the bikes with me. I wanted to pay for the bikes and leave them there. I would let the clerk decide who “needed” them.
Suddenly, the stern clerk turned into the nicest person I’d met since arriving in town 24 hours ago. I followed her back into the store as she repeated over and over, “We’ve never had anyone do this before. No one has ever done something this nice.”

I handed over the $20 (and $1.21 for tax) and left. The clerk kept talking until the door closed behind me. “You are so nice. This is so sweet. No one has ever done this. This is just the sweetest…”

And then I was back in my car, my heart filled with happiness, driving away from the “right” door this time, marveling at God’s math. Twenty dollars. Two bikes. Two little kids. I don’t know which two kids will get those bikes, but God already knew on the Sunday our pastor said, “Who wants this money?”

Roxanne (Roxy) Henke lives in rural North Dakota and tries her best to be generous, even without money from her pastor. You can contact her at