The white lights twinkled on the tree, Christmas carols played softly in the back ground, and my mom bustled in the kitchen pouring eggnog and plating cookies. The stage was set for a most memorable Christmas Eve, and I could hardly contain my excitement as I prepared for this “most special gift” my parents hinted at throughout the day.
My ten year old imagination went wild with anticipation wondering what could be “this good” that it may just possibly be the Christmas present ever.
A family trip? The coveted light up disco ball for which I’d been begging, or maybe even that cool doll that I’d been eying?
Mom came in. It was finally time. The best time. Present Time.
Around the Christmas tree, my parents gathered my four brothers and me, and reverently passed out our most special gift of the year. Over the moon with excitement, I waited with baited breath as they started to explain our present. Finally, I knew I had hit the jackpot, but then I heard something that just could not be right.
Scaling down our Christmas. Only a few presents this year. Giving a gift greater than any toy.
What? Surely, I heard wrong.This could not be happening.
Internally, my mind started processing what this meant to me, this ten year old, desperate for some good loot and it was not good.
I slipped off the bow from around the package, tore open the wrapping paper, and hoped beyond hope, I misunderstood.
A picture. A picture?
I glanced, trying to understand what I held in my hand. A girl around my age stared back at me with her name and the country of Ethiopia stamped on it.
Being only ten, I can’t quote the exact conversation that occurred next, but I know my parents cast a generational vision that went something like this,
“This Christmas, our family is sharing a gift that keeps on giving. Our desire is that each one of you will expand your heart strings and understand that Giving is Living. We have decided to sponsor four children in Africa, one for each of you. By coming alongside these families through monetary support, writing to them as often as you can, and encouraging them, our prayer is that not only will their lives be changed, but your lives will be impacted for generations. Someday, you may do this with your own children. For it is with giving that you receive.”
Never could I have imagined on that life giving Christmas so many years ago, that my parents’ prayer for their children would be given wings in Peru.
To meet our sponsored child today, and see first hand what Compassion does through their child sponsorship program was such a gift. As I wrapped my arms around precious Bridget, I knew this was a covenant created by Him.
My heart melted with love for this child I knew not,
but then that same heart shattered as I stepped into her home.
Ushered immediately into their one main room, which doubles as the family sleeping area and all purpose room, I was over come with the strong stench of urine.
The odor permeated everything.
How can this be, Lord? How can this precious girl live like this? They have nothing!
Invited to sit down, we began doing Life together.
There are certain things that transcend language barriers and foul odors and homes without floors or roofs.
Children have a way of doing that, don’t they? Of melding hearts from continent to continent?
With the help of the translator, I desired to know more of Bridget’s mother’s story. Tears formed in the momma’s eyes as she whispered, “It’s too hard to talk about. I don’t wish to share about my childhood.”
As the discussion continued, she alluded to childhood abuse. When she was 14, she left the jungle to come to the capital city of Lima, with hopes of a better life. Her promise of employment soon turned into work type slavery. Fast forward years later, four children, a husband who left, no means of financial support, and the eldest son forced to drop out of high school to support his family. His financial assistance barely provides the basics of food, and on top of that, he now has a tumor growing on the back of his neck. Bridgit’s momma takes in laundry, but as I look around I ponder, “How?”
I’m told later that the towel covered barrel next to the table contained water. Water which allows her to wash clothes for pennies.
By this time, I am an emotional mess. My momma’s heart weighs heavily with the burden she carries, yet I can’t wrap my mind around it. Her heart is for her children, and yet there’s nothing she can do.
Barely holding it together, I could feel the Lord gently whisper, “That’s why you are here. Feel it. Feel her pain. Spend one moment in her shoes.”
“How is that possible, Lord? It’s so raw. Why her? She shouldn’t have to live like this. No one should live like this. I can’t leave them here. What can I do?”
“You’re doing it.”
“It’s not enough.”
“It’s a start.”
Through tears, Bridget’s mother shared that she never had real love from her mother or father.
I mourned towards heaven, Oh Heavenly Father, how that void impacts families all over the world, whether in Peru or the U.S.A, the enemy is out to steal and destroy the family unit, and we will not let him have his way.
I rubbed my hand on her shoulder, “You can be the difference to Bridget. You can give her the love that you didn’t have. You are raising a precious daughter with a sweet, sensitive heart, and I am honored to walk alongside you through Compassion.”
My oppression so great, I knew it was time to lighten the mood, so I surprised her with the gifts I brought.
Her overwhelming joy at the most simple of presents refreshed my soul.
As I looked around her home, the stark reality was that she had only one toy.
Hello, my five sweet American children, do you hear your momma stating this?
ONE TOY – a filthy doll hanging on the wall.
That’s it. There is nothing else at all in her home
“She takes it everywhere,” her mother claimed.
In the one stuffed gift bag that I gave her, she received more in one day than she has ever even owned in her entire life.
“Some early Christmas presents,” I tell her mother.
I drift back to that Christmas Eve so many years ago, when this 10 year old reluctantly embarked on a journey of child sponsorship.
My parents, they are pretty smart like that. They knew what they were doing.
“For it is with giving that you receive.”
Giving is Living Life to its Fullest, and in my brief hour visit I received so much more than I could ever give.
As I ended our time together, I asked if I could pray over them. I made a commitment to Bridget that I would journey with her and that she could count on my family.
My pledge of $38/month releases Bridget from the bondage of childhood poverty. Just like her home’s floor, their road runs rocky, but through Compassion, Bridget will no longer have to worry about her next meal, school or medical issues. Compassion will meet her needs physically, cognitively, spiritually and socially, while encouraging Bridget to flourish into her God given potential.
That is the best Christmas present ever.
Speaking from experience, your children will never be the same. They may not see or understand it now, but they will. They will.
And in the process, lives are changed for generations because you answered the call to “Just start.”
For more perspectives on our time in Peru, visit my precious friends, Shaun Groves, Angie Smith and Kevin and Layla Palmer who are all journey this with me, each with their own perspectives on what we are experiencing.