I could barely wait to tear into the fat envelope. As I pulled out the letter, my eyes spotted the photos of two grinning girls with dark eyes.
“Come and see our children!” I called out to my husband.
Well, to be precise, they are not really “ours,” but they are two little girls in Ethiopia, whom I am sponsoring through Catholic Near East Welfare Association. When I discovered that a mere $20 per month would be all it would take to sponsor a child, which means providing food, medical care and clothing, I couldn’t imagine not doing this.
After all, how many months go by when I spend double that amount to feed my hamster and cat? The conclusion was obvious: Whatever sacrifices it might take, sponsoring children would be the right thing to do. And as I sent in the check, I prayed my free-lance writing efforts would continue to be blessed, so I might add a few more children to the family next year.
In the envelope, we also find a holy card showing Pope John Paul II with his papal crucifix. On the back of the card, I read the following quote from our beloved, late Holy Father: “It is not enough to discover Christ – you must bring Him to others!”
Next we study the handwritten forms provided by the girls’ teachers, which tell us a bit about the children’s history. The older girl is 9 years old, and in fourth grade at a Catholic School in Ethiopia. Her father has died, and she has two sisters and one brother, the note tells us, and then we read a line that says it all: “They are very poor and desperate. The mother bakes bread and sells it on the street.”
The other girl, 5, is in kindergarten at the same school. Her father is a farmer, and she has five sisters and one brother. About this child’s family, the handwritten note reports: “They are very poor. They have an unstable and insufficient income.”
We chuckle when we read that the hobbies of the 9-year old include doing artwork, while the younger one “enjoys playing.” Next we put the photos in a place of honor in our home, which is, of course, the front of the refrigerator.
Over the years, the refrigerator has become a rather odd bulletin board of sorts to show off photos of our goddaughter and godson, plus my niece’s children, along with recipes and holy cards. As I add the little girls’ photos to the gallery, I reflect that in the past, I have wanted to sponsor a child, but always felt I didn’t make enough money to do so.
In “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis, though, I found a more truthful explanation of my reluctance. Lewis says many folks are afraid to give to the poor not because of greed or an attachment to luxuries, but because of a fear of insecurity: we may fear that if we give to others, we ourselves will have to go without in the future.
Of course, it can be difficult giving to people when they seem part of an anonymous mass, but now I have faces to connect with my giving. It is rather nice to envision two little girls sitting down to a hot meal that my money provided, and lacing up shoes purchased with my funds.
When I first decided to sponsor children, I did some research and discovered that CNEWA takes care of children largely in Ethiopia, Eritrea, India and Lebanon, as well as other parts of the Middle East and Eastern Europe. When I called the organization’s New York office, a lady named Jeanne answered the phone, and was very enthusiastic about my plan.
“What country are you interested in?” She asked me, and somehow Ethiopia seemed the right answer because my husband traveled there with his family when he was a little boy.
Besides, I have always loved the hot, spicy cuisine that Ethiopians cook, and the fact that they sit in a circle while eating and share a common platter.
As we talked, I imagined one day traveling to Africa to see the children. Really, I am not much of a traveler, and just getting me to Florida twice a year is a big deal, but it is always fun to fantasize.
Later, that day, I thought again about Pope John Paul II’s statement on the holy card, about how we should bring Christ to others. It has long been my experience that the people who are best at conveying Christ’s love and warmth, and doing it in a spontaneous, heartfelt way, happen to be little children.
And so it is not surprising that two girls halfway across the world prompted me to finally do something that John Paul II would warmly approve of. Something that other folks, more devoted and generous, have been doing for years with hardly a second thought.
As I started writing letters to “our” little ones, I reflected that when we help children by feeding and clothing them, we are obviously ministering to them, but how easily the tables get turned.
I would say the two little girls with big smiles who are living on the other side of the world and awaiting their daily bread from my hands are the real missionaries for in their own way they are bringing Christ to me.