Published May 12, 2005
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 we are 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 more than $20 on books? Or to feed our 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 we might add a few more children to the family next year.
In the package from Catholic Near East Welfare Association (www.cnewa.org), we also find a holy card showing Pope John Paul II with his papal crucifix. On the back of the card, we 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.”
The hobbies of the 9-year-old, it turns out, include doing artwork, while the younger one “enjoys playing.”
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 three 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. Which means that we fear that if we give to others, we ourselves will have to go without in the future.
The author of many best-selling books, including “The Screwtape Letters” and the Narnia tales for children, Lewis practiced what he preached by living simply and donating the royalties from his books to the poor.
Of course, it can be difficult giving to people when they seem like an anonymous mass, but organizations like CNEWA give you a face to connect with your giving. After all, it is rather nice to envision a little child sitting down to a hot meal that your money provided and lacing up shoes purchased with your funds.
A little research reveals that CNEWA was started in 1926 and sponsors children largely in Ethiopia, Eritrea, India and Lebanon, as well as other parts of the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
When I first decided to sponsor the girls, I called a nice lady in CNEWA’s New York office. Her name is Jeanne, and she 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 girls. 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 children 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” children, 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 us.
Murray’s latest book, “How Shall We Celebrate?” (Resurrection Press) is available at www.catholicbookpublishing.com. Her other books are “Grace Notes” (Resurrection Press) and “Why Me? Why Now?”(Ave Maria Press). You may e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.