Based on my reflection on this blog post: 13 Things I want American Christians to know about the stuff you give to poor kids - I have learned through trial and error--and lots of mistakes of my own as we developed our ministry of presence in Honduras the truth I quote from the blogger's post:
"Generosity is not about stuff. American Christians tend to act like what people need is more things. More toys, more shoes, more t-shirts. We limit our thinking about giving to a monetary thing, stemming from our consumer values and culture. But generosity needs to run so much deeper. Generosity is also about giving time, giving friendship, giving presence (not presents), giving dignity, giving emotional freedom, giving a welcome, giving a lack of judgment, giving hope, giving trust, giving an experience, giving space."
And, oh, how I have carted my share of "stuff" in my suitcases. Over the years I have schlepped soccer shoes and shin guards too few to keep the peace on the field. I have taken toys and clothing and all other sorts of things. Not that this is bad, but this giving often overshadows our true act of generosity—our presence.
The children recognized our faithfulness to travel 5000 miles each year to be with them.
After years of visiting for two-weeks each summer, it finally dawned on us that we were not a work team, a mission team—but ministry of presence. God had to practically scream it in our ears through the thankful voices of the Honduran folks on the ground. It wasn’t the gifts or even the financial support that the children recognized but rather our faithfulness, our willingness to travel 5000 miles each year to be with them.
They shouted it in hugs and laughter upon our arrivals and whispered it in tears long-embraces at our departure. Their caretakers voiced it in the preparations for our arrival, the deeds of kindness during our stay. The village folk and congregation of the little church acknowledged it in their greetings. We were the beloved family home for a reunion each year.
The most important thing we have given to Renacer is our presence
Our presence is almost 20 years strong. Our abiding love and encouragement have been our best and lasting gifts. We joke that there are probably thousands of Matchbox cars lost in sand spots around the play yards. We are sometimes saddened that they don’t seem to appreciate our current cache of “stuff.” But deep down we know we are family, among the most constant in presence in their lives. They love us like they would blood parents. And that love and respect are their best gifts to us.
And as parents-in-heart, we want the best for them.
We now see the dignity that our faithfulness has undergirded. The children dream and imagine careers for themselves. They no longer feel sorry for themselves as abandoned and abused children. They see themselves as a family. I observe the dignity and desire to become the best they can be primarily in the young people embarking on their vocations. I experience their gratitude in their willingness to serve at Renacer—to encourage the youngest of the children to make goals and follow their dreams.
Catracha is slang for Honduran used despairingly by Latinos from the other countries, as Gringo is used to describing folks from the USA. We refer to ourselves Gringos and the Hondurans lovingly allow it, but it was when one of the young women said I was becoming a Catracha that I knew I belonged. I thank God as I pray for my children-in-heart each day. I thank God for His gift of them to us. And most of all I am thankful for God's patience with me as I learn to love and serve in His model for generosity.