I went to bed last night with a jumble of thoughts leftover from the conversation with good friends. We talked of God and giving, and I mentioned that I don't "round up" for charity at stores asking me to give my change for their causes. Nor do I always give even to the most deserving of causes soliciting my support. I don’t also put money in most of the offering plates of churches where I visit. Aren’t I embarrassed? People will think me cheap—that I don’t care. Why not give the little bit of change to the cause du jour?
There are thousands and thousands of great causes to which give, each one most important in its own right.
Over my lifetime I have discovered God has provided custom opportunities for me to give. I have been blessed to bless. I'm not referring to my material, health, or talent wealth. I have been blessed by God to be loved by him. God came to my house--knocked on the door of my soul, and opened himself to me—to know him.
In friendship, the love we share (God and I) swells to overflowing.
God's love in me spills over on to everything I touch. And as I make myself willing, he coaxes me to come close to see with his eyes and heart how I might please him--bless him in embracing the opportunity he reveals. Perhaps the best I can come to describing it is summed up in finding the perfect gift for one of my beloved, and then in giving it I know, I chose right. We share a giddy joy, a connection deep and tender. We are known to one another.
And to be known so intimately is to be magnificently blessed.
Last night pondering these things I was filled with joyous recollections of some of those unique opportunities in my lifetime. Of course, you know, I count those precious children and young adults in Honduras high on that list. God revealed, at least that is how it felt, how blessed I am to have friends who gave to this project dear to my heart to please me—because they care for me. They gave me a gift of love, which spilled over on to children thousands of miles distant. Children they don’t know and probably will never meet.
And those young received the overfilling joy of being loved by God through people thousands of miles removed.
I have come to understand that we give not because we are obligated but out of the fullness of our relationship with the Receiver, who is also the Giver. Generosity cascades, spilling over to delight and refresh all on their way. And together with God we splash the wonder of the Kingdom on the world.
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.
By Sarah “Uppie” Updegraff
I know there are many good causes to which you could choose to give. Hogar de Niños Renacer is the children's home where my husband Dave Andrew and I volunteered about ten years ago. The youngest of the children we loved, at that time, are now aging out of the children's home and trying to plan their futures. Most of the Honduran children like these, without opportunities or family support, end up in gangs, homeless or worse. Many of them flee illegally to the states.
You have the opportunity to change this trajectory by giving them access to an education.
These are children with no families and no safety nets. They remind me of the starfish story. What difference could be tossing one stranded starfish back into the ocean make? There are thousands of children abandoned and stranded in the ghettos of the world. It is true that there are many seas of children who could be bettered by an educational opportunity.
But these Kids are mine.
I have tucked them into their beds at night. I have calmed their fears when they awoke from nightmares. I have made tortillas (albeit not very well) for their lunches. And I have even shared their chicken-claw soup--a delicacy for the poor of Honduras.
I have had my heart broken realizing that none of them had someone who loves them BEST of all. None of the kids had the fierce advocates that parents become for their children. Their one way to build a life, after being saved from the streets and raised in a children's home, was to have access to an education.
If I could send them all to college, I would.
We are trying to raise sufficient funds to provide that opportunity to all of them through this nonprofit that is run by my mother Roberta Updegraff and other volunteers. In previous years, there have been only a handful of children who were willing to risk dreaming big enough to even ask for scholarships. A couple churches and a handful of volunteers were able to cover the costs. This year, there are more than these churches and volunteers can support alone.
One hundred percent of your donation--minus bank processing fees, go directly to the children.
For just $166 a month we can pay the full tuition (books, fees, and transportation costs) for one of these young adults. Dave Andrew and I as a family are sponsoring one young man. Please consider donating to help this cause.
You can get to know the student your funds are supporting.
The committee can put you in touch with the student as well. The young people would also benefit from having emotional support from a caring adult as they cross this threshold from the security of the children's home to the overwhelming world of the largest city of one of the most dangerous countries in the world. And they are stepping forward without any family support. You can provide that much-needed encouragement, and be the person that makes all the difference in their success. What difference could tossing one stranded starfish back into the ocean make? It makes a difference to THIS child. Be the one who makes a difference.
As I write this, there is a caravan of mostly Hondurans migrating to the US border. I understand they are going to surrender and ask for asylum. The advocacy groups supporting them want to call attention to their unbearable conditions in their home countries—high murder rate, gang violence, poverty, and government corruption. I know these things to be true.
I have been visiting Honduras for 20 years. I’ve seen significant improvement since the months following Hurricane Mitch in 1999. I can see a small but growing middle-class. I see improvements in infrastructure. The streets are even cleaner. But I also see the ever-present degradation of abject poverty. And then there is the gang violence and political complicity.
I spend my summers with the “least of these” of whom Jesus spoke. Hogar de Niños Renacer is located an hour drive from the capitol Tegucigalpa. Our Honduran children were orphans, street children, and castaways--the sons and daughters of the poorest of the poor.
Where do dreams come from?
Sometime back, perhaps 2004, I recognized fear--apprehension for their futures in the oldest of the minors at Renacer. When asked of their dreams for the future they would just shrug. I continued prod, coax them to imagine themselves teachers, nurses, doctors and lawyers. Then one day an adolescent girl told me she wanted to be a writer like me. “I want to be a nurse,” said another timid voice.
“But what is the use of dreaming?” asked the girl who imagined herself a writer.
I realized what these young people had in store for them was not much different than desperate lifestyles they had survived before coming to the children's home. They were destined for the crime-ridden barrios of Tegucigalpa. And it wasn't that their providers didn't care. They did the best they knew how on limited resources to help the young people transition.
Our calling crystallized.
Friends of Renacer had been established to be a ministry of presence. And that presence had vested us in the lives of these children. That vestment would need to carry them into adulthood. We wanted for them the same opportunities we wanted for our own children. We were determined to help them realize dreams they had yet to imagine.
There was no government safety net for our Honduran children.
Unlike in the US, these college students cannot count on government programs or even access to loans. There would be no national social safety net or even dependable rules of law and the protection of individual rights awaiting them in adulthood. They had no social networks of established families and friends to help them garner employment. They would have to make their own ways in the world--in one of the most violent cities in one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere.
Vocational and university education became a reality.
Friends of Renacer launched a university scholarship fund. At first, we had no takers—no dreamers. Then one stepped forward, followed by another braving the pursuit of a career. Now we have provided funds to 15+ alumni along with a couple others connected to the home in other ways.
Honduras is in the best of hands.
Today those young people are speaking their minds on social media. They are educating themselves on the politics of their nation. They are investing themselves in their communities. They remain a tight family, encouraging each other and the younger children at Renacer. They carry with them the legacy of poverty—the desperate choices of their parents. They bring empathy and compassion to their careers. They embrace the future and the possibility of being the change that transforms their nation.
When Leslie Santee and I were interviewing personnel and others connected with Renacer, it became clear that this was the place many came to know Jesus personally. Maribel said it clearest, if you want to know the heart of God, come to Renacer.”