Recently I came back from a trip to China, where we visited a children's home my church has been involved with for the past few years. Almost every year we visit them and spend a day there; bring some food, winter clothing, etc...run some games and workshops for them, just get to know them and give them a good time. It's a small children's home, called The Father's House; basically just Brother Long and his wife opening up their home and family to needy children from the village they came from, so that it feels like a big family. In fact, initially I didn't even realize two of the children among the group were actually Brother Long's own children. There are a handful of children, whatever the house and their means can hold comfortably, around 10+ each time we visit. Some of these children are orphans, others are unwanted or abandoned, some just from very poor families. Being able to come here means getting to go to school--most of them finish highschool there--being cared for, getting the opportunity to learn about God, and most of all, having a safe place and a loving community to grow up in. I remember peeking into the girls' room and being struck by how, despite the multiple bunk beds, it had that undeniable touch of individual little girl personalities; scraps of pink tulle made into pretty canopies and curtains over the beds, random ribbons, colourful stationery scattered over the desk, stuff toys in different stages of wear/belovedness, dozens of prized drawings and paintings the proud artists had stuck up on the walls.
During the many visits I've made, I've slowly found out more about the different types of problems and needs that these children's presence there reflects. There was a brother and sister whose father was killed in a construction accident at work, whose mother ran off and left them to live with their grandma until she died--at which time they were only around six and ten, roughly. There was a boy with a crippled hand, from a severe burn. There was a little girl who had been abandoned by her mother and visibly crushed by the trauma of it. She had large, intense wide-set eyes, a small stern unsmiling mouth, and watched you dully, if warily, from under her brows, with a strangely passive and detached look for such a young child. We asked her what was her favourite colour and finally got to hear her voice when she whispered, "gray." This year I was startled to recognize her, to see how much she had recovered. She held her head up, turned her head easily to look at things that interested her, and I even saw her laugh. One photo caught her laughing and every time I look at it I realize how wonderfully it changes her.
This trip, I ran a drawstring bag printing workshop, using fabric paints and stencils we cut from the plasticated paper used to wrap printing paper, ironed on (thanks Pinterest.) They were so excited it was worth the painstaking packing of those glass bottles of fabric paint--inside a plastic box, wadded recklessly with tissue, sealed with tape, inside a ziplock bag, and then another plastic bag. Over the top, but I had visions of them smashing during transit and dyeing all my clothes irrevocably.
A friend had also lent us a bag of hand puppets to play with there, and that really brought out the smiles as you can see from the photo I took with some of the girls--the chipmunk especially was a hit (my own favourite as well! It was a close toss up with the porcupine though.)
Upon finishing high school most of these children move out and find work in the city, support themselves. There are so many other needy, younger ones to take their place, after all. However, coming from my first-world background, I can barely imagine having to support yourself on your own at such a young age. It's intimidating enough as an young adult privileged enough to have a university degree, a skill set, and of course the safety net of loving parents whom you can always rely on for food and board (shoutout to parents who cheerfully support poor-student-children, especially Lit graduates!) I've felt so burdened thinking about their predicament--yet I can't think of a way in which I could help provide any alternative or long-term help, and the sense of helplessness is crippling. It was a time to remember that, as with myself and my own fears, I had to learn to trust God's providence and loving nature, even as I did my best to do something about it.
I know I've never posted anything like this before, mainly because I wasn't sure how helpful it would be, also because I don't pretend to understand or know the extent of the problems or situation over there. But every time I go, I am humbled. Challenged. And at the same time, I still feel so helpless when it comes to working real, long-term change, contributing to a real solution. As with any social problem or need. However this trip I was encouraged by the amazing people I met to do what I can and not belittle it too much; to have faith that God works in every loving heart, whether manifested in thousands of dollars, or a hug, or perhaps even just a happy afternoon and a special meal for those children.
One of their main supporters put up this website to encourage and help the ministry that's going on there, and raise awareness for the social needs and problems that it addresses. Here, even if you have no other way to help, you can give a School Bag, which will help a needy child from the village. I've been to some of these villages and seen the schools, firsthand, and heard from the locals what it means for a child to attend school--daily hikes to and fro that take several hours, sometimes across whole mountains; living in school and only coming back on the weekends, because the distance is too far, and that's the only school in your vicinity. For someone like me, growing in tiny Singapore with its state-of-the-arts (well, most of the time) public transport system, I can't fathom travelling so far every day for an education. Come on, I was homeschooled--I virtually lived in my school, after all. An hour long commute on the train is nothing compared to the hike up and down the steep mountain valleys and hills our guide carelessly beckoned at--"you see that small building down there? That's the school. Yes, I went there when I was small. Hiked from the village back there and down here and up that to get there. Took a couple of hours." Me, still panting from the climb up that one hill--"Oh, well, really!"
So do take a look, and at the least, add something to your prayer list.
When my brother and I went busking we had the opportunity to see many different types of people in the hours we spent playing music at the shopping mall, and specifically, different types of givers. Some were young parents who gave their toddlers coins to drop into our box; others tried to take photos of us; some lively teenagers cheered for us; and some
I remember mainly two types of people: those who gave on the spur of the moment, fumbling in their pockets and flipping a coin or two; and those who actually stopped to listen for a while first. The second category made those hours worthwhile. They would clap, give a thumbs-up, or tell us they enjoyed the music; at the least, a warm smile--and usually they would give a bill. Not simply clearing their loose change.
It was a good reminder to me, as I realized that when I give to buskers I tend to be the first category of people-- smileless, probably a harassed expression, one eye on the watch, almost dutiful; you couldn't tell whether they actually enjoyed the music or not. My head full of my destination and my to-do list. Giving this was just an impromptu, by-the-way idea that I went with because it wouldn't cost me too much, and was a nice thing to do...
The last chapter of 1st Corinthians gives detailed instructions on giving. Paul's directions about how the donations were to be collected seem at best unimportant admin instructions which, like the reminders to Timothy to bring his cloak and books at the end of 2 Timothy, I usually dismiss as little personal details without much theological significance. Search the Scriptures, however, challenged me to reread those directions on giving with the intent to learn what the Bible had to say about Christian giving.
I thought back on my own experiences of giving, and realized that true enough, Paul's reason for asking that the collections be prepared beforehand weren't just for efficiency's sake. How many times had I been caught at a Christian concert, or visiting a church, where the collection was suddenly handed round and I absolutely panicked. Heavens, did I bring enough cash? I'm broke, but I'm too embarrassed not to put anything in--can I just give a five dollar bill? Wait is that a fifty dollar bill the woman next to me is putting in--I've got to give at least a ten then--do I have a ten--I'm so flustered let's just stick a hand in and pretend I gave something--but then it's for a crisis relief--it's not like I don't CARE about all those little kids--well, if I'd known sooner--
Alright, you can laugh. Spontaneous giving can be one of the nicest feelings in the world. Sometimes.
At other times, it can be really bad for us.
That is why Paul insisted on encouraging intentional giving, rather than spur-of-the-moment giving.
The giving which the Bible depicts is a two-way thing, which emphasizes the effect of the exchange on the two parties involved rather than the object itself. The same old theme: the heart first, always. 2 Corinthians 8:12 reinforces that.
Paul reinforced the need for thoughtful and orderly giving, knowing that purposeful, intentional giving ensures:
the act of giving doesn't become a flashy display that encourages comparison and pride. Instead, it becomes a humbling act which, at a calculated, conscious cost to self, encourages a genuine love for the person you give to.
the act of giving, in being orderly, remains sincere and intentional. Just like impulse buys, it's easy to give or promise someone something in the spur of the moment, and only later, when you actually think through what that costs you, regret the decision.
As a high-functioning introvert this is always my problem. At that moment I'm predominantly eager to please the person, airily convinced that I can handle this on top of my other commitments, and happy to do it. Once I come home, the party's over, and I'm recuperating in bed, reality kicks in and I start to realize it's actually the last thing I want to do, it's a busy week already, I'd much rather catch up on sleep after all, and why did I say yes anyway? Impromptu giving is fun, but often neglects to consider the costs of giving, so that we may end up with regret and even resentment.
True giving, like the gift we received on the cross, comes without regret or resentment, because it is intentional and purposeful--it has counted all the costs, and accepts them joyfully and willingly. Without pride, only love; thought through, and prepared in advance; in this case, before the dawn of time.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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