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Lessons in Giving

30 January, 2009

This appeared in our February 09 church newsletter.

As most of you already know, I recently returned from a 10-day mission trip to Nicaragua.  It was a time filled with hard work, good conversations, rice, beans, and rest.  We spent a lot of time with the local people in a remote community, digging with pickaxes in the jungle to prepare a construction site for a clinic.  I have never been on a trip like this before, and I found that my mind was still reeling when Oliver and Andrew picked us up from the airport.

“So, Courtney,” Andrew said as we maneuvered through wet and windy streets towards Anacortes, “what would you say was the most memorable moment?”

I paused as I quickly sifted through the last two weeks.  My mind rested on the image of a little girl’s face: she was about six or seven years old; her hair was dark brown and curly, and her skin was the color of coffee with just a touch of milk.  Her eyes were like honey, but strewn with hints of green.  They had a startling clarity – a light behind them that spoke of frank curiosity and eager hope.

One afternoon when we were in the community, this little girl grabbed my hand and invited me to come see her home.  The girl and her younger sister led about five of us from the team down the dirt road for a few minutes before turning aside and climbing through a barbed wire fence.  We continued over a few hills, across a couple streams, and finally to her home.  They insisted on carrying our water bottles for us, and were careful to direct us with cries of “Aquí! Aquí!” (“Step here! This way!”) so that we (who were inconveniently wearing shoes) wouldn’t have to squelch through the wettest and muddiest parts of the trail.  Every time we had the possibility of losing our balance, they were there to hold our hands.

When we got to their home, the girls enthusiastically led us around, teaching us about their life.  This is an avocado tree!  This is the vine where we grow that squash you ate last night!  Here’s some wild cilantro!  Look, there are fish in this pond!  Her house consisted of two small buildings – one was the “kitchen” (which was maybe seven feet by ten feet), and one was where they slept (only slightly larger).  The walls were small poles that were lashed together, and the roof was a sheet of corrugated tin.  They had a log on the ground outside the sleeping room that served as a bench.  Bunches of bananas ripened in the rafters; they offered us some to eat and sent extras home with us when it was time for us to go.

What was it that lodged this afternoon so deeply in my heart?  I think that it was the openness and enthusiasm with which these girls shared their lives.  For all appearances, they had nothing to offer us – but that was the farthest thing from their minds.  They didn’t worry about what we would think of their service, or if it would be enough.  They simply gave, in whatever way they knew how, with the eager expectation that we would be blessed by it.  And that is something I will never forget.

As I think about my own life, I can identify so many times when I have held back from reaching out to others because I felt like I had nothing to offer.  But when I remember the girl with the honey eyes, I know that the excuse of having nothing to offer is a lie.  God has gifted all of us uniquely, and will use us to bless the people in our lives if only we can forget ourselves long enough to give.  My prayer is that God will cultivate in me that heart of sharing: the ability to let go of all self-consciousness and to freely, enthusiastically, and expectantly offer to others whatever it is that God has given to me.

Two of our team members with the girl whose house we visited.  Photo by Dave Stalsbroten.

Two of our team members with the girl whose house we visited (far left). Thanks to Dave Stalsbroten for the great photo!

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