My first day in the refugee camp in Sudan is seared into my memory: Scorching heat. Endlessly blowing sand. Flimsy lean-tos. The young girl who stared up at me and asked, “Are there trees where you live?” I smiled ad nodded. “Are there flowers?” Yes, I told her. Lots and lots of flowers. “Trees and flowers,” she said dreamily. “Do you live in heaven?”
Wars, poverty, famines, disasters. Thanks to the internet, we know a lot about the world’s suffering. Pictures and videos make us feel as though we’re right there in the midst of it. But we aren’t there. Not even close.
Americans are a caring people. When we see others suffering, we want to help. But we have been burned so many times by scams and cheats that we have become cautious and suspicious. If we give, how do we know our donation will reach the people? And even if it reaches them, will it truly help? I wanted to know. So I interviewed the heads of various organizations. Partners International offered to open its files and let me follow gifts from donors’ pockets to the recipients, and see for myself. Here are a few of the stories I heard:
North Africa: Imagine living in a village so ancient that no records tell of a time before it existed. Now imagine using the same crude water source for all those centuries. It was a hole dug deep into the ground. But so many children and fallen in and drowned that a stone wall was built hundreds of years earlier. Villagers were often sick because of the contaminated water. Girls couldn’t go to school because they spent so much time fetching water. for the family. Most worrisome of all, the water level in the well was sinking fast. But with donor help, and PI’s work, the well was replaced and every family in the village got clean water piped into their house. Never before had there been enough water to wash hands. Never before had anyone even attempted to brush their teeth.
India: The horrific persecution that rained down on Orissa, India, shocked the world. Christians killed. Pastors burned to death. The goal was to purge Christianity from India. The people targeted were also the poorest and most marginalized. Now they lost their homes, their churches, their work. Pastors who survived tearfully told of their helpless-ness. As they struggled to work with their own villagers, pastor-less survivors in other villages begged them to come to them, too. But the villages were miles apart. Which meant hours of walking, heartbreaking work, then hours of walking home. One pastor told me about the motorbike he had received from someone in the U.S. “It saved us all,” he said. “Because without it, I couldn’t have gone on. Without it, they would have no help at all.”
China: I watched the children as young as six making their way down the mountainside on narrow, treacherous trails to attend school. Until recently, isolated mountain hamlets knew nothing of education. But when the government, intent on gleaning better crops, sent each hamlet a barrel of fertilizer. With no person to read the danger warnings, people mistook it for a barrel of rice flour. Many died of poisoning. But a city teacher gave up his well-paying job to work for almost nothing in the village at the bottom of the mountain. So the hamlets each chose a promising child to send down to learn, then to come back to read and write for the hamlet. They made the long trek—some for six hours or more—burdened down with packs containing enough dried beans and rice and water—to last them for two weeks. When they ran out of food or water, they had to make the trek home to get more. When PI sent out word of the need for a reservoir for the school, generous donors purchased the materials, and the villagers went to work. No longer do children have to carry two weeks worth of water on their backs. A sign hangs on the reservoir that reads in Chinese: “Christ is the spring of the water of life.”
Is your gift worth giving? Yes. Oh, yes! For today, and tomorrow, and for eternity.
“To whom much has been given, from him will much be required.”