Compassion International has been promoting the second Friday of every month as a Virtual Letter Writing Party, which you can read about here. This is an effort to encourage sponsors to set aside at least one day every month to work on their personal ministry to the children that they sponsor.
As I have said before, your words of love and support are crucial to the children. Poverty whispers lies into the ears of these children. “You’re not important. You’re not worth anything…” You have the opportunity to fight those lies and provide inspiration and confidence.
In September of 2010, my friend Caitlin S. shared this amazing short story she wrote. It really illustrates the joy and possible despair that can fill children on Mail Day.
On the day the delivery truck comes, the children watch closely, following it, prancing around with glee. Some of the children’s eyes light up, knowing that something good is happening today. They press in close to the truck, even reaching out to touch it as it ambles forward. Other children cling to the edges of the fray. Their eyes are not quite lit up, not with the same blazing fire at least. Their eyes light with embers of their daring to hope, but a little afraid to do so, in fear of being disappointed. All of the children, those with blazing hope, as well as those with glimmering hope, are quick to follow the truck to its destination. They know exactly what the truck is delivering, and the very thought of it makes all of their hearts sing.
The children circle around the truck as it reaches its destination and slows to a stop. Their excited tittering magnifies as they hear the truck’s emergency brake being set. The delivery man hops out of the truck and walks around to throw the back door open. Though the children have been told to give the truck room, the sight of the five large barrels in the back of the truck causes them to automatically creep closer. It is as though they are drawn to the contents of the barrels. The workers come out of the nearby building, reminding the children to “Give room, give room!” The children shuffle back a few steps, but not quite as much as they had crept forward moments earlier. The workers and the delivery man work together to lug the barrels to the porch of the building, setting them up in a neat line. With the work done, the delivery man tips his hat and wades through the throng of children. Many of the children touch his arm appreciatively as he passes, murmuring different things to him that all add up to, “Thank you! Come back soon!”
With the delivery man gone, the children fall silent and expectantly turn to the workers. The workers make a headcount. It seems that all are here. One of the workers pulls out a crowbar and pries off the lid of the first barrel. As the lid tumbles off, the essence of the contents radiates out. It seems as though the children draw in the same breath. The scent is beautiful: a mixture of sweet, warm, rich, and genuine. It is an engulfing smell of the best kind. Those with the blazing hope crowd expectantly forward. Those with the glimmering hope, shyly cling to the edges, holding their breaths.
The worker next to the one with the crowbar pulls out a list and looks it over. The other sets the crowbar aside and picks up a ladle. The one with the list then slowly starts calling off children’s names: Jenessah, Subash, Geerthika…
Jenessah lets out a squeak of delight and climbs through the crowd of children to the front. Cupping her hands together, she can barely hold still long enough for the worker to ladle the sweet substance into her palms. Jenessah holds it carefully, making sure not to lose any. She peers into her palms, to see what is in the mix this time: stories, prayers, confidence, Bible verses, and belonging. The fire in her eyes blazes even stronger, and she lifts her palms to her lips and sips the mixture down, treasuring it as she feels the substance warm her, strengthen her.
Subash, a quiet boy, eagerly works his way through the crowd. He is trying to look mature about his excitement. He places his hands steadily forward, as he stands tall and still. When his allotment drizzles into his hands, however, he cannot keep the smile from sneaking onto his face. His portion is seasoned heavily with wisdom, encouragement and self esteem, and though he tries to pace himself, it seems he cannot help but consume it quickly.
Geerthika has waited patiently for the two children ahead of her to receive their portion, but now that it is her turn, she quickly thrusts her hands forward. She is unable to keep herself from bouncing on her toes. The worker looks at his list and then at Geerthika’s hands and then his head shakes. The smile falls from her face for a moment. Has there been a mistake? The worker sends one of the other workers into the kitchen. Geerthika watches nervously, not yet willing to lower her hands. The other worker returns with a large bowl and places it in Geerthika’s hands. She looks at it with confusion for a moment until the worker with the ladle begins to fill the bowl for her. Exhortations, stories, encouragement, value…the substance was just more than would fit in her palms. Happy tears are finding their way down Geerthika’s face. When the bowl is full, she gently dips her finger into it and brings it to her lips, closing her eyes as she savors it.
The names continue to be called, and the children called quickly line up. Yohanna, Johnwey, Puja, Ramon, Adrian, Million, Henry, Christine, Elnora… Most of the children called are coming from the group of children whose eyes already blaze with hope. Nerlange, Mesay, Dalfry, Oscar, Abishek, Beauty… As their names are called, they rejoice, each in their own manner. Kevin, Given, Prince, Usmith, Earl, Yznalie… Some have their palms filled to the brim, others have just enough to fill the hollow of their palms, and still others need bowls and buckets. All of these children celebrate their allotment. They are unconcerned about how their proportions compare to their neighbors. They are just happy to have their own. Some sit down immediately to enjoy their portion, while others race home to share with their families, being very careful not to spill on their way. Kathure, Arya, Josue, Jiji, Sankalon, Mogani, Jerlyn, Mercy…
When Mogani’s name is called, there is a shout. All turn to see that the shout came from Mogani himself, which is surprising, because he is usually one of the most reserved children among them. He is known to be tough, and unemotional. “Mogani… Mogani…? Mogani!” He shouts in disbelief. The other children are shocked to see tears streaming down his face, “Mogani? Me?!” He cries out again. The worker smiles, looks Mogani in the eye, and nods. Up until this day, Mogani has never had his name called. He has shown up to the delivery every month for five years. He was among those with only the glimmering hope, until today. Now his eyes blaze with the fire of hope as he whispers, “Mogani…that’s me… I’m on the list today!” He makes a pointless dash with his sleeve across his tear soaked face and breaks his feet away from the shock that had glued them down. Mogani rushes forward, his hands held out the whole way. He does not have to climb through the crowd as the others had to, because this time, the children part a way for the one who has waited so long. His palms tremble as they are filled, then he shuffles off to the side, just gazing at his portion. It is a simple mix: prayers, verses, and introduction. To Mogani, it is more than enough. It is precious. His smile is broad as he tries to quell the tears of happiness, but it doesn’t work. He takes just a small sip, determined to make his portion last forever. As that sip works through him, there is a visible change in Mogani. Bitterness has slipped away from him, and is replaced with courage. Those standing near him can hear him mumble softly through his tears, “I… am not worthless…”
Others from the group of glimmering hope look up with a little more hope as the worker calls off the names. Laurie, Abigail, Aloknath, Santiago, View, Sukriporn, Robin, Joshua, Akos, Sanjin… If Mogani can have his name called, maybe today is their day as well. Children come as their name is called, and the waiting crowd dwindles in numbers. The children who have already received their allotments are scampering home to show their families. Zawadi, Velma, Daniela, Yishak, Rodrigo, Samuel, Janna…The first barrel is emptied, and the second opened. Paulus, Marc, Sherin, John, Christian, Ruth… The third barrel is opened. Mayerly, Govindammal, Enggar, Tahaschnie… The crowd of waiting children still dwindles as the fourth barrel is opened. Evelyn, Rohit, Zaithanpui, Isaac, Deysis, Dinah, Jeejee… As the fifth barrel is opened, the waiting crowd seems to be only populated by the children with the glimmering hope. All the children with blazing the hope have gone home now, because they have all received their portions today. Sitthipon, Hakky, Ismaline, Keidy, Shanti, Iliana…
The worker with the list calls, “Bryan!” with a sense of finality. The waiting group of children can all feel their hearts drop as they hear the confirmation of the ladle scraping the bottom of the fifth barrel. They wait, staring at the worker who sets down his list. They are hoping he is mistaken. Maybe there is a sixth barrel hidden in the back somewhere. Maybe there is another page of names. Please, God, let there be another page of names, let there be another barrel stashed somewhere. The worker struggles to meet the stares of the remaining children. Many have begun to cry, and not the earlier tears of joy. He can see the embers of hope flicker, and can almost hear a hiss from the embers as the children’s tears threaten to put them out. He sighs, raises his eyes to the children and shakes his head. Maybe next time. The crowd of waiting embers begins to disperse, each child slowly walking to his own home, thinking about telling his parents again that his name was not called. Three children wait longer, standing in the silence. The children are Lesly, Christopal, and Tulasi. The worker again shakes his head sorrowfully. Lesly and Tulasi sigh, and turn to leave. They know better than to expect their names to be called yet.
Christopal stays. He has a reason for his name to be called, and yet it never is. He looks the worker directly in the eyes, and dares to finally ask, “Why?” The worker can only shrug. He has no way of knowing. Christopal speaks again, “Is it because of me?” The worker pauses in disbelief, but Christopal continues, “Do I not behave well enough? Am I not good enough? Do my grades need to be better? Am I shameful? How can I change to make myself worth it? Do they not love me?”
The worker places his hands on Christopal’s shoulders, “I don’t know why. Christopal, it is not your fault. You are worth it. I am sure they do love you, they just didn’t send any for you.” The boy listens, but shakes his head, fighting tears. He wants to believe the worker, but struggles to do so. After all, if they love him, wouldn’t they send some for him? The worker gives Christopal’s shoulders a squeeze before turning, picking up the crowbar, the ladle and the list, and leaving to deal with other responsibilities of his day, leaving Christopal to stand with the five large, empty barrels.
Christopal’s voice cracks as he quietly turns his question to the empty barrels, “Why?” He looks inside every barrel, thoroughly, making sure that his portion wasn’t just accidently overlooked, and waiting for him. He leans over the opening of each barrel, drawing a deep breath, imagining once again what it would feel like to hold his own portion in his hands, wondering what it would taste like. He stands up straight, looks now at the outside of the barrel. Christopal traces the capital letters burned into the wood of the barrel, burned in so many languages. His fingers find the label in his own language. Very slowly, he traces each letter, “SPONSOR’S LOVE.” Christopal turns his eyes to the sky and inwardly asks, “Where’s mine?”
Drawing one last breath of the lingering sweetness of what once filled the barrels, he puts his hands in his pockets and walks home, already beginning to think of the next delivery, and dreaming that next time his name will be called, too. The ember of hope in his eyes had nearly gone out while he searched the barrels, but at the thought of his name being called at the next delivery, the waning glimmer flickers and flares. Christopal’s ember will glow on, because maybe the next delivery will be his delivery.
…Your letters are much more than paper and ink…