The other night as we were packing up the bags for our trip to Guatemala, I looked through some of the gifts that people have given to their Foreign eXchange kids. They’ve just been gradually filling up our utility room as people have given them to us at church every week. Rachael’s been the one to collect them from people and make sure they get organized so that all the kids are accounted for. Sometimes people bring back the blue plastic, grade-school-size pencil boxes stuffed with a toothbrush, cinnamon toothpaste, a yo-yo, a pack of Juicy Fruit, three mechanical pencils, a Hot Wheels car, and a mini can of Axe deoderant. Other people could barely contain themselves and managed to stuff a nice t-shirt in along with the toothbrush, cinnamon toothpaste, yo-yo, pack of Juicy Fruit, three mechanical pencils, a Hot Wheels car, and a mini can of Axe deoderant. They must have sat on the box to get it to shut. One friend even deflated a soccer ball and somehow managed to get the lid shut with it smashed inside.
My first reaction (and I’m not saying it was right) was to think of kids in Guatemala and what their reaction will be to us bearing these gifts. If it were me, I admit I might be offended by gifts implying my hygiene stinks, but what will the boys—who have little, if any, material goods of their own– think when they open up all that random stuff? I have no idea.
But as I read through some of the letters people had written to these orphans, it began to come back to me the importance of these relationships. It’s not all about the stuff, I say to my silly, American self. Gifts are signs that someone was thinking of another person. It shows a bit of selfless love. It took time and intentionality to sign up for an amigo, take a box, go to Walmart, fill it with stuff, and return it to us. On top of that, most of those non-Spanish people found a way to write a letter in Spanish to these kids so that they could find out about their lives and let them know that they are interested in them!
When I sat at the dining table and looked at all the boxes on the floor and read through the letters, it hit me that we were actually doing what had only been an idea on our first trip to Guatemala. These people who go to our church may never go to Guatemala to meet any of these kids, but they’ve made the effort to connect with them from 1700 miles away. Would I do that if someone else had stood in front of me at church with a similar story about needy kids in another country? What made these people step up to love on these kids?
I have said a couple of times in the last year that it’s important to me that we connect people from our church with what God’s doing around the world, now specifically in Guatemala. But it all came together for me, as I looked at some handwritten letters with a pile of disorganized stuff all over our living room floor, that we were actually seeing rich, healthy Americans connect with poor, needy children in a tiny, yet meaningful way.
All of this reminded me of a passage in Acts 2 that we recently read. Jesus and the disciples had just spent three of the most amazing years together. They traveled together, they learned together, they ate together, it seems like they probably lodged together. Kind of like the Fellowship of the ring or the knights in search of the holy grail. I can’t get over how awesome it would have been to be a part of that original group that thought it was normal to hang out with Jesus! But then he died and everyone was all torn up because he was gone all of a sudden without a fight. And then he came back after a couple of days. How crazy is that? Think about the grief of someone dying and how torn up you are and then to be all crazy excited and doubtful when you saw them again. And then they tell you to wait where you are for something better because they’re going to leave you again?
That’s where the disciples were when they received the Holy Spirit and they began the crazy growth that became what we know as the church today. People began to criticize them when they first received the Holy Spirit because it looked crazy to them. Peter gave a persuasive argument for why to follow Jesus and many people chose that day to repent and be baptized- essentially choosing to start living the way Jesus had lived. Oh, there were about 3000 of them that day. And they usually only counted the men, not their families.
Which brings us to part of the picture of what that group of people was like in Acts 2:44-45:
How great would it be to be a part of a community of people like that!? Of course I’m skeptical about how this actually worked and I’m against governments and countries being socialist and communist. But isn’t this how the church is supposed to look?
And I realize, looking around at these piles of boxes for Jose, Amilcar, Oraldo, Felipe, Marcos, and Dani, that this is exactly what the church looks like now. We’re helping to connect a few people at Maryland Community Church and some of our friends with these random kids at Eliza Martinez and San Gabriel boys homes. No one sold their stuff to provide for the needs of these kids. I don’t think that’s the reality we have today in the abundance that is America. Everyone doesn’t necessarily have to live in close proximity; the internet and commercial airplanes shrunk the world. So what’s missing to fill the needs around the world? Human connection.
So many people point at the uber-rich and say why don’t they just give their money to the poor, then all our problems would be solved. But money doesn’t solve problems, people do. As I look at the stuff on our floor, I see goods that are meaningless beyond their utility. Toothpaste will help keep teeth from rotting, but without the human interaction, food seems tasteless and living in a world of poverty can just seem cruel. The handwritten letters, the care, the prayers, knowing someone is thinking about you and interested in how you’re doing- this is what community is all about.
This is the same thing that made Jesus’ groupies so fanatic about what they had experienced that they couldn’t help but to tell everyone about his teaching and show them what it was like. Jesus loved them and shared everything with them. In turn, the disciples loved the people around them. And so will we next week as we hug some Guatemalans, give them gifts from random Americans, and try to live with the rest of the crazy people in our group from our church.