Recently, we decided as a family to make Tuesday evening Rice Night in our home. Hannah had read about a family in her Explorer magazine that does this. By keeping their dinner simple one evening a week (rice and a few fresh vegetables) they have been able to corporately draw their attention to the everyday realities of the poor. They use this time to pray for the children they sponsor through Compassion International as well.
Last week I had the chance to attend a screening of the film 58: Alongside the stories and images of extreme poverty sat a message of hope - essentially eradicating this crisis over the next two decades. According to its website, "58: is a Christ-centered global initiative to end extreme poverty." I found the film and the organization's strategy compelling.
I also left the theater a bit unclear on how to translate these big ideas into our daily lives. Dollars are always an option of course. Traveling to Africa seems less likely at this juncture. If the movie lacked in any regard, it was in translating this initiative into clear actionable steps for those who watch it.
Yet it was in this space that I began to connect the dots for our own family. We've sponsored a handful of kids through Compassion International for years now. We love this organization and can't say enough about their financial integrity and overall effectiveness. Compassion happens to be the lead agency in the 58: initiative.
As a Compassion sponsor you're able to connect with the children through letters. We receive correspondence from these kids every couple of months. I'd like to report that we've been faithful in holding up our end of the deal, but that's just not the case. While we write them occasionally, it's been awkwardly sporadic. Recently, we received a letter from one little girl in Ethiopia. This was her closing line. "Why do you not write me a letter?"
So, I suppose this is a post to encourage myself as well as anyone else that it is never too late to make a change in our giving habits or how we go about caring for the poor. That reaching out can take on a million different forms and possibly most critical to the equation of philanthropy is a more complete engagement and follow through. Thus, Rice Night at our house.
This past Tuesday we've served up a simple meal. We read the bio we'd been given for the boy we sponsor in Uganda. Then we wrote him a letter. And then the toddler picked her nose and refused her carrots just to remind us all of our utter humanity.
Hannah seemed particularly dialed in to the scarcity of that evening's fare - strangely so, really. We watched as she shoveled rice down as if it were the first (and possibly last) meal she'd ever eaten. Not wanting to freak her out through this somewhat experimental practice, we took a minute to address her inhalation - guiding her through the idea of actually savoring our somewhat limited supper (and reassuring her that rice and veges would in fact sustain her through the night). She slowly exhaled and settled in.
In the end we took some time to pray and then reflected on how grateful we remain for all we have in our lives. It was incredibly human the whole way through. And still, the evening carried with it a sacredness and satisfaction in knowing that we'd taken the time to connect with this far-away friend.
It was a step, however small, toward honoring the things we've committed to. Initiatives like 58: are powerful and able to move many to action; I pray this is the case for those who view this film in the coming months. They've formed an alliance with an incredible group of organizations that are already working abroad in effective ways. There is certainly opportunity for us to join this movement in a variety of capacities.
If I had to guess, however, there are many out there who still aren't sure how to help. Or, like us, have taken on the financial commitment but due to everyday busyness have stopped short of fulfilling critical aspects of these commitments (in our case consistent prayer and correspondence).
I'm optimistic that Tuesday evenings will bring about a mindfulness and intentionality that we've lacked with our friends who live in Africa. I pray also that it will form in us a new standard for how we go about giving - knowing better that our commitment must extend beyond our dollars and to the living, breathing people behind the cause.
Steps Toward a Broader View of Giving
1. Attend a Screening of 58:
This film is a tremendous conversation starter. Ideally, you'd watch this with others (that could be 5 or 50). The company will enable you to process the film corporately and begin identifying ways to partner in the mission to eradicate extreme poverty.
Once you've seen the film, spend some time on the live58 website. Here, you'll be put in touch with ten organizations who are inviting our partnership in real and significant ways.
2. Take Inventory
Take a close and honest look at what you're already doing in the area of giving. Are there places that you could be more intentional or hands-on in the ways you support these causes? Generally speaking, we're a generous bunch. We're equally busy. How is our busyness impacting our ability to support the ends we're most compassionate about?
3. Small Steps
If you do find places that you'd like to tweak or improve in this area of your life, devise a simple plan. Rice Night has helped us in several ways. It has carved a space out of our week to be intentional towards the kids we sponsor. It has simplified dinner prep which leaves more time for the former. Lastly, it has added a simple experiential component to our week that we pray broadens our understanding and compassion towards the poor.
4. Load Your Queue
We recently watched A Small Act. This documentary will both inspire and haunt you all within 88 minutes. A must see.