With Christmas approaching, my typical American ten-year-old son is working feverishly on his wishlist. Most of it consists of trivial toys and fads. Some of it could be considered educational, like an erector set for building his own robot and more Legos (because the large plastic bin full still isn’t enough). But most of it is just plain frivolous.
We started reading a book together about people living in trash dump communities. I strongly recommend the read: “Witness: True Events from a Society Living, Working and Dying in Trash.” As we read the first few chapters together, he was shocked to learn that there are people in the world who don’t have adequate living spaces to shelter from the elements, clean water, or access to proper nutrition. He has been aware for some time of homelessness and poverty in general, but this was a new, real, tragic detailed account of communities surviving around public dumps. Worse than that for us to comprehend are the horrific injustices and crimes against humanity that are a daily occurrence in those impoverished areas. At one point, even though I was filtering some of the more violent descriptions, he said, “Mom, stop. I need a break. This is too much.”
We have had our struggles in life and there have been times when we had to “tighten our belts” to get through a few months. But it usually consists of backing off eating out and skipping the movies. We’ve been blessed to never be literally living on the street for any period of time. We did have to spend one night in the shelter after fleeing an abusive situation, which was definitely a perspective-changing experience. But we never had to dig through garbage for a meal or sleep under a bridge. Never once have I been faced with a decision to sell myself or my children into human trafficking to survive.
Immediately, my son and I, both heartbroken, started discussing “what can we do?!” We feel so far away and so detached from such societies. We talked about making a difference to the homeless and poverty-stricken in our own community. We even talked about preparing to take a mission trip to visit these communities and truly help and “get our hands dirty.” We’re making a list of things we can do now like supporting our church’s involvement with Trash Mountain Project by helping with care packages to be sent to these trash communities.
And then the conversation shifted to something incredible… My ten-year-old boy offered to relinquish his Christmas gifts. “With the money we could save on buying presents for us, we could send them soap and gloves and boots to help,” he suggested. We agreed that this year each of the kids would only receive one small gift from me. And for advent this year instead of drinking hot cocoa and watching “Elf,” we will do acts of kindness, serve the needy in our community and put together care packages for “the least of these.” As a mom, my heart swells for my son’s compassion for others and willingness to sacrifice.
Today, if you are content in your “cushy world” and don’t want your perspective of the world completely shattered, don’t look up trashmountain.com. And definitely don’t read the above mentioned book.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:40