The Pink (and Blue) Elephants in the Room
Because of Child Sponsorship, I didn’t have a prayer.
I took a group of women to Tijuana last week, my first trip there in 2 years. My last visit was also with Women of Vision, and some of the same women were on this trip.
In the morning, we visited several energetic microfinance borrowers at their businesses. It was a whirlwind display of practical and creative enterprises, all of these run by women: a convenience store, a beauty shop, a produce stand, even a pet food shop and an internet cafe. The latter business owner was clearly a serial entrepreneur. With each subsequent loan, she has addressed one more customer need and business opportunity after another in her “cyber cafe”…moving from telephone access to computer access, to arcade games for the bored children of computer users, to a snack counter, refrigerated drinks, even a still-rare indoor toilet for customers.
These were fun visits, learning about the impact of the loans, seeing once again the confidence that running a business builds in these women, most of them single mothers.
But our host Bárbara was wise in scheduling those visits prior to our stop at the Las Palmas Community Center. Because once we arrived at Las Palmas, all love broke loose.
Most of the visitors in the group are sponsoring children now in Tijuana—something which has only become possible in the past couple of years. The staff and community volunteers had arranged for virtually every one of our group’s children to meet us at the community center. A couple of these children had met their sponsors two years ago, and you’d have thought a favorite aunt had just arrived for a visit. There were hugs, squeals (especially from the women in our group), and laps to be sat upon.
We tried to organize our usual program overview, and each person around our large circle introduced themselves. But each time a sponsored child was introduced, or a sponsor mentioned the name of their child, another connection was made and everything stopped for new hugs and more exclamations of glee.
A little side drama was happening for my wife Janet and me. In a shadowed corner sat little Jose Antonio with his mother, his head buried into her chest. He’s our sponsored child, a replacement for another “Jose” who moved away last year. We chose this little guy because his photo looked so forlorn, and we wondered if he was mentally disabled. In fact, he has just been diagnosed with some learning disability—probably autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. He kept his head down but his eyes piercing straight ahead, never smiling, and at times headbutting his mom’s chest. She was embarrassed, and I’m sure that whatever small disappointment we felt in comparing the reaction of the other sponsored children against the reaction of our Jose Antonio was magnified many times over in her heart.
As the introductions continued amidst the growing din, Bárbara tried valiantly to keep the process going, but it was as though she was trying singlehandedly to hold back a dam. It was a powerful reminder to me, a guy who earned quite honestly the moniker “Agenda Trenda”, that connection trumps information.
You see, there was an elephant of love in the room that day, and even when we tried to focus on other topics, such as the important work being done in economic development, sanitation, delinquency prevention, health… that elephant kept getting in the way and demanding the attention of everyone’s heart—even those who didn’t have a sponsored child.
And it was beautiful to behold. Though geographically Sponsor and Child live less than two hours apart, socially and economically they are practically on different continents. Yet the bond of relationship was so strong and tangible that it was the most important reality in the room.
I’ve always had a strong desire for these one-day trips across the border to be a window that gives visitors a clear understanding of WV’s global methodology. It’s rather amazing really, that in just a few hours, a person can have a cross-cultural Vision Trip experience, and they can come back much better educated on just how sound our program model is and how its underlying principals operate anywhere in the world. I’ve thought with satisfaction many times of the day when a pastor told me, “Traveling with you Cory is like getting a graduate-level course in Christian Community Development.”
So when I was younger and more agenda-driven, I’d have been frustrated that so little of this wonderful, important knowledge was imparted last week. But instead, great love was imparted. An entire crowded roomful of love was on display, in the staff and community volunteers, as well as in the children and their sponsors.
And in the final analysis, the most intelligent, logical, world-class program is nothing without love. 1 Cor 13 makes it clear that only that which is deeply and truly rooted in love will make any difference at all. At least on this trip, I saw that Love had a better idea of what could be accomplished than I did, and I didn’t fight it.
I’ve recently realized that a primary motivation for my writing is that I want readers to experience the love I’ve come to feel for the poor, and to realize that really, we are all the same. Or, in the beautiful words of Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, which provides economic opportunities for inner-city youth and gang members in LA, “It’s not us versus them; there is only us.”
So, was my “agenda” achieved? More to the point, I think God’s was. It’s not knowledge versus love. In the end, there is only love.