In my neighbourhood, children sometimes run up to me yelling, “Gimme money!” Even at Birdboy’s international school, where children come from wealthy families, classmates will ask for his change when he buys something to eat at lunch. We definitely have less disposable income than many of these children’s families who travel to Dubai or South Africa or the UK for holidays several times a year, but here in Malawi it is completely acceptable to ask someone for money.
There is so much need in this country—even in my neighbourhood—that it is overwhelming. We end up saying “no” so often to requests for money because it happens almost every day. It isn’t always money. A girl who walks by our house on the way to school once asked me if she could have my watch. And when I was writing in my journal on the beach at Lake Malawi a few months ago, several children asked if they could have my pen. I couldn’t believe how many children independently asked for my pen. Pens must be a hot commodity here. There is something that seems desperate, shameful or rude to me when people so blatantly request our money or our possessions. Perhaps this is part of my struggle.
But Birdboy isn’t afraid to face the shame, desperation or insolence of other people’s poverty. He has shown this to me on numerous occasions. One day as we drove to the grocery store there was a man crouched down by the side of the road like a cat. His head was very low to the ground and at first I couldn’t tell if he was trying to look at something on the ground. Then I realized that he was drinking from a muddy puddle. I was so upset I could hardly continue driving. It was an act so inhumane and desperate that I almost started to cry. Birdboy suggested we buy a water bottle at the grocery store. So we did, and on the way home from the grocery store I pulled over and Birdboy and I walked over to the man and gave him the water bottle.
Recently I bought a bag of plums, and as I was walking home with C-C a group of school boys surrounded us and one asked for a plum. I said, “If I give you a plum, then I need to give your friend a plum, and his friend, and his friend, and then I will have no more plums left for my children.” That seemed to make sense, and the boys left. But I felt conflicted. Something felt wrong. I wanted to go back and buy another bag of plums and give them all away to these school boys. But then I wouldn’t have any for my family, and if I bought oranges or mangoes or bananas the next week I might be surrounded by children again. It is a constant struggle. If I were just a tourist, I could indulge: I would buy two bags of plums and give them all away because I wouldn’t be here next week to deal with the consequences.
This was my thinking until I mentioned it to Birdboy, and he told me his own story. He was walking home from school with two bags of lychee fruit, which is his favourite fruit. A group of boys surrounded him, saying: “Share me some.” He happily gave away almost half of his lychee fruit, and then he stopped and said that the rest were for him. His story changed my mind. He stopped giving when he wanted to save some for himself, he felt good about sharing his wealth, and he wasn’t afraid of setting a precedent that he couldn’t deal with in the future.
Birdboy is full of empathy and compassion, and perhaps just as important: he isn’t restricted by the fear of what his actions will bring in the future. Perhaps it is because he is still a child. When we become adults we are much more likely to think about what the future might hold and whether we will be able to provide for our family or ourselves in the future. But isn’t this partly what faith is about? If God called us to store up our treasures here on earth, we certainly wouldn’t have sold our house in Canada and moved to Malawi to serve for three years. Jesus asks us to have faith like a child. It is a leap of faith that we believe God will provide jobs and a home for us when we return to Canada. It requires us to have faith with abandon, faith like a child.
Jesus commanded us to love God and to love our neighbour as ourself. When Birdboy gave away his favourite fruit, he didn’t think about what kind of a precedent he was setting, nor did he worry about whether he would be able to buy more lychee fruit in the future, he just responded with the love of Christ, loving his neighbour as himself.