It was just another letter from World Vision, a correspondence from the child we had sponsored in Zimbabwe for the last decade. I barely glanced at the envelope, despite its interesting foreign stamp. Later, I thought. I'll read the letter later. It's just a Christmas greeting.
So I put it off. I was busy - busy buying all these schoolbooks for Jacob, busy writing out lesson plans, busy trying to get my printer to work (it won't print in black, only in colored ink), busy grocery shopping and cooking and washing up. You know - busy the American way.
But last night for some reason I picked up the letter and read it:
I am glad to have this chance to write you. How are you my dear friend? I am fine here. My friends and family here are all fine.
There was little rain last season. Plants and animals are dying. Do you have enough food for your family? We are about to plough our fields. We pray that God may give us enough rain.
I am happy and thankful for the help you give me, my family and community. The school has text books and sewing machines. We have toilets and boreholes for good health.
Thank you we love and pray for you. God bless you.
I stared at the letter, the neat strokes of the blue ballpoint pen, the words written in English. I remember when this boy made only squiggles of colors on the paper before he went to school. I could imagine the World Vision workers in Africa urging this child to scribble something, and the young toddler's hand still unaccustomed to a writing utensil (unlike our kids who doodle and color from two years of age) concentrating, trying to make a mark. And that's all they were back then, just marks on the paper.
Now, in polite words, this teenager tells me he is "fine." But he is not. He is far from fine. He gives it away in the second paragraph:
Do you have enough food for your family?
Who in America asks such a question? Who, other than a hungry person, a person who wonders where the next meal will come from, asks whether you have food? He obviously does not have enough food in his family. After all, he just wrote me that there was little rain, and that plants and animals are dying!
Why am I writing about our sponsored Zimbabwean child under homeschooling? That should be plain: Because when I educate my own children, this is exactly the type of thing I want to teach them. I want them to know that there are hungry people, not in an abstract sense, but because we have a personal connection to those people - and personal responsibility to help. I want my children to ache with compassion, and to be called do something to change the world. The only way I know to make them compassionate adults is to share these letters, to find more information about the crumbling structure of Zimbabwe, to tell them about the 70% unemployment in the country, to stress the daily hardships that the people live with. A personal connection through this child brings it home so much more than an abstract news report. Better yet would be to go there. Although I haven't been to Zimbabwe, I've visited homes with starving children in Kenya, I've experienced the Ethiopian street children in Addis Ababa, I've been staggered by the poverty of Calcutta, and I’ve seen how little one actually needs to live when visiting nomads in Senegal. I've had my heart broken again and again, and I compare what I’ve seen with the opulence of our homes in North America. I share these personal tales with my children. I want to convey to my children that each us of has a personal responsibility to share our resources, to help, to pray, to reach out. With God's grace, I'll actually take my children on a “field trip” to Africa or India so their own hearts will be broken. Nothing can replace personal experience. I'm already praying about that for next year.
This is what homeschooling is to me.
I sat on the edge of Jacob’s bed last night and read him the letter before tucking him in.
“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”— Albert Pike, Scottish Rite Freemason (1809-1891)