As I packed my bags to travel to Guatemala in the month of June, I anticipated very warm weather. Guatemala is in the northern hemisphere. It´s summer there, I thought, no need to pack a jacket. Well, it´s actually the rainy season. On sunny days it is quite balmy, but when the rain clouds roll in, it gets COLD. Ericka, the assistant director of the orphanage, noticed how I was shivering in my layers of mismatched summer blouses. She rummaged through the bins of clothing donations and came up with a cozy fleece pullover and a sweatshirt for me. How embarrassing was this? I´m the one who shops all year and packs 20 - 24 suitcases of clothing, shoes, etc. to bring to the kids of the orphanage every December with our mission team. I´m the one who gives the charity, not the one who receives it!
Many years ago, as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Brazil, I taught sewing in a vocational school established by a bank with a humanitarian ethic. If that sounds paradoxical, ponder this: their motto was, ¨You´re never too poor to give and never too rich to receive.¨ Say what? On the surface, that might sound self-serving, but just the opposite is true. The concept is that no one is so worthless that he has nothing to offer and no one is so well off that he cannot benefit, in some way, from being helped by another. The Banco de Providencia in Brazil provided free vocational training to people in desperate poverty and offered them loans to set up businesses. The loans could be repaid with goods and services or money, whichever was easier. This system not only raised the living standards of the poor, but also gave them dignity. The bank profited, too. I was proud to be a part of this program.
Is someone never too poor to give? One might ask about the demented nursing home residents, the severely disabled, or the hopeless derelict in the street. What can these, the least of our society offer us? They offer us the most priceless gift of all -- the road to our salvation. Didn´t Christ, Himself, tell us that when we reach out to minister to the least of our brethren, we have actually touched HIM? When the weak and needy stir our compassion and inspire our charity, we are actually the ones on the receiving end.