My 7-year-old daughter and I have an ongoing discussion about what she’s going to do when she grows up. She changes her mind often – teacher, hairdresser, doctor – but the other day the conversation took a different turn.
“I want to do what you do, Mummy,” she said, all wide-eyed innocence, “because you help poor people. Don’t you, Mummy?”
I hesitated before I replied.
Sitting in an office chair, in front of a computer screen, tapping out plans and reports, it’s easy to feel somewhat removed from what goes on in the field – projects that help families who struggle, every day, because of crippling poverty. But this comment from my daughter reminded me that, while the bulk of my job might be about helping Australian Christians to be generous, the people who are most impacted are the ones supported by your generosity… something that really hit home when I met Rith.
On the day we meet, Rith is busy preparing food that she sells at the local school. She is shy at first. She places steamed sweet potato in front of us and walks back to cut up vegetables and cook rice over an open fire on the dirt. Later, I watch as Rith strains to pull the cart she takes to the school her young son attends, and where she sells the food she has prepared. I see her daughter came home from school to feed the cows and walk them down to the rice paddy to drink.
As the day goes on, Rith shares her story with me. About her achievements she chats happily – she now has six different means of earning an income. She finds it harder to talk about her past – having to drop out of school to care for her siblings; the nights she lay awake hungry, wondering if she’d have enough to feed her family, or pay for a doctor for her sick husband; the days spent in back-breaking labour in the rice paddy only to watch floods wipe out her crop.
In the past, she was sad, lonely and frightened. She wondered what on earth she would do for her children’s future. She had no way to make a better life for them.
When I was asked to write this blog, I was asked to consider our similarities. Reflecting on this today, I’m struggling to find them. Yes, we both have three children. And, yes, we both worry for them – but our worries are different. I work for an aid and development agency – Rith is a brilliant entrepreneur that has built up six income streams from next to nothing. It’s impossible to understand her experience of poverty, her struggles, her resilience.
But what I can understand, what we do share, is the immeasurable, enduring and fierce love for our children. We both want our children to be happy and to do well, and I understand how it must have broken Rith’s heart when she was unable to give her own children every chance to succeed. I also understand her pride as a mum. Thanks to the work you’ve supported, she can now send her eldest son to study agriculture at university (my daughter continues to dream of her future as a teacher or hairdresser!)
Whilst there are too many differences to name, I believe the love I feel for my children, and the love Rith has for hers, is a love that comes from God. A love that is a shadow of what God feels for all people created in His image. It’s the common experience of this love that binds me to Rith’s story. And it’s this love that helps me to see Rith, and people like her, as God does… and drives me to pour out my love generously in return.