This summer Tara Garner travelled to El Salvador with her husband, Gregg, and three children Genesis, Justice, and Xavier (plus one on the way). As a mother of three and the director of the Childbirth Education Program at the Institute for Global Outreach Developments International, Tara doesn’t often get the chance to travel internationally, but always holds the people she has met over the last 15 years in her heart. In the following article, she shares a moment she had on her children’s first day back to school, when her thoughts were flooded with memories of other children who do not have the same opportunities as her own. These thoughts are not rare for people in our ministry, as we seek to do more than be thankful for what God has given us; we want to help remedy the problem. We cannot change the realities of the poor unless we first change our hearts. Tara challenges us all to daily remembrance of the poor, which keeps our own American lives in check, and keeps us humble before our Father who daily hears their cries, and longs to meet them.
The need that I witnessed this summer, and really for the last 15 years of my life, culminated this morning in one unexpected, serious meltdown.
I’m not a new mom at this. I’ve dropped my kids off for their first day of school for the last five years. I’m a pro. A thick-skinned veteran. So, why today, did the sudden floodgate of tears emerge? My tears came from a different place this morning, as I stood there while the world seemed to move in a slow motion whirlwind around me. The tears came, and wouldn’t stop until I was nearly all the way back to my home.
I took both kids to their classrooms, kissed them for an extended amount of time, saw their specially decorated desks already filled with supplies and books personalized with their names, and told them not to forget Whose kids they are (not mine and Gregg’s alone, but the Lord’s). Their desks were topped with buckets of every color marker you could imagine--even the scented kind! Justice and I smelled the orange one and it made us want a creamsicle.
I emptied our family’s contribution of school supplies into the appropriate tubs and watched motionlessly as other parents threw theirs in after mine. I walked through the seemingly endless hallways lined with tub after tub (after tub) filled with brand new pencils, markers, crayons, notebooks, erasers, paper, glue sticks, baby wipes, paper towels, kleenex and other piles of shiny, new school supplies. The hallway bustled with happy, well-fed, really well-dressed children and their parents – and it took everything in me not to break down and run out of there crying, or just yell at everyone around me to look around and notice all the excess while simultaneously teleporting them all to the 3rd world to wake them up from their comfy American lives.
As I headed for home, I wanted so badly to go grab my kid’s faces and remind them of all the need they recently witnessed in El Salvador. Remind them of the 12 year-old boy we met who shined shoes on the street instead of going to school, so that his family could eat. Remind them of the widow who had never been helped with the tremendous load she carried on her head, until daddy offered her a hand. Remind them of the hundreds of thousands of kids that don’t have a single school supply to their name, let alone a hole-less shirt to wear, let alone a parent! Remind them of the orphans they loved playing with who have no parents to kiss them off to school, or to kiss them at all.
I wanted my first grader Justice to remember the true story of the 90-year old Kenyan man who enrolled in first grade when his country offered universal primary education so that he could learn to read - a film we watched on our bus trip this summer. I wanted Genesis to remember her Salvadoran friend Sonia and tell her class about her new friend that made her never want to leave the foreign land she was in for ten short days. I wanted them to appreciate every use of every sharpened pencil and blank paper and crayon and working light and talented teacher… and… all of it.
I wanted them to remember the kids who are in school around the world meeting under a tree, gratefully using branches to write and learn in the dirt. They don’t have backpacks or desks or shoes or even a teacher some days, but they still show up and politely recite, “Well done, well done, try again anotha' day” to anyone who enters their 8x8 dirt floored, dung walled room called a “classroom.”
I wanted their hearts to break like mine was for the forgotten world of children and families who go without their needs met every single day, but who deserve MORE than their needs met - they deserve the very best because they’re God’s kids too.
I wanted to stop them in their American childhood moment and show them the excess of all they have around them. I wanted them to hide the moment in their heart so they will one day have it in them to truly help those in need. I wanted them to FEEL what God FEELS every day. What I felt for a mere commute home. I wanted them to remember and never forget so that their hearts would be humble and broken and selfless before God – so that they would remember that no matter how young they are, they are to be holy as He is holy - as their parents and uncles and aunties and friends are to be holy.
My personal selfishness about the challenge of this summer’s short trip melted out of my heart and mind through the tears down my face. I begged God’s forgiveness for complaining about being hot or uncomfortable, or “in need.” For complaining, at all.
The truth is, I’ve been given and entrusted with SO much, and even more will be required of me in return (Luke 12:48).
I encourage all parents to provoke your children to a daily remembrance of our family in need. It won’t come naturally for them when it rarely does for us. The excess of our land is an all-consuming rebel force that too easily robs us of our daily remembrance of the poor. The contrast of their lives with ours should set all of our hearts right before the LORD so that we can walk worthy of this vocation to which we’ve been called (Ephesians 4:1). That we would always, in any situation, be working to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute (Proverbs 31:8-9).
We didn’t choose this, He chose us (John 15:16). Let’s make our Father proud.