2:14 pm
Tue November 25, 2003

The Gift of Hope

The small things we do impact the world in big ways.

Wilmington NC – [Click the LISTEN button to hear Catherine's commentary.]

For nearly twelve months her clear-eyed stare has called to me. Brown-skinned and young, her expression is smart, proud and serious. Her eyes look straight through the photographer?s lens into mine every time I open my refrigerator. Strapped to her back is a sling that holds a younger child whose smooth-skinned squinting face is visible in the corner of the photo. The little one peers with curiosity and perhaps fear. He likely sees many new places and things from behind the safe shield of his sister?s shoulders.

Even though I have seen both of them everyday since receiving this holiday card last Christmas, they of course cannot see me. They cannot witness, or even fathom, the size of my house, the variety of my clothes, the abundance of food in my pantry. I have kept this card in close proximity, not because I feel guilty for having been borne into abundance and opportunity?none of us has any choice as to the whereabouts of our birthplace. I keep this photograph because of the hope it embodies, and I wanted it to remind me, come this holiday season, that it?s time for me to make some changes.

Armfuls of catalogs have been arriving for weeks, so many in fact that getting the mail has begun to feel a little like going to the mall. I am not fond of shopping--I get a bit overwhelmed when I am surrounded by a whole lot of stuff. This year the catalogs present the same problem. Even with the comfort of my living room, wading through the stack and knowing that thousands of other people are perusing the same pages of stuff--it?s all just been too much?and it?s not even Thanksgiving!

Then I saw what I was looking for, not in a direct-mail catalog but in the good old Wilmington Star-News. The Alternative Gift Market is now open at Grace United Methodist Church?the place where this beautiful holiday card on my refrigerator came from. I wanted to go and find this girl and her brother and the millions of other people who are my global neighbors.

I was not disappointed. There I found a catalog like no other I?d ever seen. Each page describes a project, whether it be a two day bakery management course for impoverished women in Nicaragua or a bicycle for an HIV/AIDS outreach worker in Ghana. The organization is called Alternative Gifts International. Every year they carefully choose which cooperating relief agencies to include in the catalog. In honor of a family member or friend you can buy an entire cataract surgery operation for a poor person in the Honduras for sixty dollars or you can simply buy one share of that surgery for six dollars.

The projects range from water system development in Tanzania to planting tree seedlings in the Amazon rainforest in Peru to tutoring a disadvantaged child right here in the United States. I made my selections, wrote a single check and came home feeling both generous and grateful for so many things, not the least of which is that I might experience this wonderful holiday season without every having to set foot in the mall!

Now I look again at this proud young African face on my refrigerator. I gaze into the eyes of this neighbor whom I will never meet. The inscription in the card, attributed to Charles Sawyer, reads:

?Of all the forces that make for a better world, none is so indispensable, none so powerful, as hope. Without hope men are only half alive. With hope they think and dream and work.?

This week, this season, this year, I am thankful for hope and for the opportunities to share in whatever ways I can. I hope the same for you.