Harold started glancing around the room, I suspect to make sure that we were truly alone. He wanted to tell me something; something that could not be recorded or overheard by passers-by. I pulled my chair closer to him, hoping to ease him whilst simultaneously prompting his confession. Slowly Harold leaned towards me before whispering "I don't deserve to be sponsored".
I sat there for a moment. At first I didn't understand. Why would he say that? Why was he not worthy enough to receive financial assistance? I had just listened to his story; if anyone deserved sponsorship for tertiary education it was Harold. So why would he say this?
I was curious to hear his answer, so I moved my chair closer to him again. Soon enough Harold continued.
"My sister, Shenna, deserves it more than me. She badly wants to go to university. She is so smart and she will study hard. She is always crying. Shenna prays constantly for a sponsor. She deserves to go to university, not me. So, can Shenna be sponsored before me"?
I genuinely didn't know what to say to Harold. Of course it was touching; a brother was willing to sacrifice his chance to study so that his younger sister may study instead. But at the same time it worried me. Harold was on our priority listing, his sister was not. If anyone was going to be sponsored it was Harold, and even then we were struggling to get sponsors.
The Sponsors' List
After Harold left the room, I looked at my list. So far six Filipino teenagers had been sponsored from the priority list. Each of these students had previously engaged in some study at university, but for various reasons many had been forced to discontinue their studies and work to support their impoverished families. I still had seven names before Harold's and at least ten names before Shenna's.
I began to feel anxious and deeply upset. There were so many students in need of sponsorship, and all of them were looking at me to fulfill that need. And the response from Australia had not been promising; in fact it had been deeply disappointing.
The amount we were asking from sponsors was relatively small, particularly for them. I knew that and they knew that. For many, the amount could easily be spent on a weekend away or several outings to a restaurant. But the amount I soon came to realise wasn't the problem; the problem was where they stored their treasures and consequently where they placed their hearts.
Late one night I began to text my father who had approached several business men regarding sponsorship. I was eager to hear about who they were sponsoring, I was excited to see which students would be assigned to each sponsor. I checked my phone incessantly; I was so excited to see the kid's faces when I told them they were sponsored.
No Not One
After an hour or so passed by a message beeped on my phone; not one person wanted to sponsor a student. Not one! Every profile was rejected. I was shocked at first, then I became enraged.
How could they refuse to sponsor someone in desperate need? They read the profiles; they could see the enthusiasm and passion to study. How could they reject these people so desperately in need of assistance? And yet, their answer was still 'No, sorry not interested'.
The response was simple; yet it spoke volumes. Their attitude reflected that of the world; hoarding wealth despite the apparent need of others.
In John 3:17 it says "If anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him".
Although as Christians we are called to be generous, there are times when we hold back. We give from our comfort zone which basically means we give from our excess. The problem with this philosophy is that generosity is not always about being comfortable. Charity is not simply throwing money at a problem. We need to stretch ourselves; be generous with our time even when we are busy and overwhelmed with family, work and study. It's about giving away that last ten dollars in your wallet, even though you want to hold on to it for that 'just in case' moment.
Generosity is not about giving from your surplus, it's about giving from your entirety. This is what Jesus taught us; this is Christianity. God calls us to be generousâ€"generous with our time, resources and spiritualityâ€"even when it hurts.
In Luke 21:1-4 it says: Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, "Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."
A different kind of sacrifice
When I reflected on these sponsors' attitudes I thought of Harold. Although Harold desperately needed a sponsor to attend university he was willing to give it all up for his sister. Of course Harold has ambitions and dreams for the future. He wants great things for himself and his family. But Harold was willing to give it all up for his sister. He was willing to sacrifice something of great value, not because it may benefit him, but because it may benefit someone else. Harold heard the cries of his sister, and he could not turn away. Harold's attitude was a heavenly one.
Unlike Harold many of the Australians I approached regarding sponsorship had closed hearts. Whilst they could hear the cries of their brothers and sisters, they chose to reject them. They refused to contribute to the needs of others, even out of their abundance. Their attitudes were deeply rooted in those of the world; an attitude that promotes wealth and encourages selfish living.
Personally Harold has taught me a great lesson, a lesson of generosity and sacrifice. Unlike the poor widow in the book of Luke, Harold did not give up something tangible when he spoke to me in that room. However similarly to the widow, Harold gave something great out of his poverty; he was willing to sacrifice an amazing opportunity so that his sister may benefit from a tertiary education.
Harold's heart is open to the cries of those in need. Is yours?
(Alison Barkley is on a short term mission to the Philippines)
Alison Barkley lives in Newcastle and is a post graduate student at Macleay College in Sydney in book editing and publishing.
Alison Barkley's archive of articles may be viewed at: www.pressserviceinternational.org/alison-barkley.html