What is my fruit?
“Education is your only hope,” said Martin Ganda’s mother in the book I Will Always Write Back. Education was Martin’s only hope of breaking the chains of poverty in his life in Zimbabwe and being able to provide a better life for his family. Through the dedication of his American pen pal (Caitlin) and her family, along with determination and hard work from Martin, he was able to receive an education and attend college in the United States becoming a successful business man, whose humanitarian efforts are changing lives in Africa.
This statement, “Education is your only hope,” stuck with me.
Little did I know that in a few months this one line would propel me forward on a journey to Ecuador with a nonprofit group called Education = Hope, witnessing firsthand the benefits of education provided for hundreds of students who otherwise may not have an opportunity to one day rise above their circumstances.
My mind goes to a sunny afternoon at the Carmen Bajo community center in Quito, Ecuador where we met a teacher and students who come there each day to eat a hot lunch before or after school. This is a safe place to work on homework and be with friends until it is time to go home. We were invited to make a home visit with Kimberly, a young girl who attends the community center each day.
We walked up the rocky path to a concrete building and were invited to enter her family’s humble home. The one room home was dark and cool. One side of the room was filled by a bed on which Kimberly sat in her red and blue school uniform, holding her baby cousin, while an older female relative sat beside her. We gave her family a gift of oil and sugar and cooed over the sleeping baby that Kimberly held so carefully.
As we left the home, I saw a water barrel from which the same relative was drinking water and washing dishes, leaving them to dry by the clothes hanging on the line. Somewhere out back was an outhouse. Empty beer bottles, orange peels, old shoes littered the ground as two small dogs watched us carefully walk back down the hill.
I had mixed feelings when we left Kimberly that day. What if my children were in these circumstances? Did I have a right to judge? What would happen to Kimberly and others like her? How could she not only survive these conditions but ever hope to rise above them?
Hope. There was that word again.
And I kept seeing hope over and over in the faces of the people we met in Ecuador. Amidst great sorrow, I saw hope. Amidst extreme poverty, I saw hope. Amidst the pews of a local church, I saw hope. In the faces of children laughing, I saw hope.
This hope stayed with me.
Upon returning home, I was cautioned to be aware of the five F’s of re-entry after short term missions/vision trips: fun, flee, fight, fit in, and fruitful. The ultimate goal of being fruitful is the “what next” part. Now that you know what you know, what will you intentionally do to make a difference? Without the fruit, would this just be an experience to mark on a calendar or check off of a bucket list?
In a book review of Toxic Charity, Larry Brown stated that short term mission trips “give American laypeople an opportunity to feel like they’ve done something to save the world without leaving their comfort zone for very long.” I didn’t want to have false ideas or intentions about helping, even though I was returning to my comfort zone.
I had one prayer – Lead me. Use me to make a difference.
Through grace and the compassionate hearts of a group of motivated middle school students and teachers, One School + Education = Hope was born. This outreach project led by a group of students became the fruit. We are able to send money directly to Ecuador through Education = Hope, and we know that these funds are immediately used to provide school bus transportation, school uniforms, textbooks, tuition, and after school tutoring for students in extreme poverty.
In just a few months, our students and teachers have raised over $2000 through monthly fundraisers and they aren’t done yet. Their hearts are full of compassion and a desire to make a difference.
Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett wrote in When Helping Hurts that poverty is rooted in broken relationships. They write “We are all broken, just in different ways.” We are all in some degree of poverty, be it of spirit, community, or resources. But by connecting with students in Ecuador and other impoverished countries, we rise up from our own impoverishment and begin to heal our brokenness.
And then an amazing thing begins to happen. We start looking for ways to connect with people in our own community, and we start looking for ways to support each other. Compassion is contagious. And so is hope.
May our fruit spread hope.