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Blog of Boxes

January 16, 2014

I rummaged through my dresser, saw an old Raisin Bran t-shirt along with a few other I no longer wore. I grabbed the pile and raced back to church.  We packed eleven boxes that day and they were then sent over to the Door of Hope. After I left church that afternoon, I completely forgot about the t-shirts I’d had and the packages we sent. Hannah and I arrived at the Door of Hope about a year later, and there were quite a few things that we had not anticipated. The spider the size of my face is probably the first that comes to mind.

However, it wasn’t the heat, the bugs, or the food that made the trip a challenge. It was the fact that I could not seem to relate my life to theirs. Let me attempt to explain this feeling through an illustration. When eating at an authentic Mexican restaurant, your mind compares it to the fast food joint down the street and you sigh as you dig into homemade tortilla chips. Ah. The point being that your mind can make that comparison because they are on the same level. They both use refrieds, hot sauce and flat tortillas. Yet as I looked at these girls my age, I had no idea what to say. I sat across from them with my Canon Rebel T3 and my iphone, feeling unable to connect on any level. I don’t want to romanticize or exaggerate in anyway. It was not as though I sat in a vegetable state staring mutely at the locals, but it was a challenge that I had to try to overcome everyday. I wanted to know them on an intimate level, I wanted to joke freely and to be able to confide with one another. Some of those things did come, with time and a few volleyball games. For a while though, I just wanted to stand on the sidelines, take pictures and not try anymore. How could I answer their questions about the price of my ticket, when I knew they had no means to save that much? How could I tell them of my life back home where I had a two-story house, a car, a job and a degree close at hand? Most of my dailly activities would be completely foreign to them. It was a struggle to find a way to connect, to push myself outside of my comfort zone and to recognize that they were just as shy and nervous as I was.

One day, we invited the teachers (the girls our age) and some of the students to Luke and Annie’s home to make play dough.

We were going to use it in art class the next day and Annie thought it would be fun to have a little party. As we were making the play dough, laughing, and fashioning weird faces; I noticed that one of the girls was wearing my old Raisin Bran t-shirt. For a second, it just looked familiar to me, then almost as waking from a dream, I remembered the few shirts I had grabbed in a hurry from my drawers. Then I saw another, wearing a bright pink t-shirt I used to wear to volleyball practice. The strangest feeling came over me. It was a connection from my hurried and comfort-filled life back home, to this simple and less materialized setting. I saw our donations come to life. There were the shorts that a woman in our church had bought for the boys at the school in every size, those uniforms that we donated, the tin roof on the orphanage home and the screens in the windows we had given money towards. My next thought followed, did they know? Did they see that though we’re far away we want to support the work being done here as well?

The second to last day of teaching, I asked the students, with the help of my very awesome translator Abi Stutzman, if they remembered receiving the packages of clothes. Their eyes grew bright and I saw a few heads nodding. I explained to them that today’s project was to write a note to those in my church. I wanted them to write these notes so that we in the U.S. could hear the voices of those that were wearing the clothes we donated. Each student then, from three years old to nineteen, made a card. They drew themselves and something that they liked to do. Some of them wrote a thank you in Tagalog, but I directed each to write their name and age. It was awesome to see them so excited! A few actually took it out of class to work on and gave it to me the day before we left. One boy, Renato, only has peripheral vision. Since he hadn’t been able to do any of the previous art projects, I didn’t give him a pencil and paper, thinking he wouldn’t do this one either. So glad I was wrong! He came up and gestured to ask for the pencil and paper. His sister helped him and he took a painstakingly long time writing as he viewed it from the corner of his eyes.  I could not believe how alive some of these kids became. Almost every class I had to cajole them into participating, but this time, they almost unanimously and eagerly jumped at the opportunity. They did understand! They understood what support was far greater than I ever could. I had never been in a situation of desperation, I had never been in a situation where I needed clothing, I had never been in a situation in which food wasn’t guaranteed, I had never known a time when my house might be taken away by a storm. Donations always seemed like something used to appease the conscience, but I understood it, in some small way, a little bit more clearly. It wasn’t just things that made the packages special, it was the encouragement provided by having that connection between believers a world away.

After Hannah and I came home, we were determined to send out something to the Door of Hope. I wanted them to know that we would not forget them, and we wanted to meet some of their needs. One of the first Sundays back at home, we were able to give our testimonies and following the service, we had our first bakesale. All the cookies and cupcakes were sold before the whole church had an opportunity to glance at the table. We started a clothing drive and almost every Sunday or Wednesday we were approached with a bag here, six boxes there, and at a few points, twelve large garbage bags. A woman in our church had a daughter in the American Heritage group that had been collecting school supplies for the Door of Hope and had needed a way to send them. My dad helped to design a magnet that we gave out to everyone at the following bakesale and anyone that donated clothes. The two balconies in our church filled up and the sorting day was definitely hectic.

A group of eleven to twelve year-old girls from the American Heritage group, their mothers, and Hannah and I filled the sanctuary rows, trying to do our best to keep sizes and ages in order.

They had collected around ten large boxes at least of school supplies. It filled the hallway of our school wing.

We had a “Packing Party” after church on a  November Sunday with some of the Youth and Singles from our church, and we packed twenty-two boxes!

The clothes ranged from new-borns to adults and the school supplies, from crayons to textbooks. Initially starting out, I believed the project would be a no-brainer, but again, my anticipations were nothing like the reality. Thankful, however, for so many people, from our church and from the American Heritage group, that were willing to give of their time, money, and things in order to support those in need. We were left with more supplies than we had boxes, and have stored the remaining school supplies for our next shipment. God was so good to send us over to the Door of Hope and to meet so many other believers. He showed me that his blessings on us, if we are willing, can be shared with our brothers and sisters no matter in the difference of how we live.

Even if the sizes of the bugs seem rather ridiculous.

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