This time of year, it is so challenging for my husband and I to turn our children's eyes away from the focus on presents for Christmas. Not only during the holidays, but year-round, I find is so difficult to teach them the truth behind the adage, "It is better to give than to receive." To a child, what is better than getting a new box of Legos, or a new outfit for her American Girl? It is so hard for them to understand the concept of altruism, the idea of unselfish concern for the welfare of others.
I get fed up with the world's perpetual assault on my efforts to teach contentment and generosity. Remember how my postwoman took all my mail away since my box was full? Well, guess what it was filled with? Catalogs. Many of them for toys. The little swipers in my house try to grab them before I can trash the catalogs, and I find them riddled with red marker, indicating all the things they think they need.
I had had enough of catalog fever the other night, and pulled one out of my son's hands as we were trying to enjoy dinner commercial-free. I threw everyone off the toy topic by saying, "Hey, I wanted to show you guys something really exciting." I then pulled out another catalog, one from Samaritan's Purse, an international relief organization. Their Christmas 2010 catalog showcases a multitude of gifts that can be purchased for someone in true need in another part of the world. "Here are some ideas for gifts we could buy," and then I started reading.
Gift #1, on the first page, got everyon'e attention. "Feed a Hungry Baby for a Week." $9. This money goes to a feeding center in Ethiopia to meet the needs of malnourished babies and nursing moms.
Gift #5 is "Teach a Child to Read and Write." $15 is the cost for education and literacy materials for one month, for one child. My daughter perked up at the realization that she could help teach a child to read across the globe. Gift #17 costs $10, giving a child a mosquito net under which to sleep, meaning his life may be saved. My kids marveled at the notion of sleeping inside of a net to avoid deadly bug bites, as the child in the photo was doing. My husband's smart phone scanned the barcode on the page so we could watch this.
As I read through the entire catalog, they were mostly silent, piping up to show interest in one particular gift or another. My son liked the idea of buying someone a fishing boat for $50.
My daughter liked the dozen baby chicks you could provide for $14, both gifts providing food and a source of income to a family in need. All wanted to buy Gift #30: Household Water Filters. They looked in horror at the photo of the "before" and "after" glasses of water. I asked them to imagine what it might be like to have cloudy, brown water in your cup everyday.
Soccer balls. Fruit trees. Medicine. Shelter. Milk. All these could be purchased for someone else around the world. So many options for so many needs. Reading through, my kids quickly gained something most kids don't have: a little bit of perspective. Everyone forgot about the toy catalog. We exchanged ideas about which gifts we'd like to give as a family. And then I mentioned the reality: if we spend money to help others, then we have less to spend on ourselves.
I think our efforts at teaching generosity are finally getting somewhere, because after being exposed to the desperate needs of so many others in our world, no one really seemed to mind.
Click HERE to see the interactive, online Samaritan's Purse 2010 Gift Catalog.
Click HERE to see the gifts available for purchase in a list.