Six Years Old and Learning an Open Hand

I just learned about the NBA’s charmingly-named Nothing But Nets campaign, which raises money to buy anti-malaria bed nets for families in Africa. (Over 1 million die from it every year, and 90 percent of those victims are children younger than five.) Since 2006, Nothing But Nets has purchased over 2 million nets (100% of every $10 goes to producing the net, teaching people how to use it, and following up with net recipients). You’ll see lots of school and kid-related organizations featured as fundraisers on the website, which is why I heard about Nothing But Nets. My Dad mentioned that the kids at his church’s Vacation Bible School raised almost $1000 for the cause.

That might need a little explanation. Vacation Bible School (or VBS) is a free, week-long summer church camp/school for kids in the church and community (I think it’s mostly Protestant churches that do this, usually in June). It’s also an air-conditioned reprieve for all those parents who suddenly have their children 24/7 when school’s out. There are crafts, games, songs, snacks, and, naturally, Bible study.

What I remember most about VBS when I was a kid (besides that red fruit punch that was so sharp it felt like drinking acid) is the marketplace.

One of the highlights of every day at VBS was getting to visit the marketplace, which in our church was set up in the choir loft. It was laid out like an office supply store: colorful folders here, pencils and erasers there, orange-capped glue bottles by the “register.”

Every morning, parents would give their kids some money for the market that day. The VBS adults and teenage helpers had extra change for anyone whose parents forgot or couldn’t give them extra spending money. All the kids would tear through the marketplace, some carefully counting their change and accordingly putting items in their shopping basket, others stocking up on their favorite item and running to the register.

Avondale Pattillo UMC, Flickr userAll of this shopping wasn’t for us, of course. (Like our parents really wanted us to come home with two dozen pencil caps.) Once we’d paid for our carefully-selected items, we’d put them in a big donation bin just beyond the register. From there, they’d later be distributed to low-income schools and families for whom buying the required school supplies in August might squeeze their budget even tighter.

Surely, there were some kids who cried when they had to part with their purchases, but after some consolation and explanation, even they seemed to get it. Most of the kids seemed to really dig the idea that they were basically buying gifts for another kid that they didn’t even know. I know I used to wonder about the kid who’d receive the supplies I was buying, whether they’d like the green scissors or the blue ones, and what grade they were in. At the time, I never even considered that maybe some of my VBS classmates might be the recipients of my donations.

When I was old enough to be a teenage helper (a position which came with access to WAY better homemade snacks and cookies than the kids got!), I realized that the items themselves weren’t donated, but the money used to buy them was. This seemed less romantic, but decidedly more practical.

Maybe $500 for school supplies. $1000 for mosquito nets. You’re thinking that these are miniscule numbers in relation to the epic scope of the problems, right? Maybe. But at five and six and seven years old, we got the experience of giving, having an open hand, thinking about other people, and combining our resources to achieve something bigger than ourselves. What a great seed to plant so young.

Bottom photo by Flickr user Avondale Pattillo UMC

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Beauty in a Wicked World is a weekly column by Jennifer Gandin Le. It appears on Wednesdays.

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