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As Long as We Remember...

December 27, 2002

Making a Difference

Bethany Stevenson

The last month of the year brings with it a prevailing sense of hope, love for all mankind, and a spirit of charity for those who are less fortunate than ourselves. The first month of the year brings a sense of renewal, hope for the future, and a time to resolve to be a better person. How ironic that they should fall so close to one another.

As we celebrate the birth of the Savior of mankind, and, conversely rush about town like mad dogs shopping and partying, somehow we find in our hearts to give a dollar to the Salvation Army, donate to Toys for Tots, collect canned foods for the hungry, and - out of our abundance - give hope to others.

How good it feels when we buy the perfect gift for someone we love! How good it feels when we know that our charitable gifts are changing the life of someone we don't know, but, somehow, love them enough to give to them.

In the schools, high school students are required to do a service to the community for graduation credits. It is hoped that this will spark that "good feeling" deep down inside each of us that inspires us to make it a commitment to serve our fellow man throughout our lives.

Both Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts use service as a way to teach youth that one does not need to expect payment for every good thing he does.

Churches base their beliefs on the goodness that comes to one's heart as they unselfishly reach out to others and learn to love them through good works. Even our President has asked us to reach out to our communities, to spend our valuable time, uplifting, serving with compassion, and making our people one through service.

Many say though that they do not have time. Consider the number of hours spent each week watching the "boob tube." Yes, there are educational and inspiring programs available, and sometimes we actually watch them. But if each adult took one hour from an inane TV show they watch each week and spent that time giving to others, would the sense of hope, love for all mankind, and spirit of charity for those who are less fortunate than ourselves that we feel at Christmas expand to be with us year-round?

Several years ago, a couple from the Mount Airy area with the last name of Stevenson (not related to the author) volunteered 18 months of their retirement and the money to support themselves away from home so that they could oversee a program devoted to sending volunteers worldwide to serve in humanitarian stewardships. That means 18 months away from children and grandchildren, away from the comfortable Laz-Y-Boy and its wide-screen companion, away from the comfort zone of home.

Of course, this was not the first time they had performed any act of service. Their lives, from youth, had been devoted to serving their families, their neighbors, strangers and their community .

The people they oversaw were also retired couples who volunteered to serve where needed. One of these couples was sent to Thailand. In a rural area their assignment was to train local elementary and middle school teachers in English. That truly is an undaunting task. But while they were there they saw that the diet of the children in these schools consisted of mostly rice, few vegetables and almost no protein.

Answering a call to serve in their hearts they expanded their own assignments to include teaching the children of the schools how to plant and care for vegetable gardens, how to raise chickens, and how to build artificial ponds stocked with fish to raise for food. Not only did the children gain valuable skills in self-sufficiency, but they could also reap the spoils of their labors by adding more vegetables and proteins to their diets.

This couple provided a service that was desperately needed: teaching teachers English to help the students become part of a worldwide family. But more importantly they taught them to raise their own foods without being dependent on others. The old proverb says, "Give a man a fish and he will eat today. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime." Such service surely brings the human family closer together.

Another retired couple that was directed by this program was sent to Zimbabwe to relieve suffering and improve quality of life for the people there. They coordinated efforts with many agencies to bring in food, clothing, blankets and hygiene supplies. In this country there are many hospitals that do not even have aspirin, towels, or soap. There are schools without books or electricity and homes without food. The couple stated after returning home that they did not even scratch the surface of what needed to be done, but that they had made a difference.

Patricia Walsh, of the Dominican Sisters Health Desk in Zimbabwe, wrote: "[These two] have given so much hope and courage to many; [they] have been so generous with [their] precious time, [their] friendship. We have never received so much material support before. This is not just 'material.' It is indeed love translated into action."

Another couple was sent to India where they discovered a school for the blind that had only one toilet connected to the outside of the building by a rope, which the blind children followed to find the toilet. Their task was to create sanitary, and appropriate, bathroom facilities for this school. But while completing this task they discovered the beautiful voices of the children. In their free time, the couple organized a school choir which eventually went on to win talent competitions.

Later this couple fell upon a leper hospital that had fallen into disrepair. It had been founded originally by Mother Theresa. They restocked supplies, bandaged wounds, loved the people who were scourned by their own, and provided sources of nourishing foods.

The couple stated later that they could have stayed at home and been content, but they knew they were needed so much more in India.

All these couples are average American couples who retired on modest incomes and wanted to expand on the good feelings they had experienced during their child rearing years of serving their family and community.

As we prepare for the month of New Beginnings, of New Hope, and of Resolves to be better people, let us all be aware that we have so much more than many others in this world. We have brothers and sisters of our human family who still have to blindly follow a rope to a toilet, who have forgotten the traditions of their culture that teach them how to grow their own food, who strive to be a part of the 21st century but cannot even bandage a wound with a sterilized cloth.

We have brothers and sisters who live in our own state, our own city even, who cannot read well enough to get a good job, who cannot budget their money and resources, who do not know where they will sleep tonight. If we all resolve to take an hour out of our leisure and our excess each week and turn it to serving our community, our fellow human family, we can plant the seeds of love and service in our hearts that would bring peace here to the earth and joy year-round.

One couple, one person can make a difference. The change happens one heart at a time, then one life at a time, and one family at a time. Resolve: I can make a difference, no matter who I am, no matter what my talents may be, I can make a difference.

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