• Renee

Those shoeboxes...

I love Christmas. For so many reasons. Growing up in the Midwest, I loved the fresh snow. Building snowmen. Skiing! I love being together with family. Candy canes, cookies and hot chocolate. I love Christmas music and decorating the house. 24 hours of A Christmas Story and driving around and looking at Christmas lights. I love the candle lit Christmas Eve services and the excitement and anticipation of Christmas morning. I love that it is a time when we celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Well guess what? Christmas is coming! But this year, as you all are preparing for Christmas, I've got something on my heart that I must share.

Over the past couple weeks, I've seen many posts of people excitedly packing shoeboxes to send to {poor} countries so that these kids will be able to "have a Christmas that every child deserves."

Hold up. What is Christmas about and who are we to think that sending a box full of (let's face it) things that will most likely be lost or stolen or wrecked in less than a week is what the children in these villages even want? Before these foreign faces showed up in these villages toting in hundreds of boxes of toys, most of these kids didn't even realize that they were missing something.

And what about these parents who were thrilled that they were able to save up enough money to buy their children a new outfit and pair of shoes for church and a small toy? How do you think they feel when we come in..."saving the day again" with all of our cameras and give their children gifts that they themselves weren't able to give?

I understand that we (foreigners) have good intentions. A few years ago, I was in the same boat. Our hearts are (mostly) good. There might be that inkling in there that pats ourselves on the back for a job well done giving to these poor kids in Africa, Haiti, choose the country. But if we stop for just a second and think about what we're really doing, you may realize that your actions are actually not really helping anyone but yourself.

A couple years ago, I had the opportunity to go on a "shoebox" delivery. It was definitely an experience I'll never forget. I tagged along with a team who was delivering boxes to a small remote village only reachable by boat. The people in this village didn't see very many white people and many of the smaller kids were actually a little scared and cried. They didn't understand what was going on. After the chaos died down a bit, the children were instructed to yell out "THANK YOU!" so that the visiting radio news anchor could record it for the story they were making.

After that, the kids were allowed to open their boxes. Many children didn't know what to do. The older ones figured it out first and once they realized there were some fun things in their boxes, they actually came and "helped" the younger ones...meaning they took what they wanted out of their boxes and left the rest. All this happening while parents peeked in through the windows and moms of babies were asking where their gifts were. It was all such a weird experience. Nothing like what I imagined or like what I had seen portrayed in the videos and happy pictures that you all see. I'm guessing that this is more of the norm. I don't share this story to make anyone feel badly. I have just seen and learned a lot over the past few years living on this side. I was naïve. Before seeing the reality first hand, I truly believed that I was doing something good. And in some people's eyes, this still may be "good." You'll have to decide.

But what about this...

There are many people in your own community who may not be able to give their children the Christmas that they had hoped. Those kids see what the other kids are getting. The realize that they are different. However, it's not going to help for you to "save" their Christmas by giving to them either because it's the same thing - those parents will feel ashamed and embarrassed that someone else who had more money had to give their children gifts. But, maybe you could organize a (NEW) toy drive and allow parents from the community to come shop for Christmas gifts at very discounted prices. That way parents are able to find something they can afford that otherwise they would not...and THEY get to give it to their children. Be creative, think outside the box, and don't be too concerned about making yourself look good.

OR -

If you want to give gifts to children in other countries, give money so that those parents can buy and give to their kids themselves. I know it's not nearly as fun as going out and buying gifts and filling a shoebox, and people may never even know that you gave money online...definitely not public...but we're allowing parents to keep their dignity and changing the mentality that foreigners only come to "give us stuff." There are plenty of organizations where you can shop on their websites for goats, or school supplies, or even clothing. Things that won't be lost a week later.

Challenging us all to think differently and to make sure that we're doing the best we can to help, encourage and lift up others. Even if it means doing things differently than we have always done in the past.

If you and your family are looking for ways to give this Christmas, take a look at the Okipe Store.


Bercy, HAITI

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The Janofski Family