I was surprised how many people asked me this question on our recent trip to the UK. “How do your children cope visiting other children who have no toys to play with? What do they make of the fact they live in a good house, while their friends live in poor houses?”
I was surprised because it has never been an issue really. When she was only 5 years old, my eldest went through a phase of trying to work out how rich or poor people were by asking me questions such as “Do bus drivers shop in the market or the supermarket?” They have always been aware some people have, and others do not. It is how life is. They are very accepting of the fact. They regularly play with children from poor families and they play with them just as they do children from a richer family. They are just as happy sliding down a pile of sand in the backyard and making mud pies, as they are playing with a fancy doll. It is just what they have always done. They do have many toys, but they are also used to having to gather up those they no longer play with so that we can donate them to the local school or poor families.
They are, like any children, anxious to have the latest toy that was advertised on the television, (not that they get them!) but are also aware that they are blessed. I think growing up with children who are materially poorer than them is teaching them to be grateful and not to take things for granted. They see how much hard work it takes to feed a family, when they see men sweating it out in the fields around us in the midday sun. They have accompanied me, since they were babies, on visits to patients and families living in very poor circumstances. They accompany their father to see the houses he builds for poor families and join in the celebratory meals of chicken and rice which the families often offer once a house is complete. Many of their own second cousins live in much poorer circumstances than ourselves. We do not shield them from these realities of life. They help me give out school supplies to sponsored children and Christmas gifts in schools. They see what we try to do to help others less fortunate than ourselves.
I do teach them that they are blessed; blessed to have a family that loves them, to have a home and food and clothing, to have an education and to live in peace and freedom. I hope growing up knowing and loving people who live in poverty will make them grateful and generous. I hope it will help them be hard-working and ready to make a contribution to society. I hope they are growing up knowing God loves the poor and we should too.
Western societies seem to be struggling with a younger generation who believe they are entitled to many things – said to be the result of well-meaning parents giving their children everything they want. Toys, books, clothes and food are so cheap and readily available in the UK, it is hard to do otherwise! But I think this is a problem when then people think they are entitled to prosperity, health and long-life. When calamity strikes they think God has let them down, when He never promised those things in the first place.
And more than that, they are missing out on the wonderful things God has promised us. What are toys and clothes in comparison to sacrificial love, perfect peace and eternal joy? These are the things I want my girls to value, and they are available to rich and poor alike. I shall continue to expose my girls to the realities of life, because I think when we serve the suffering, then we meet Jesus. And that, my friends, is amazing.