Yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. There were many events across the U.S. to commemmorate the man who made such important strides in the civil rights movement. There were also a lot of quotes in my Facebook feed attributed to this great man. Quotes about love vs. hate, quotes about justice, quotes about a vision for a better future.
Two days ago, I got back from Ecuador. I took a trip there with Compassion International to visit the villages where Compassion has a presence. Donors in the U.S. pay $38/month to sponsor a child. With these funds, Compassion has partnered with local churches to have after-school programs where kids get tutoring and a nutritious meal. They get regular check-ups and vaccines. Their family gets a basket of food every month. If a child has to go to the hospital, Compassion asks the parents to try to pay for 10% of the bill, and Compassion picks up the rest.
I got to hear from kids who are now in their early 20’s, who were sponsored as children. They talk about the amazing difference the program made in their lives. Without being sponsored, these kids would’ve ended up living in mud huts — or, if they were lucky, a two or three-room concrete house that measures less than 700 square feet. They would’ve dropped out of school after 6th grade. They may have died from malnutrition or other preventable causes of childhood mortality.
But now, because they got good nutrition and medical care and after-school tutoring, they’ve finished high school and are on their way to finishing college. One girl is going on to med school.
It was a five hour bus ride to get from Quito to Riobamba, where the poorest villages in this region are located.
On the ride back, I started talking to our trip leader, who works for Compassion. I told him that it seemed like a no-brainer for people in the U.S. to forego a latte a week or downsize their cable options or make dinner at home instead of going out or — well, anything — to sponsor a child or two.
“Why don’t more people sponsor kids?” I asked.
He said sometimes it was because they didn’t feel a sense of urgency. And sometimes, because they were busy calculating the personal cost instead of thinking about it from a sponsored child’s perspective.
And that’s when I remembered one of my favorite MLK, Jr. quotes. A quote that challenged me when I was calculating the personal costs of giving the proceeds from my book away to the Somali family I wrote about. A quote that challenged me when I was in my attorney’s office, signing a will that gives my house to the Somali girls’ trust fund when I die. A quote that led me to sell all my stuff and hit the road so I could travel and speak about God’s compassion.
MLK, Jr. said, “The first question that the priest asked was, ‘If I stopped to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed this question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?'”
The day after we’ve celebrated and quoted MLK, Jr., maybe it’s time to start living like him. Maybe it’s time to start thinking about what will happen to others if we don’t help them instead of being so selfishly concerned about what will happen to us. Maybe it’s time to have the courage to be uncomfortable, to live without the cozy safety net we’ve constructed for ourselves, so others can live, too.
Maybe it’s time to be the protagonist in someone’s story, the one who stops and helps the person lying by the side of the road, instead of the antagonist who looks away and crosses to the other side of the street.
If you’re inspired to make a difference, guess what? You can do it today.
If you’d like to sponsor a child with Compassion, click here.
If you’d like to donate to the Invisible Girls’ trust fund, click here.
If you’d like to buy a copy of The Invisible Girls, click here.