I can change the world with my own two hands
make a better place with my own two hands
make a kinder place with my own two hands
with my own
with my own two hands
- Ben Harper -
Christmas came and went just as it always does. Months prior to the big day, we spend hours discussing the events and the gifts. What will we give mom? What will we give dad? Will he like it? Will we have time to get it all together? Weeks prior to the big day, we spend hours purchasing gifts and making gifts. Days prior… stressfulness. The house needs to be cleaned, cookies need to be made, one last gift needs to be bought, presents need to be wrapped. Where are the scissors? Don’t we have any scotch tape? Did we get enough gifts? Did we spend enough money? Then the day arrives… a retelling of the birth of Christ with our kids, then food, family and lots of presents. So many presents, in fact, that it seems like half the day is spent opening gifts. Wonderful and thoughtful gifts. Wrapping paper covers the floor and eventually fills multiple trash bags.
The tradition of giving gifts to one another on Christmas is beautiful. What a treat it is to think carefully about the perfect gift for a friend or family member. What joy it brings to watch someone open the present that you spent so much time thinking about and laboring over. Gifts make people smile. This is a very good thing.
On the 26th of December, after the house was cleaned, the mess of new toys had some semblance of order, and the kids were in bed, we sat around the living room with our roommates and reflected on the gift giving tradition. Together, the two families in our house spent about $800 on Christmas gifts. We watched young and old faces light up as gifts were unwrapped. This was truly a delight. But when the day was over, some part of us wondered whether the smiles would have still been plentiful if we had spent $500, $200, $100, or nothing at all. After all, our favorite parts of Christmas are those things that you won’t find online or at the mall: visits from family, laughter, the smell of the Christmas tree, brisk winter air, games, and singing.
We had to spend many hours during the days after Christmas purging our house: getting rid of old toys and clothes to make room for all the new ones. We look at these new toys and clothes (these things that made Carson squeal with joy) and we can’t help but think about all the children in the world who do not have toys or more than a few articles of clothing. We feel so deeply grateful and so profoundly guilty at the same time. Many children do not have houses, education, adequate food, clothing, or water. Why do we get to be so spoiled? Why do we get to live such an easy life while others suffer? And could we really change the world and make a better place with our own two hands?
Our church is sending a team to Nicaragua to dig a clean water well this summer. In some way this feels like it’s changing the world. In the United States we often do not see the devastation that the rest of the world lives with on a daily basis. And because of this we continue living life in a way that we have grown very comfortable with: big houses, fancy cars, new clothes because we’re tired of the old ones, entertainment, restaurants, hot water, green lawns, clean air, health. All the while, every 15 seconds, a child dies from a disease associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene. We can change that. More than half of Central and South America's people lack access to safe drinking water. We can change that. Twelve million people die each year from lack of safe drinking water, including more than 3 million who die from waterborne diseases. We can change that.
So we sit around the living room and reflect on the meaning of Christmas and we can’t help but face some pretty severe challenges. What if next Christmas we took that $800 and, instead of buying gifts, paid for the digging of a well in Central America? We couldn’t finance a well on our own. But it only costs, on average, $3500. So if a handful of families joined together for Christmas and decided to build a well instead of buying as many gifts, we could change an entire village. This may mean less gifts or no gifts for one another but it will mean a lasting gift for our global family.
For us, it’d be a new kind of Christmas. Imagine. Months prior to the big day we spread the word to friends and family. Weeks prior to the big day we put our money together, $3500. Days prior to the big day we await the arrival of family. Then the day arrives… we eat delicious food, we retell the story of the birth of Christ, we laugh, we play games, we sing, we exchange cards or smaller gifts that express our love for one another, we smile. Years after the big day, a village has clean water. A few more children in Central America are healthy and playing together. No longer is it just our family smiling, an entire village is smiling. We wonder if we can change the world drastically if we join our hands together. Maybe it takes more than our thoughts and prayers. Maybe it takes uncomfortable actions and frightening sacrifices.
So, after much hesitation and grief, we feel ready to give up receiving and giving as many gifts at Christmas in order to give lasting gifts to people who have much greater needs. Christmas will not be lost, it will just be different. Next year maybe more people will be smiling as the result of our gifts. We’re hoping to recruit lots of our extended family to join us in cutting their spending at Christmas in half (or altogether) to financially support the digging of a well in Central America.
Let us know if you’d like to join us or what thoughts you have.
Morgan and Nick Zerwas
Maybe some of you have done similar, or perhaps much greater, things. We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or simply fill out the form below.