by Darrell Darnell
Yesterday I was asked to identify the best gift I’d ever received. I had a hard time coming up with an answer. I mean, it was easy to think of gifts that I’ve received that meant a lot or left a lasting memory. But coming up with a gift that exceeded all the others was quite a difficult task. For that level of esteem, a gift needs to represent something beyond the ordinary. Even after I came up with my answer and felt good about it, I still felt like it wasn’t really fully representative of the type of gift that bears the title, “Greatest Gift of All Time.”
If someone were to ask me that same question today, just 24 hours later, my answer would be totally different and it would be unquestionably worthy of such a title. So what is this wonderful, highly esteemed, second-to-none gift that I received today? It was a simple batch of bananas.
Today I visited the home of a very poor Guatemalan family. Along with my daughter Addi and our team leader Nick, I helped install a stove for this family. They cheerfully guided us to their home and invited us in. If you’ve never witnessed one of these poor Guatemalan homes, it’s hard to imagine. The floors were all dirt. Their dog was kept immediately to the left just inside the front door. Further in was an umbrella. It looked like it might have been used for collecting rain water, but I couldn’t tell for sure. Wait. How can an umbrella collect rainwater inside a home? For a home that has no roof, such things are possible. Also strung about this area were a few ropes that are used for drying laundry in the sun.
On the other side of this open area was their previous “stove.” This stove really looked more like what most of us would call a barbecue grill. It was built up with brick, had an area to build a fire, and had a thick set of bars on it, similar to the type of bars that make up a grill you’d see at a park in the United States. A small piece of sheetmetal was set up above the grill to provide a tiny bit of protection from the sun and rain.
Off to the side of the open area were two other areas. One of them was a cinderblock room that actually had a few cabinets inside. This looked like it was used to store all sorts of items including some food and dishes. To the side of that room was a cleared out space, open on one side to the elements, flanked on two sides by sheetmetal walls, and bordered on the fourth side by the cinderblock wall of the storage room. This space, as the homeowner told me, was to be their new, cocina, their new kitchen. The cocina already had a few things that many of our kitchens or dining rooms have, like a table and chairs. Off in the corner, resting upon the dirt floor were all the pieces needed for us to build the stove.
Nick and I got busy building the stove while Addi played with their 2 year old son, Dani Alexandro. Interacting with the family and playing with the children is a very important component of what we’re doing, and Addi is gifted at it. Nick and I set each of the cinder blocks ensuring that they are level, and then put in el horno and la plancha. El horno will house the fire and distribute the heat. La plancha is the stove top. It’s made of concrete, clay, and steel. It’s very heavy and provides three burner areas to cook on as well as turning the entire cooking surface into a griddle that can be used to cook tortillas or other items.
Today was a monumental day for this family. This stove will enable them to cook without breathing in harmful smoke. It will require much less wood to create each meal and it will retain heat for much longer periods of time, giving the family heat and the ability to keep warm water for extended periods of time. It will enable them to save significant time collecting wood and allow them to spend that time on more beneficial things.
I’m sure you can imagine that these families are extremely gracious and grateful for these stoves. To get the stove, they’ve had to save and pay about $15-$20 US dollars. That may sound like nothing to you or I, but for a family that lives on a dollar per person per day, this represents a significant investment. These families are poor beyond what we can imagine. Some of them only have running water two days out of the week. Besides living in a dirt floor house with sheetmetal walls and roofs, they live very hard lives. They have almost nothing.
As Nick and I were installing the chimney, something amazing happened. The family presented us with a gift. Of course, you already know that the gift was a bunch of bananas.
I couldn’t believe it. I had to choke back tears. This family who has so little, this family who scrapes by from meal to meal, gave us food. They didn’t give to us out of their abundance. They didn’t give us their left overs. They didn’t give us hand me downs. They gave to us out of their poverty. They gave to us out of their gratitude. They gave to us out of love. They gave to us out of sacrifice.
All my life I’ve heard the story from the Bible of the widow who presented her offering of 2 mites unto the Lord and her gift was received above larger gifts because hers was given out of her poverty and faith. Never have I witnessed such a selfless and sacrificial gift…until today. And it is the greatest gift I’ve ever received. They have taught me a powerful lesson about giving and inspired me to follow their Christ-like example. I doubt I will ever see this loving family again, but their impact on my life and the lessons they’ve taught me will never be forgotten.