Baggies of school supplies buoy children in Asian migrant camps
Blue light filters out the door of the first home along the path. The boys duck into this flimsy one-room structure and plop down on the floor.
Bourey Win* flips the baggie stuffed with goodies over and over in an effort to study and see everything inside. Khin San* doesn't have as much patience. He dumps the bag onto his lap. Notebooks, pens, pencils, a ruler, scissors and everything else a child needs for school tumbles out. He lets out a low whistle as Bourey empties his bag as well.
The floor is covered in school supplies.
"Wow!" Khin exclaims. He holds up three notebooks and a fist full of pencils and asks the IMB missionary who followed them, Pamela O'Dell*, if she's sure everything is for him. "It's so much," he says. "I can pick just one."
O'Dell's heart catches in her throat. She knows this is more than migrant children like Khin and Bourey have ever had in their lifetime. Their families fled their home country to escape violent conflicts, and they now survive by working low-paying jobs no one wants. There is no way they could afford even a few items in the packet.
"It's all yours," O'Dell says. "Some children in America sent these gifts just for you."
Khin and Bourey look at her surprised, then bolt out the door to tell anyone still lingering about the good news. O'Dell follows closely behind, joyfully "filling in the blanks."
"It's an answer to prayer," O'Dell explains.
Just a few weeks earlier, O'Dell, from Mississippi, sat with other team members planning parties in migrant camps. For years, this ministry plugged along at a slow pace as workers came and went, migrating from one place to another. This year, things changed as a few of the migrants embraced Jesus Christ and left their Buddhist beliefs.
The ministry team wanted to celebrate this milestone by doing something special but had no budget for gifts. So, they wrote down a "wish list" of what they wanted to give -- notebooks, pencils and pens -- and prayed.
Two days later, O'Dell received a phone call saying some "extra" packets from the Baptist Global Response relief organization had ended up in her country. They wondered if she could find a place to use them. O'Dell and her IMB teammate Nancy Ross*, from Florida, went to investigate.
When Ross, a missionary kid, walked into the storage unit, she was astounded. The Kit for Kids sticker was plastered everywhere -- a logo with which Ross was very familiar. On her family’s last stateside assignment, she helped Vacation Bible School kids from Avon Park Baptist Church gather school supplies for these packets. She knew immediately that God was answering their prayers.
"I remember those VBS kids in Florida coming in so excited about the school supplies they'd picked out to give to kids in other countries," Ross says, holding up an overstuffed multi-colored packet. "I knew each of these had exactly what we prayed for plus a lot of extras that we never dreamed of praying for because of the expense."
Even though the total cost for one of the packets is just $10 in the U.S., that's still far beyond the means of many children living in poverty in Southeast Asia and elsewhere around the world. Money for educational needs is often last priority in migrant families' fight for survival. So, Baptist Global Response challenged Southern Baptists to help equip children with tools needed for an education. Churches and VBS ministries put together 30,000 of the school supply kits and shipped them to 30 different countries.
"I get a little emotional thinking about that little church in Avon Park, Fla., reaching out to the world and how our ministry is receiving that blessing now," Ross says as she and O'Dell sit on a mat in the middle of a migrant camp teaching children their colors. "It's kids helping kids. It's God using kids to meet needs that we didn't even know we'd have but He knew."
O'Dell adds that the packets benefit more than just the children. She motions to 40 adults sitting on mats and listening to a Bible story. The older woman sitting between O'Dell and Ross smiles and excitedly pats the missionaries on their arms as she watches her community hear about Jesus and experience His love through the gift. She's one of the new Christians in this camp.
"She wants us to tell our American friends 'thank you.' She sees this as a way for her village to see Jesus," O'Dell says, then adding on her own behalf, "You might think you gave to a child, but you really gave to an entire village. By giving this gift, we can share Christ. When these migrant workers go back to their home country and share Christ there, your one gift has the potential of reaching thousands.
*Names changed. Susie Rain is a writer living in Southeast Asia. Follow her on assignment through Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SusieRainReporter. Editor's Note: Although Baptist Global Response's Kits for Kids project has come to an end – sending 30,000 school supply kits to 30 countries -- there are still ways to be involved. Through BGR's "Bucket Project," churches or groups can collect items for hospice kits to be distributed through BGR partners working with people affected by HIV/AIDS. For more information, go to http://www.baptistglobalresponse.com/projects/view/hospice_kits.