A lesson in generosity from my year in Mexico
I was standing near the front entrance to the office when I glanced to my right and saw her. A light breeze was kicking up dust, which swirled around her as she approached across the barren dirt parking area accompanied. A black dog pranced around her, going this way and that.
It felt surreal, like a scene from a movie. Her eyes were fixed on mine now, and I had to wait till she reached me to see what it was about.
My wife and I had gone to work at an orphanage in Mexico that Fall after graduating from Bible school. We saw a need and sought to help. The staff was small, the needs of 120 children were great.
So as I watched the old woman approaching, wearing a black sweater, a shawl over her head, I wondered where she came from and what she was doing here.
As she drew near she held out her wrinkled hand to me with something folded there. I took it and unfolded a weathered 500 peso note, the equivalent of five dollars in U.S. currency.
“For the children,” she said in Spanish. She smiled, nodded and turned to walk away.
“Gracias,” I said hastily.
I immediately went to find the orphanage director, first to give him the money, but also to inquire about the woman.
His face brightened. Yes, he knew the woman. He said we should buy her some groceries and visit her, that I might be impressed.
The following afternoon we drove the orphanage pickup down a dirt trail to the old woman’s stick house. The village was comprised of a half dozen structures made from various castoff materials, sticks, boards, cinder blocks, sheet metal. I don’t know if she was surprised, but she was grateful for the bag of groceries we brought with us.
Her one-room home was smaller than the bedroom I grew up in back in New Jersey. It had a bed, a small cooking area and a workspace upon which were miscellaneous sewing materials like thread, scissors, cloth. I remember some shiny green silk-like material with needlepoint designs on it.
The orphanage director said she was 108 years old. I doubted it, though probably no one really knew. I could see, though, that she was very old.
She was still working, kept herself busy. She sewed designs on pillow cases which someone else would sell for her in Monterrey. In this way she provided for herself, her son who lived in the slightly larger house next door, and grandchildren. Her son, in his 70s, lay in bed in the dark all day because he was dying.
The old woman believed in tithing a portion of what she earned. That is why she brought money to the orphanage that day, to help the children. Perhaps God brought her that day to teach me a lesson on giving and what it means to be generous.