It was the middle of July, yet I was dressed like an eskimo. I was wearing more layers inside, than I would normally wear outside in December.  And when I talked, my breath became an icy cloud.

It was winter in Chile, and I was there–with my husband, some friends, and a team of incredibly great Jr. and Sr. High students. We were partnering with a church in a suburb of Santiago to reach out to kids in a poor neighborhood. For a week, we would provide art lessons, dramatic readings, and help host a skateboarding competition. We were there to give, only we were to be given so much more.

But, I am getting ahead of myself.

We arrived on a Saturday, so the second day we were there was church day.  We were staying in pairs with families from the congregation. Two by two with our Chilean families, our US team arrived bleary eyed to church, that Sunday morning. We sat with our hosts, waving to each other from our pews. We joined the congregation in singing worships songs that we knew from home; singing in English, as they sang in Spanish.  Then, we listened to the message the best we could, most of us having only a limited Spanish vocabulary. From what I could tell from the congregation’s faces and body language, it was a meaningful service. However, when “church” was over, it was then that I was able to see the real Church in action.

My host family was one of the few from the congregation to have a car, which meant many others walked miles in the cold winter weather to get there for service.  After church, we walked out to the car, only to find our host dad piling us, another family, and a few others, into the car (read that car, not minivan). The Chileans are an incredibly giving people–forget seat belts, people needed a ride home. When everyone was in, and the doors securely closed, off we went. I sat up against the car door, with a person on my lap, trying not to squish the person to my left. We dropped a few people off and then headed to the next home.

From the front seat, our host mom was talking excitedly to her friend in the back, and every now and then, our host sister would translate.  “They are going to join us for…how do you say?… supper?”  (every now and then, she would apologize to me that her English was bad, yet it was much better than my Spanish). The car stopped in front of a row of homes, and everyone in the back seat shifted a little so that our host mom’s friend could get out.  We waited, parked with the engine running.  A few minutes went by, then the woman emerged from her house with a cooking pot and a bag of potatoes in hand. We shifted again, she got back in the car, and off we went, this time to our host home.

When we arrived, we sat in the living/dining room, as our host mom and her friend started cooking lunch.  Amazing aromas began making their way from the kitchen, and before we knew it, lunch was served. These two beautiful women had joined together the food that they had to serve their families and us, a wonderful Sunday meal. Their dinning room table wasn’t huge, but everyone squeezed around it. They didn’t have a lot to give, yet they gave fully.  And what we continued to discover, is that everyone we met in Chile treated us this way.

As we approach Thanksgiving next week, and then the Christmas season, I am reminded of our wonderful Chilean friends. Because we have been in a recession here in the US, we could easily fall into believing that we have little to give to those in need around us. But, from being given to so fully by people who have less material possessions–people who had just met us–I know that even in this difficult time, we have so much to give.  Before we enter the chaotic season of shopping and Christmas parties, I want to ask:

What do you have to give?

Though we can get caught up in getting new “stuff” for the Holiday’s, sometimes what people most need, is what we already have. Do you have time? Can goods in your pantry? A meal that you could share with a family in need? Often, we are the greatest gift we can give to others.

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