In The Carol of the Drum, the little boy’s dilemma is juxtaposed to the glory of the hoped-for King of Israel. The aspiring young percussionist is too poor to honor the king with a suitable gift. What can he do? He plays his drum for the baby Jesus. He plays “his best for him” and the baby “smiles” in return. The simple moral: riches do not matter. If we bring the best of who we are, our gifts will be magnified.
Applying this lesson to my own life—and to the work of these weekly posts—it sometimes feels like the best of what I can offer to you and to the weary world is the gift of words. So, in the spirit of giving that is central to the season, I share two stories from my recent trip to Pakistan in the hope that in your hearing, this gift may also be magnified.
Upon arriving in Islamabad, I was greeted by my hosts from the Center for Social Education and Development (CSED). In a conversation with Advisory Board member Zaheeruddin Dar, he told me about a class he was teaching to young rural Pakistani women—I think it was in the field of management sciences—and how he had given the students starter kits of seed packets as a graduation gift. The young women dutifully planted the seeds and nurtured the herbs and vegetables as they sprouted on their humble stoops.
At harvest, the women sold their produce to grateful neighbors, germinated new seeds and began a sustainable business. And an interesting by-product resulted: the sight of the flowers growing in the village softened the ambiance; the women found a new level of esteem within the community and incidents of domestic violence diminished.
This simple gift resulted in a lasting return that was more than economic. It added beauty to the world. Kindness flourished. Respect increased. Violence subsided. Hope was kindled. The gift was magnified.
As my trip to Islamabad ended, I was checking out of my hotel when a man behind the counter—whom I had never met before—proclaimed, “Mr. Chase, I know you. You were in that video!”
I was sure he was mistaken, so I asked him: “What video?”
And he responded, “the one with Shanzae Asif.”
Sure enough, I was in a video with Shanzae. I had met her several years before during one of our UPIC trips to Pakistan. A student at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, she so impressed with her skills, that she earned an internship at Intersections in New York City. There, she learned about an amazing program called KidSpirit that produces internationally known award-winning publications by and for young people ages 11-18. KidSpirit had several editorial boards throughout the US and overseas, but none in Pakistan. Shanzae helped organize one in Lahore and another in Karachi.
So I asked him, “Do you know Shanzae?”
“No,” he replied. “She was just here at a conference and showed the video about KidSpirit. I was impressed with it and saw you.” (You can see the video here.)
My unexpected exchange with the man behind the hotel desk reminded me again of the interrelatedness of the world and how we never know how the gifts we share—whether they be words, gifts of seedlings or small gestures of generosity—can be received and then magnified once they are shared. It seemed fitting that these experiences happened in Pakistan—half a world away and a place so often disparaged by the US media.
As a 21st century American Christian, I am often challenged to find connections between the birth of the Prince of Peace and the chaotic complexities of our fractured world. As a writer, I find that my words seem to tear and strain on the page as I try to craft stories about ideas and experiences that instruct and inspire. Yet, I carry on—as did Mary and Joseph who sought a place of shelter for their coming newborn even as there was no room at the inn. In Pakistan, I was reminded that if I am attentive, I can witness the human connections that bind us in ways we never could have imagined. I am again filled with the hope that the season brings. God is good.
So, from our house to yours in this season of giving, may these stories magnify your understanding of generosity and grace that abounds even in places where we sometimes have forgotten to look.
One thought on “Gifts of the Season”
Inspiring story, Bob…it reminded me of some of my first visits to what was then the USSR, and later to Palestine and Gaza. Those who have the right and opportunity to travel sometimes don’t realize how important personal contact is to those who lack that opportunity. I have since encountered a few of those whom I met years ago when in Geneva and attending ecumenical meetings. Others I now remember only in my prayers. Travel and international friendships are frequently a blessing to both parties.