It was a lovely World Vision event at a beautiful location with delicious food and an inspiring speaker. I was a bit surprised when, during a break in the program, we were all asked to help place school supplies in a backpack for a needy child somewhere in the world. Then we were asked to include a simple note to the child. As I placed notebooks and pencils in the simple canvas backpack, I tried to figure out what to say to some child I’d never meet. I think I wrote something like “Enjoy school” and left it at that before returning to the more formal occasion.
A few months later I was in northern Jordan, meeting children from Syria who had left everything behind to escape the war. Many had come with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. They now lived with their families in small rooms and sometimes even tents as they tried to deal with the new reality of life as a refugee. The bright spot in their day was when they came to a community center where makeshift classrooms provided a chance to continue their schooling.
The so-called Child Friendly Space, sponsored by World Vision, gives the kids a chance to process the trauma they have experienced while continuing to learn. The classes help them catch up or transition so they can eventually enter public school. But most of the kids have no notebooks or school supplies. Most don’t even have toothbrushes or soap. So when they enter the program, they receive a simple canvas backpack, full of necessary school supplies probably packed by someone far away.
These kids who have lost so much are understandably thrilled to have something of their own. They are even happy to see the toothbrush and soap, and glad to be able to come to school with clean faces. They love the notebooks and pencils and erasers. They hold the bright ruler as if it is precious. And then they see the note. Some can read English themselves, others need someone to read it to them. But they all understand. Someone far away cares about them. The person who wrote that note tells them good luck or encourages them to “study hard” or offers a simple wish to enjoy school. For many of the children, the note is the most important thing they receive. They hold it with awe. Some take the note home, where it is displayed prominently on the family’s wall. The entire family takes pride in this simple note from someone far away.
Seeing the value of those notes took me back to the day when I had packed a backpack myself, wondering what I could say to a child I’d never meet. Now I understood. That little note gave joy and hope and dignity to a child who had, for a time, lost everything. It was a vote of confidence and concern; a reminder that even when you and your family feel forgotten, someone far away still cares. It was another reminder that in God’s economy it’s often the smallest things that make the biggest difference.