This story was orginally published on December 23, 2010
In December 1993, a thief broke into our house and stole our Christmas gifts.
My sister and I were sponsored and we received many gifts from our sponsors. Her sponsor was from Australia, and there were kangaroo images printed on all her letters.
Some of the precious gifts we received were mattresses and bedding, school shoes, sports gear, traveling bags, Bibles and utensils.
These, however, attracted the attention of our neighbors in the slum.
Christmas was my happiest day of the year because I had a chance to wear new clothes, sing carols at church, memorize Bible verses, and have a special meal. On that day, my sister and I would wake up very early, take showers, dress into our new clothes from our sponsors’ Christmas gifts, and run excitedly to church.
We always resembled each other and people would mistake us for twins. We were like two little bunnies. A lot of times, people would stop us on the way to church to offer gifts or give us a few coins to put in the offering basket.
But this particular Christmas things were to be different. A thief stole our Christmas clothes inside the only “closets” we had: our traveling bags, just a week before Christmas.
My mother was an early person. I guess she believed the English saying, “The early bird catches the worm.” She woke up that morning to find our door flung open and her box suitcase abandoned outside, by the corner of our house.
Afraid that the thieves may still be in the vicinity, she screamed for help. Her cry woke up all our neighbors. I quickly jumped out of bed and dashed out in response to the screams.
By this time, people had milled around her, trying to catch up on the mishap. All her savings that were securely kept on her suitcase from her small-scale charcoal business were gone.
“Is that all that was stolen?” a neighbor asked.
This question reminded me of the recent Christmas shopping I had done from my sponsor’s Christmas gift. It is the yearly gift every child sponsored with Compassion looks forward to because it is the only time of the year they get to see the city as they shop.
For most children, it is the only time they get to buy a new thing for themselves unless during the year the sponsors send a birthday gift or a family gift.
In all my sponsorship experience, I received two gifts outside of the Christmas gifts. So Christmas gifts were precious “manna” from God.
Of course I wanted more, but I was still grateful for the many other things my sponsor took care of. I quickly ran back into our house to check on my Christmas clothes. They were gone. I was the saddest kid at that moment.
I ran back to my mother yelling in frustration, “They also stole my Christmas clothes.”
My heart sank at the imagination of how much my Christmas would be different. I would not dress in my new clothes. I was mad at the thief. I hated life at the slum. I felt like my life was over.
Now I would have to recite the Christmas memory verses at church in old clothes. I was depressed, momentarily.
Realizing how deeply affected I was, my mother consoled me by asking that I help sell charcoal, and then she would buy me other clothes with part of the profit we may make. This lifted my spirits.
We sold charcoal to the community, but there were so many similar businesses all over the slum. It was going to be hard to make a “good kill” in seven days.
I had to devise new ways to corner the market. I had to do something. An 11-year-old marketer was born.
By this time, we had a great camaraderie with my mother and always negotiated things. I suggested that we drop our price per unit by 50 cents to increase sales. She agreed.
Fifty cents in those days could get a child 10 candies. That’s too many sweets for a slum child, to whom candies are a luxury and out of reach. I had to research the times people bought charcoal and what routes they used and who went to the market — child or adult — and find ways to advertise our new rates.
In most slums, children run all the errands. Unlike in middle-class families or the wealthy, where shopping is done periodically, poor people, because of unpredictability of incomes, get their basic needs by the minute.
Some days we would wait for dinner as late as midnight because our debtors were also delayed at their income source. It is funny, but at 10 at night you would see many children outside their houses fanning charcoal burners to prepare dinner.
Some nights, we would be asleep and someone would knock at our door for charcoal.
The countdown to Christmas was on and I had to make things work. I came up with two messages: “Fifty cents off to every adult” or “Free candy to every child” who purchases from us.
Every time I saw an adult or a child with a charcoal bag, I would intercept them and give the offer. I sacrificed my play time to sell “our product.” I gained business skills from this experience.
Meanwhile, in the mornings and at nights, we prayed for the thief but also thanked God for the business tide we enjoyed.
By the fifth day, I was confident I would have new clothes.
Then God did a miracle: A woman came running to our business and amid uncontrollable emotions and said, “I have seen some abandoned bags at a bush near our house and I think it may be the things stolen from you.”
We quickly ran to check on this lead, and two green traveling bags lay by the bush behind her house. I opened the inside of the bags and my brand-new Christmas clothes were inside.
Everybody was amazed. News spread all over the slum that we had found our clothes. What a joy I had in my heart to have found my Christmas clothes again!
Many people in the slum believed that one cannot steal church property, because they knew we got our clothes from the church.
That Christmas our business improved, I wore my new clothes to church on Christmas like all the other children, my mother bought herself for the first time a Christmas dress with the profit we made from her charcoal business, and I wrote a cheerful letter to my sponsor telling him how exciting that Christmas miracle was.