By Colleen Burroughs
I’m not sure when it began or which year my children started coming home asking for an elf. It turns out there is a way to write Santa and request one of his helpers to come spend the holiday with your family. On Christmas Eve your personal elf returns home to the North Pole with a promise to come back the following season.
The elves are epidemic at school. You can’t drop a kid off or pick one up without an elf or two along for the ride. They each come with names and different rankings within the kingdom of Santa’s workshop. There are worker elves and shelf elves. Everyone chit chats in carpool about what adventure his or her elf had been up to the night before.
It seems to me that Christmas time is right when Santa would need his elves the most, and don’t parents have enough to do without a “helper” that rummages through the pantry opening all things related to sugar or toilet papers a room while the kids are at school?
Still, the subject of an exchange student from the North Pole has come up annually, and we finally caved. We know the innocence of youth doesn’t last long, and all-too-soon our twins will be teenagers, completely uninterested in childhood mystery and wonder.
Our kids wrote Santa a specific request for a “nice elf.” Her name is Larissa. She stays home and sleeps the day away — or she gathers up the baby Jesus from all the nativities around the house and tries to feed them candy when we aren’t looking. My kids love this about Larissa. She’s sneaky.
Still, as my family sleeps snug in their beds at four o’clock in the morning, I am wide awake. I read an article the other day that won’t let me sleep.
Half a world away in Zimbabwe there is a father who has just lost five of his children within a 48-hour period. The kids were playing in the streets one day, began throwing up at midnight and within two days they were dead. Just like that.
How is it that my children’s world is infested with elves and theirs is infected with an epidemic of cholera? And what in the world can I do to bridge the gap of extreme poverty fueled, in Zimbabwe’s case, by a corrupt leader?
In a Dec. 11 New York Times article, Celia W. Dugger wrote: “The outbreak is yet more evidence that Zimbabwe’s most fundamental public services — including water and sanitation, public schools and hospitals — are shutting down, much like the organs of a severely dehydrated cholera victim.”
With untreated national water systems, under-serviced sanitation and neglected sewers –coupled with an official inflation rate of 231 percent — Zimbabwe’s people are dying.
Children are showing up to school today hoping against hope that their long unpaid teachers will return again. The teachers can’t afford the bus fare, much less the luxury of working for free. These children are losing any future possibility of pulling themselves out of the hole of poverty, should they actually survive into adulthood.
Just like my children, each of the children in Zimbabwe has a name. The father in the article came home to an unusually silent welcome and found that Prisca, Sammy, Shantel, Clopas and Aisha had died. Playing one day, gone the next.
Unlike our Christmas elf, these children will not be coming back to play again. Nor will their father hear them laugh like I will hear my children laugh this morning, running downstairs to find where Larissa has hidden baby Jesus swiped from the manger.
Today my children will head out the door to school where a teacher will be waiting to teach them to read, just like I did just over three decades ago as a missionary kid in Zimbabwe. The water in their drinking fountain will be clean and there will be toilets that flush.
There are plenty of places on the planet where the government is not being destroyed by men like Robert Mugabe. Global water poverty means that 2.5 billion people lack access to clean drinking water or safe sanitation. The harsh reality is that every 15 seconds a child dies somewhere around the globe because a preventable waterborne disease drains them of fluid.
All I know for sure is that if I’m willing to justify investing in wonder and mystery for my own children this Christmas, surely the very least I can do is stop and offer clean water to someone else’s.
Here are ways to give water:
— Water for Hope: A Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Initiative: Providing Safe Water in Jesus’ Name.
— Sponsor a child through World Vision.
— Donate a gift through WaterAid.
— Give water for Christmas by donating to Watering Malawi, a project of Passport, Inc.