Last night, the World Vision bloggers arrived in Guatemala! We're here to see firsthand how World Vision’s work helps transform the lives of children, families, and communities through child sponsorship. Caleb Wilde, a funeral director and one of our eight bloggers, invites you to join him in empathy for children in Guatemala.
The post below originally appeared on Caleb’s blog, Confessions of a Funeral Director.
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A couple years ago, we had a late night house call. We drove up to the house, and an uncle came outside to meet us, explaining the situation we were about to enter.
“You guys are here for my niece, Sara. She’s 16 years old. Been fighting cancer for four years. She’s in the living room with her mother, Joan.”
We entered the house, walked to the living room, and were greeted by about 20 family and friends that were scattered all over the living room, some sitting and some standing, others lying on the floor.
When a terminal person is dying under home care, it’s normal for a hospital bed to be temporarily set up in a large room, enabling larger groups to visit the dying. In this case, the bed was in the living room, but the deceased wasn’t to be found lying on it, which was very unusual. We allowed them time to explain who Sara was, what she meant to them. All families need this time. They need to believe that through their stories Sara would be incarnated in us, so that we could love her the same…so that we could become a part of their family. Once we’re a part of “the family,” we no longer represent a cold funeral director, but a tender caregiver.
After their stories, we asked them if they were ready for us to make our removal. They all had said their last “good-bye.” And then we asked, “Where is Sara?”
“She’s here,” said Joan, the mother. And then we saw her. When we first walked into the living room, we saw a small girl being held by Joan. The girl looked to be around 10 years old, and being that it was late we just assumed that this was one of Sara’s younger sisters who had fallen asleep in Joan’s arms. But, it turned out, Sara had died in her mother’s arms, and there she lay.
Like the transfer of a sleeping child from one adult to the next, I got down on my knees, slide my arms under Sara’s head and thighs, lifted her starved body out of her weeping mother’s lap, and carried her to our stretcher. The room was full. Full of love. Full of grief. Full of tears. And I was a part of it all.
I tell you this story because I want to make a distinction between empathy and sympathy. Let me explain the difference:
“Imagine being at the bottom of a deep, dark hole. Peer up to the top of the hole and you might see some of your friends and family waiting for you, offering words of support and encouragement. This is sympathy; they want to help you out of the pit you have found yourself in. This can assist, but not as much as the person who is standing beside you; the person who is in that hole with you and can see the world from your perspective; this is empathy.” —Dr. Nicola Davies
There are times (at funerals especially) when all we can give is sympathy -- when it’s outside of our ability to fully empathize with a person’s situation. But, there are other times when you can’t help but be drawn into the narrative, so that you become a character in the story. Not just a narrator, but an actual character in the drama of life and death.
Too often, when child sponsorship programs like World Vision attempt to gain your support, they appeal to your sympathy. “Look at this poor, starved, naked child as he picks food out of the dumpster. His distended stomach looks like a balloon and those flies around his face are the only friends he has.” Sympathy appeal, expected to make you go, “O.M.G. If I only spend $40 a month I can give him some rice and…maybe I’ll send him an iPad for Christmas.”
And sympathy works; it creates donors.
But I want to invite you to empathy.
Mother Teresa said, “Do you look…at the poor with compassion? They are hungry not only for the bread and rice; they are hungry to be recognized as human beings.” This “recognition” involves more than food. It involves education, health care, economic development, spiritual care, and food, agriculture, and clean water.
All recognition factors that World Vision does in Guatemala and abroad.
This week, I’m going with World Vision to Guatemala to visit a child that I sponsor. And I want you to sponsor a child as well. In fact, my goal is to have 50 children sponsored by you, my readers.
So, I’m inviting you to empathy. I’m not selling you something or playing on your sympathy. No, I want you to get down on your knees, look into the eyes of someone you don’t know, learn about them, and walk with them as they grow.
Enter a story.
Help a child in need. Consider sponsoring a child in Guatemala today.
Follow the Guatemala bloggers this week as they gather firsthand stories of the children, families, and communities whose circumstances have been changed for the better by World Vision’s sponsorship programs.