“Get away from my children!” I snapped, pushing through the crowd of Bangladeshi beggars.
A girl with open sores on her face tried to touch the stroller. I wrenched it out of her reach. Once again, my boys were wailing. Once again, I raced to the safety of our gated yard, almost in tears myself.
After studying Third World development in graduate school, I’d had big dreams about becoming a second Mother Theresa as we headed overseas. Instead, I was spending most of my time inside the gates of our home, keeping our twins safe. I'd decided it was impossible to help needy people and parent young children at the same time. After all, Mother Theresa had been a celibate -- she didn't have kids of her own to protect. Especially not from trained beggars who descended on wealthy foreigners like a pack of hungry dogs. We weren’t human beings to them; we were walking dollar bills. Besides, we’d been warned not to contribute to the racket of begging, which encouraged the purposeful abuse of children sent out by money-hungry grownups.
One afternoon, as the four of us boarded a rickshaw, the beggars surrounded us again. “Let’s go, Mom and Dad!” our son called out. “Here come those bad people!”
Rob and I rode home in silence, shocked and grieved by the words that had come out of our son’s mouth. We had longed to raise compassionate children. That's partly why we'd decided to raise kids in the Third World. But now one of our four-year-old sons, adept at understanding our true emotions, was echoing hatred he must have sensed in us.
Suddenly, we realized the problem with not “giving to everyone who asks of you,” as Jesus commanded in the Sermon on the Mount. We were being damaged — our hearts were becoming hard and narrow. And our children’s hearts were endangered also. We needed to do something drastic, even if it did mean running the risk of supporting the Bangladeshi begging racket.
Rob went to the bank and brought home crisp two-taka notes, worth about three pennies each. “We’re going to always have these with us,” he said. “And we’re going to give as many away as we can every day.”
We stayed in our neighborhood and avoided tourist spots where professionals targeted foreigners. After all, we weren’t short-term visitors contributing to the exploitation of unknown child beggars; we were residents who could get to know our neighbors and their stories. Miraculously, our lives began to change. I found myself looking forward to our morning walks instead of dreading them. Instead of recoiling from an outstretched hand, the boys and I pounced on a chance to give away another two-taka note. Best of all, our hearts opened up again towards the Bangladeshi people.
Those two-taka notes taught us a lesson about parenting that we’ll never forget. Our kids will scrutinize our attitudes and responses, figuring out who’s worthy of rejection and who deserves hospitality. And when our Lord commanded His followers to give, it wasn't just for the sake of the recipient. Giving as a spiritual discipline has power to protect us -- and our kids -- from the peril of a narrow heart.