Seven-year-old Melanie Ayala had the task of collecting the mail every day, sorting the letters, and distributing them to family members in their home in the U.S. state of Georgia.
Her parents, Osvaldo and Yaime Ayala, promised to pay her every day and, if she saved her earnings, match the total amount so she could buy herself a birthday gift when she turned 8.
Melanie is a smart girl, and she understood the benefits of working and saving her money. She saved her money with great enthusiasm throughout 2015 as she waited for her birthday to roll around in February 2016.
Then the person in charge of the children’s story at the Atlanta First Hispanic Church in Tucker, Georgia, did something different on a Sabbath in early December. She told a short story about the joy of giving and explained that the church members would not be bringing Christmas gifts to church that year. Instead they would collect money to buy gifts for children in an impoverished church in the Dominican Republic.
Melanie and the other children always looked forward to Christmas because the gifts that the church members usually bought to church were very nice. I saw Melanie listening carefully to everything that was said. I doubted that she and the others understood the sacrifice that they were being asked to make. But children seemed to agree to the plan.
Later that day during lunch, Melanie announced to her parents, “I would like to donate all the money I’ve saved during the year so the children in the Dominican Republic can have nice Christmas presents.”
Her father was surprised. He explained that she would not be able to buy a special birthday present for herself because she would not receive any matching money if she gave it away now. He asked her to think about the matter carefully.
But Melanie answered with certainty, “I know that if I give something to Jesus, He gives me something back.”
Her father, not wanting her tender faith to be disappointed, said things might not work the way she imagined. Jesus would bless her for sure, he said, but probably in a different way than she expected. He insisted that she think more about her decision.
But Melanie seemed certain of what she wanted to do. She put all her savings in an envelope and brought the gift happily to church the following Sabbath.
After Christmas, the church received photos of the Dominican children with their gifts. The pictures were shown during the children’s story time.
In February, Melanie’s birthday came, and she received no gift from her parents. Her father and mother honored what they had told her when she decided to give her money to the poor children, and they only gave her some candy. As loving parents, they were afraid that she would regret her act of generosity.
However, to Melanie’s surprise, a package with her name arrived that morning. Opening it, she found a beautiful dress with a matching coat. A church member who knew about her good deed had decided to send her the gift.
Melanie was very happy.
“It is the most beautiful gift I have ever received,” she said.
To her, the clothing was a blessing. But her father was less impressed. He appreciated the gesture from the woman from church, but he was not convinced that it was a blessing from God.
Melanie went to school that day. She knew it was customary to celebrate a child’s birthday in the classroom. But the surprise that she received was unexpected. Her classmates waited for her at the door with a crown. No child had been honored to receive a crown before. Her classmates put the crown on her head and led her to the nicest party with the most presents that she had ever seen in her class. When Melanie arrived home, she kept repeating that this was the happiest birthday of her life. She continued receiving gifts for two days.
This story was a lesson for her parents — and for me personally — who did not believe that the children understood what they were being asked to do at Christmas.
God asks His people to be like children and to put their complete trust in Him. He says, “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done” (Proverbs 19:17, NIV). Also, He admonishes, “Test me in this and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (Malachi 3:10, NIV).
Melanie understood. And God blessed her.
Mariel Lombardi is a customer service and accounts manager at the Southern Union Revolving Fund.