An Ode to the Well-meaning and the Clueless

As a child of missionaries growing up in the sixties through the late seventies, I have more than a few funny stories about some of the things that were sent our way — clothing and such sent to the “poor missionaries” in Pakistan. This post is an ode to those who sent them – but before you judge my heart and attitude, please read through to the end.

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quilt

You tried so hard!

You went through your children’s clothes, certain that you could find something, anything really, that you could send to the children of missionaries. You pictured the huts we lived in, the threadbare tunics we wore, the lack of stores and supplies.  You thought we would never know the difference between Levis and no name jeans.

You advertised and arranged special drop off times so those clothes could make their way from your basements to our homes, our bodies.

You packed up oatmeal, and flour, thinking that surely we would use these products and be so excited. It never entered your mind that chocolate chips and taco mix were what we craved.

You really did send teabags to the part of the world that invented tea.

You sent pants with no zippers and old-fashioned dresses, all with love and a pure heart. And we mocked with hearts that were mean and not pure.

And I thought you were well-meaning and clueless. And I laughed.

And then I began meeting some of you. And you really didn’t know. You really were giving us gifts from your heart. You were taking time and energy that could have been used in a hundred other ways to care for us so far away.

You put little stitches on big warm quilts and sent them our way so we could be warm. And with each stitch you prayed for us. You prayed. And prayed. And prayed.

When my mother and I went over a cliff in the mountains, with only a barbed wire fence separating us from certain death – you were praying. When my brother got in a near fatal accident in Turkey, you were praying. When we faced illness, and sorrow, and separation, you prayed. When babies died, and boarding school was too hard, and people hurt us, you prayed.

You were so much better than me – with my arrogance and my “well-meaning but clueless” song and dance. You prayed with a fervor and love that I never had. You knew what it was to care for people you had barely met.

I still have two of your quilts. And when I look at them I think of how much I judged – and how wrong I was. And I thank you in my heart. 

29 thoughts on “An Ode to the Well-meaning and the Clueless

  1. Beautiful post, Marilyn, about forgiving cluelessness and choosing to look deeper into those a-bit-off-the-mark tokens of love. I got all choked up reading this. :)

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  2. Yes! Blessed be the dear folks who send sugar and flour (heavy items!) and TP and all sorts of staples around the world to missionaries who are being taught 24/7 by their new culture how to see the world with a new heart.

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  3. I am certain I have participated in sending not-very-helpful gifts to missionaries and “the poor” at different times throughout my life and your ode is such a gracious (and funny) reminder to ask more questions rather than make assumptions, even in our giving.

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    1. Thank you — it goes along with the bigger picture of world-wide aid. Too often Large and Rich countries forget to ask those who are less fortunate what they think would be the best way to assist, forget to involve the community – it’s much the same I think. Although we did get some good laughs out of some of the things we received….!

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  4. I once asked a faraway aunt for a rubiks cube…they were all the rage…everyone fresh back from “furlough” had one but my brother and I didn’t and we thought we’d like one. My aunt sent 6 each! Different kinds, different colours, different sizes! I remember enjoying them but feeling secretly guilty for having asked. My mom never knew we asked for the rubiks cube! Oops!

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  5. Ah… you both made me laugh and feel guilty with this one. I too have been the recipient of clueless-yet-grace-full missionary gift boxes. I remember getting canned goods sent, where the labels had all been removed because the senders where attempting to reduce the weight on the shipment. We played roulette with a can opener, guessing what surprise we might encounter: baked beans or sweet peaches? Canned mackerel or diced tomatoes? We just ate what we opened–breakfast, lunch or dinner.

    I remember in the early 80s one box arrived which contained women’s bloomers! I’d guess they’d seen photos of the ‘immodest’ the bark and leaf dress of the traditional dress of the national women and decided to cover them up! What a sight it was to see women running around topless in long bloomers in the bush (far more distracting than just seeing them in their traditional state of (un)dress.).

    And then the gifts ran from the bizarre to the abundant! One church wrote and asked what my brother and I would like for Christmas gifts. I’d asked for a football–and received 32!!

    Grateful to the good-hearted, clueless ones who kept us reminded we were loved.

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    1. I’m laughing out loud with this one! Oh my gosh – you said what I couldn’t in the post. The Christmas everyone was SO excited to open the package only to find giant containers of oatmeal and flour. The long dresses when short ones were in style, and vice versa; the glass jar of peanut butter that came across the ocean and of course, broke, tiny shards of glass through the creamy Skippy peanut butter….oh we so have to meet and compare notes. But thanks for the laugh.

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  6. This post brought tears and laughter at the same time! And we did get some very nice things given to us, too. You may have been too young to remember, four I think, but a friend with a little girl just the next size bigger than you handed me a huge box with really beautiful outgrown dresses. They had been hardly worn. And I have to add the story about the ladies in one of our supporting churches who had a lingerie shower for me! I was in my 40s, and you would have thought it was a bridal shower as they oohed and aahed and giggled over the sexy nightgowns. I can’t remember it without just loving those women for realizing what I needed in my middle-aged state.
    Clueless they may have been in many areas, but I am most grateful after all these years for how those people prayed for us, and for each of our kids.

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    1. Ohhhh I wish I could remember the dresses! Wait– was one white with giant black flowers.? I remember a frilly one like that. And of course I loved all things froofy and frilly. I thought you’d get this post.

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  7. There was an Iranian mosque next to our house where we could give clothes, they would send them Iran. Though I did not send my clothes as I only wore salwar kameezes in those days, I did send the children’s clothes. My husband thought it was ‘israaf’ (excess which is a sin) of the first order to buy expensive brands for kids, who would then outgrow them in a few months, as the seasons demanded a new wardrobe every six months. We usually bought reasonably priced, but cute clothes for the girls, Sometimes when I read of an earthquake or a particularly severe winter there, I would be glad that something of my kids was keeping someone else’s kid warm.
    We made it a point to give out only clothes which were in a good state and to wash everything before giving it out. If they were worn looking they did not go, but now I think maybe someone would have benefited from that as well. I don’t think I ever thought I was doing a good thing, i obviously could not keep the clothes in the limited space in our apartment and i was always glad that someone would be happy to wear them. I think i was grateful to them for giving a clothes a home and a need and a body. I loved every little thing that touched my children and was a part of their lives. I gave away things which I loved.
    I don’t think I ever thought of them as either hand-outs or hand me downs. They had fulfilled their purpose and now they were on their way to doing the same job elsewhere where they were needed. There is too much waste in today’s world.

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    1. I totally agree that buying brand new isn’t completely necessary – but thread bare reeks of pity and none of us want pity. I like that you gave away things you loved and knew others would benefit. Do they have giveaways like this at the mosque near you in Kuwait?

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  8. Oh. I remember sorting through things that were being sent — I was really young, and I remember someone saying (as they tossed something aside): Harumph, it’s not in good enough condition to give to the poor, so we should send it to the missionaries?

    Honest. That has stuck with me all these years. And, it has kept me very conscious of my own giving. I believe it is a sin to wear something until no one can get any use out of it.

    And yes, a lot of people are clueless. I count myself among them on many a day. And a lot of people just don’t think. (I fall into that category often, too.)

    Sigh.

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    1. Leslianne we all fall into that category more times than we care to think about it. I am just glad that my mom taught us certain things about giving. One of the things was that we never give clothes or food or anything which we cannot wear or consume ourselves. Give that which you love, let someone else enjoy it too.
      We have learnt that the people taking from us are doing us a greater favour then we are doing them, to give unstintingly and generously and to never think about it afterwards. Most of all to respect the person we are giving to and to make them comfortable, so they do not feel ashamed or beholden. Surprisingly my daughters have the lessons down pat and often chide me when they feel that I am lagging.
      What I love about Marilyn’s blog is its total honesty, she is not afraid to be honest and open about everything and neither are the readers.

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    2. Oh that hurts. Really. There was one woman that wrote an entire article on how missionary kids shouldn’t wear Levis because they were too expensive….! One of the things I was able to do later in life was convince a group to buy brand new everything for a family. It was a shining moment. Thank you for your wisdom on bringing it round to self reflection/ examination. Important!

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  9. This post sings with wisdom and understanding and generosity . . . and most of all, it’s about judging and not judging, stereotyping and seeing people, knowing people, for who they really are, and I applaud you and thank you for writing it!!!!!

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    1. Thanks Cathy – It feels like I’ve grown a great deal as I could never have written this post a few years ago! But you see beyond just this situation in the post and that’s really what it is about. I abhor being judged, yet still do it :( Thanks always for reading!

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  10. Yes to this. All of us on our best days live to Christ and let him make up the difference between our meager offerings and glory. On our worst days we start comparing, and we don’t measure up and neither does anyone else. Beautiful, healing words, Marilyn.

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