How Do You Wrap A Christmas Goat?
by Kay Marshall Strom
I had just started working on my book Harvest of Hope: Stories of Life-Changing Gifts, when I met public school teacher Mrs. Smith. As soon as I heard her story, I knew I had the perfect ending for my book.
Mrs. Smith, informed over the summer that she would be teaching first grade instead of fifth, had scrambled to catch up with the new curriculum, including a month-long social studies unit on Africa. She found many interesting ideas and activities included, but nothing on how to teach her students compassion. The first week of school, she happened upon a newspaper article about an organization that helped families in the impoverished West African country of Niger become self-sufficient though gifts of animals. Perfect! Mrs. Smith thought. Even first-graders can raise $35 to buy a goat.
So she put it to her students. “What do you think? It’s your decision. If you choose to do this, you will vote on everything.”
The next morning, money started coming in. “I cleaned my room,” Jessie reported as she handed over a quarter.
“I swept the walk,” said Michael. He had 35 cents in dimes and nickels.
And so it continued, day after day. Whether a penny or a dollar bill, everyone in the class clapped and cheered as each contribution clinked into the basket. Every day the children counted out the money and joyfully charted the rising total.
Three weeks later, on back-to-school night, Mrs. Smith announced to the roomful of parents and kids that the project was successful. The children had already raised enough money to buy a goat!
Over the cheers, one little voice yelled out, “Let’s get a lamb next!” Mrs. Smith explained that the project was over, but what could she do? The kids were already voting. They would get a lamb and name it Daisy.
Every day the children brought more money. By the end of October, they had paid for Daisy. Despite Mrs. Smith’s protests, the class voted to buy another lamb and call it Sarah. Mrs. Smith offered to match whatever money the children actually earned. The kids were meticulous in their accounting: “25 cents for making my bed, so that can be doubled. Mom gave me the other 25 cents, so that can’t be doubled. 25 plus 25 is 50, plus one more 25. That makes 75 cents for Sarah the lamb!”
The children found Niger on the globe. They wrote reports about the country. They exchanged letters with children in a school there. By Thanksgiving, they had paid for Sarah the lamb.
The children wanted to get another animal, but which one? “Maybe a donkey,” Erik suggested. But it cost $75.
“Well, we can’t get the camel!” Elizabeth said. “It costs $400. We can’t earn that much!” Mrs. Smith readily agreed. But she had said the children would make the decisions. They voted to get both animals.
The next day Jessie brought a quarter and two nickels. “I found them under the cushions of our couch,” she said. Everyone rushed home that afternoon to search under their own cushions, and the next day they came back with handfuls of change. All except James. He had a five-dollar bill. “I found my dad’s nail clippers under the cushion and he gave me this for a reward!”
When Rachel dropped in a dollar the following day, she explained, “My tooth came out last night. I got this from the tooth fairy.” As the kids counted that day’s profits, they all wiggled their own teeth.
Still, after all the money they had raised for the goat and the two sheep, $75 was a lot. And then there was the camel. . . “I don’t think we can do it,” Jessie said.
“Let’s sell popcorn at lunch time!” Luke suggested.
Using their newly learned math skills, the children figured that it cost 10 cents to make a bag of popcorn. If they sold that bag for 15 cents, each bag would put a nickel in the donkey bank.
“But if we sold each bag for a quarter,” Elizabeth said, “we would earn 15 cents!”
“Yeah,” said Erik. “And if we got our moms to give us the popcorn, we would make even more!”
The first day, they sold 150 bags of popcorn before they ran out. The big kids who were left popcorn-less booed the befuddled little ones. That day the first graders learned a valuable lesson in supply and demand. So the next day they made 400 bags of popcorn. They sold them all. All week the children sold popcorn, earning them a grand total of $350. Enough to pay for the donkey and the camel, which they called Bumpy.
“A goat, two sheep, a donkey and a camel,” Mrs. Smith told her class. “This reminds me of the very first Christmas.” Who would have thought that a social studies unit could have knocked ajar a Southern California public school door well known to be locked and firmly bolted?
In several Christmas-bedecked homes, a strange phenomenon emerged. Moms and dads peeked at their first-graders’ Christmas letters to Santa and found this request: An animal for Niger.
Besides the money for the animals, the first graders also raised enough to send school supplies for every child in the Niger school where they exchanged letters. (Mrs. Smith had tried to talk them out of so bold a venture, but once again the children voted her down.)
Ahhh, a lesson in compassion well learned!
How do you wrap a goat for Christmas? With kindness. And with love. And with the faith of a child.
Adapted from Harvest of Hope: Stories of Life-Changing Gifts, by Kay Marshall Strom.
Author Kay Marshall Strom is a writer and speaker with a heart for the world-wide family of God. She has authored 42 books, many with a global reach. Her writing credits include numerous magazine articles, prize-winning screenplays, curriculum, books for children, and writers’ helps. Her work appears in many compilations, including various editions of the NIV Devotional Bibles. More and more her writing is taking her to the far corners of the world. Kay and her husband Dan Kline make their home in Eugene, Oregon.