By Norris Burkes Sept 24 2023
I sent an email to readers a few days ago with this plea:
“A historic girls school has asked Chispa Project to help them establish a library at José Cecilio del Valle located in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
We need your help to raise the needed $5,000.”
A few minutes later I received a reply asking if Chispa Project was “Christ-centered.”
I have to assume the question to be sincere, but my Southern Baptist roots hear judgment.
If you’ve been reading this column for a few years, you know that my daughter Sara started Chispa Project to create small libraries in underserved Honduran schools. And most of you know that Chispa is not about evangelizing those schools.
It feels like my inquisitor wants me to say, “You bet it is! We stock our libraries with boatloads of Bibles, Jesus stories and salvation pamphlets.”
And if that answer will bring a large donation, I might.
Still, I strive to formulate a reply for my examiner.
My mind drifts to one of the first schools the project helped. Prior to Chispa’s arrival, the school library consisted of a dozen books from their teachers’ personal collections. Few were in Spanish and most books weren’t suitable to the children’s reading levels.
The school principal escorted Sara and I into each classroom. Most rooms bulged with 42 students squeezed three-to-a-seat at desks intended for only two students.
Despite the bleak design, the school’s walls sprouted spirit posters boasting of the school’s dedication to reading. The principal led a student-cheer with snapping fingers that emphasized the English translation of the word “Chispa” – spark. During the cheer, the principal told the children that Chispa Project books would spark their education.
Later in the morning, children poured onto the playground. They had no sports equipment, nevertheless, their imagination sparked their made-up games. Kids climbed and dangled from the small soccer goal posts on each side of the playground. They paused occasionally to stare down at the tall, white chaplain watching them from a bench.
Returning to the question, “Is Chispa Project Christ-centered?”
An educational organization doesn’t become “Christ-centered” just because it incorporates theology into its written mission statement. After all, reading is still reading whether you’re reading the Bible or a science textbook. Math is always just math. Add 2+2 and you get the same result whether summed by a Christian, Jew or atheist.
The Christian part, or the “Christ-centeredness,” comes not from the organization, but from the heart of the one serving. A nonprofit needn’t be parochial to be “Christ-centered.” Jesus taught that whenever we help “…someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”
In the six years I’ve been going to Honduras, I can testify that the mission of Chispa Project beats with the heart of Jesus who said, “Let the little children come to me … for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
“Is that what you told him, Dad?” Sara asked.
“I told him that and one more thing.”
Sara was quiet, sensing what was coming.
“I asked him how much he’d be sending,” I added.
Sara shook her head. “I’ve always admired your chutzpah.”
I smiled. “It’s what I like to call “Chispa chutzpah.”
Her groan at the dad joke remains memorable.
Please consider donating online at www.chispaproject.org/girls or sending a check made to “Chispa Project” to 10556 Combie Rd Suite 6643 Auburn CA 95602.
This column excerpted from the Chispa chapter in my upcoming book, “Tell it to the Chaplain.”
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