The Art of Giving | My Family Travels
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Stepping off the bus, I was hit hard with the hot August air and the smell of burning forests miles away. I looked around this small, forgotten village in the Russian countryside and sensed the sharp contrast between the air-conditioned bus that we had just arrived in and the neglected houses of the village. Peeling paint and holes patched with pieces of metal marked the small, humble homes of these resilient families. The well that rested in the middle of the village indicated that running water, let alone modern technology, had not yet arrived.

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I was travelling with a small group from my hometown of Holland, Michigan, to give out fleece blankets and encouragement to the people of Murom, Russia. We had visited an orphanage the day before where the blankets were readily received by the excited children. But this was different. Our plan was to go through this neglected village and give blankets to anyone who answered the door or who we saw on the street. As we knocked on the first door, curiosity stirred inside me. I had no idea what to expect. What would the Russian people think of a group of Americans invading their village? Would they be willing to talk with us? Would they accept the gift of blankets we had brought?

All these questions were answered when the first woman answered her door. She greeted us with a smile and graciously accepted the blanket we offered her. My dad asked to take her picture so that we could show our friends back home what we did in Russia. Shocked and flattered, the elderly woman blushed as my dad took her picture.

Door after door, the people were home, talked with us, and gladly accepted the blankets we offered them. Working our way through the village, I could see that we were drawing near an elderly woman sitting on a bench.

We approached her and offered our gifts. Much to my surprise, she refused the blanket. I looked at her worn dress and shoes, then up at her home – a small shack not much bigger than our garage. She told us that there were many wildfires burning on the Russian countryside, and that there were people that needed blankets more than her. She said that we should give our blankets to those who needed them. By American standards, she had nothing, yet she would not accept something as small as a blanket because she knew that there were others that needed it more than her. I was in shock.

I went to Russia to give away blankets and hope, yet it was the blanket not accepted that gave me hope. 

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