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Stephen A. Peterson
It was Christmas Day in Baghdad, Iraq and Army Staff Sergeant Daniel Hurst was visiting an orphanage. The orphanage director informed Sergeant Hurst on how many of the children came to be in her building. “We have mostly very young children. There are a few 9 and 10 year olds. The older children are out on the streets. They do not want to be here. However, when they are unable to obtain food or when they are very sick, they come here. Now Abdul, over here, he came because he has a brother and sister he could not care for by himself.”
“This is interesting, ma’am! I and my soldiers are here to help. Are you able to tell me how many children you have living here?” asked Sergeant Hurst.
“We have 22 children at this time.”
“Good! May I give each of your children gifts? In my country today is Christmas Day. It is, for us, a time of sharing and giving of what we have to others.”
“Yes, I know about Christmas in your country. I went to college in your country. I do know quite a bit about your customs and traditions. You may give our children gifts. You and your soldiers are very kind. Thank you very much!!”
Within a few minutes, the dining room was filled with children. Some children were carried by staff assisted by children capable of carrying and holding the hands of the younger children. Sergeant Hurst’s eyes were fixed on a tall, thin looking boy sitting sullenly apart from the group. As he earlier learned, this was Abdul. Six men from Sergeant Hurst’s unit brought in fourteen bags of neatly wrapped gifts. Each child, young and older, received three boxes. One gift had clothing, another had a warm coat and the last a toy and candy.
Sergeant Hurst watched as Abdul opened a package containing a shirt, trousers, socks and shoes. He saw the mistrust on his face turn to puzzlement. “Was he angry or disappointed, grateful or what?” The next gift was opened. Again a puzzled look passed his face.
A staff worker asked him in Arabic, “Did you like your gifts?”
Sergeant Hurst turned in time to see apprehension melt from his eyes. Abdul fingered his coat then put it on. In a quiet voice replied: “This is the best gift I have ever received. Thank you, soldiers.”
Sergeant Hurst was dumbfounded. He really knew nothing about Abdul’s life. All he knew was that he had come to live at the orphanage. He assumed he had no family except his younger siblings. Abdul ate a piece of the candy then gave the rest to his brother and sister. He gave his toy to a boy who had no legs. The little boy accepted the gift presenting the widest smile Sergeant Hurst had ever seen.
Knowing Abdul’s feelings towards and the sharing of his gifts made this the best Christmas Sergeant Hurst had ever had. Though the children’s orphanage was a quickly constructed building housing children victims of a war, Sergeant Hurst was given a glimpsed of pure gratitude—the heart of a child opened to receiving and giving of gifts given in unconditional love.
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