A few days back after trimming my front evergreen bushes I sauntered out to my back yard behind the shed where I keep my large brown plastic all-purpose trash bin. Outside of spring and fall, I rarely use it, but since the shrubs were getting a bit ragged looking, I knew it was time to cut and rake.
When I leaned down to pick it up, I was startled by a little waif starling flopping around on the bottom. Poor thing must’ve fallen from its mama’s nest in the tree above. But I don’t think it had tumbled in just the past day or two, for the floor of the can was spattered nearly white with droppings. My guess is the mother had been swooping in to try and feed the little one in hopes to get it strong enough to eventually flap wildly and perhaps gain the altitude to scale the slick three-foot circular wall.
Seeing its predicament I gently turned the preformed prison on the side and then slightly angled it so the tyke would slide down into the compost heap of old leaves and grass clippings I keep back there. When I pulled the tub away I looked down at this helpless creature staring up at me and cheeping with its head slightly cocked. I don’t think it knew to be scared. I had a rake so I flipped it around and ever so lightly nudged the fella with the handle trying to see if it might extend its wings. It tried, but obviously, they hadn’t been developed much yet despite its growing adolescent size.
Above me a starling began to chirp, and I realized it must be mom. So I stepped back quietly and went around front to finish my work. When I returned ten minutes later the parent had coaxed the little one out into the back driveway. I sat down on the step of my shed to watch what might transpire. By and by the youngster flitted furiously enough to work its way up a chain link fence, where the mother waited. It made several attempts to fly, with mixed results.
However, as time drifted along, it eventually figured out how to escalate a few times and glide enough to make it to a low hanging branch. I figured other lessons would continue over the week, and in the not-too-distant future the shiny black bird might be able to set out on its own.
In subsequent days I went out to check and never saw it, so my hopes were high that it had succeeded.
A few weeks ago I was blessed to meet April, a sophomore at Silliman University in Dumaguete City on one of the central islands of the Philippines. She is part of Compassion International’s Leadership Development Program (LDP) that identifies and provides a college scholarship to deserving students who have grown up in our sponsorship program. Like close to 1.5 million others like her around the world that Compassion is involved with, April comes from “the poorest of the poor.” Over 80% of the Philippines’ 91 million people live below the poverty line, and the majority of those, including April, survive on less than $2 per day.
But through her sponsor, April was given a “hand up” that helped greatly with her nutrition, health care, clothing, skills training, and tutoring from her developmental years in kindergarten all the way through high school. With tears glistening in her eyes over lunch one day, she told me that if it hadn’t been for her advocate in the States and his loving letters of encouragement, she would have never come to know Christ. “My relationship with Jesus means everything. There is no conceivable way to make sense of what I have come through without God in the center of it.”
Despite being raised in a two room scrap-metal shack in an oppressive slum, she became the first in her family to graduate from high school (with honors no less), and now is among the elite at Silliman (a school of 7,000) where she is recognized as one of the leaders and top students.
April may have been born into poverty, but poverty wasn’t born into her.
Initially, she thought of getting a degree in either Nursing or Tourism…but now she has settled on a Bachelor of Science in Sociology. “Our nation needs social workers who truly understand the needs of the poor, and not only will help direct, but even change the systems that are in place for the better.”
Like most Filipino women, April is demur and tiny of stature, with piercing black eyes and even darker, silky long hair. But she is also fierce, feisty…and incredibly grateful. I couldn’t help but think of that little starling in my back yard. I will be praying that even as April was helped, she will in turn lead many others into a better place.
I can still recallHow we'd drive through the valleyTo my Grandmother's houseEvery summer vacationWhen I was smallAnd I'd gaze out the windowAt the farms and the orchardsAnd the sound of our motorWould frighten the starlingsAnd they'd rise from the fields to fly
My mother would grumble"Those birds are a curseThey're a thorn in the farmers’ side”But I couldn't help feeling sad and inspiredBy their desperate ballet in the sky
Say a prayer for the starlingsA hot, dry wind beats their ragged wingsHave a thought for the starlingsNo one ever listens to the songs they singSay a prayer for the starlingsThere's no welcome for them anywhereLeave some crumbs for the starlingsThey say that winter will be cold this year
She was sitting on a curb by the Seven ElevenShe asked if I had some spare changeHer skin wore that leathered and wind burned lookAnd the light in her blue eyes was wild and strangeI sat down beside her and asked her her nameShe said, “Pick one you like, I need something to eat"And her life made me thinkOf the dead leaves in autumnDrifting like ghosts down the street
Is the life that we celebrate only a dreamA lie that we serve like a god made of stoneAnd our hearts are the hunterBirds with no nesting placeWeary and aching for homeSay a prayer for the starlingsA hot, dry wind beats their ragged wingsHave a thought for the starlingsNo one ever listens to the songs they singSay a prayer for the starlingsThere's no welcome for them anywhereLeave some crumbs for the starlingsThey say that winter will be cold this year
(“Starlings” by Randy Stonehill, Return to Paradise, 1989)To find out how to sponsor a child go to: