On Steve's sixth birthday, many people gave him gifts.
His mother gave him a chess set and promised to teach him how to play after dinner.
His grandfather gave him a black rope that was twenty-five feet long and would be good for making forts and building bridges and all kinds of things.
His friend Shanaya gave him modeling clay, his friend Tom gave him a toy racing car, his aunt sent him ten dollars with a birthday card, and his dad gave him a book about dinosaurs. Steve took cupcakes to school, and his classmates sang "Happy Birthday" to him. His teacher let him be first in the line when they went outside to play.
Steve thought it was the best birthday he'd ever had.
That night after dinner, Steve was waiting for his parents to finish watching the news on TV so he and his mom could play chess. He was busy making a dinosaur out of the modeling clay when he heard the man on the TV say, "It's his sixth birthday today."
Steve looked up right away, but the TV man wasn't talking about him. On the screen was a picture of a boy in a T-shirt and shorts standing on dusty ground in front of a small building. It looked like the tool shed in Steve's back yard, except it was kind of crooked. The boy was barefoot and he wasn't smiling, even though it was his birthday, and Steve didn't see any gifts anywhere.
"He lives here with his parents, his grandmother, and three brothers and sisters," the TV man said. "Usually they eat only one meal a day. Some days they don't eat at all."
"Why don't they eat?" Steve asked.
"There's been no rain," his dad answered. "Their plants won't grow."
"Can't they go to a store and buy food?"
"They don't have money," his mom said.
Steve had money. He had the ten dollars his aunt had given him, plus a lot of coins hidden in his sock drawer upstairs. "How much does food cost?" he asked.
The TV man answered that question. "Just a few dollars a day would provide food for this family of seven."
While Steve and his mom were getting out the chess pieces, he said, "How long would ten dollars last, for food for that family on TV?"
"About four days," his mom answered.
"Can I send my birthday money to that boy?"
"Oh, Steve," she said. "That's very nice of you! We could ask the TV people where they live."
That sounded good. "But what happens after the four days?" Steve asked next. "When the ten dollars is used up?" He wouldn't have any more money to send, except the coins.
His mom nodded. "That is a problem," she agreed. "But I heard about an idea at church last week. I'll ask your RE teacher if you can talk about it next Sunday."
Sunday finally came, and Steve and his family went to church. In the RE room, pictures of animals were on the walls: bunnies and chickens and ducks, goats and sheep, a pig and a black-and-white cow, and a big animal that looked like the cow except it was all black and had bigger horns and sideways ears.
"That's a water buffalo," his friend Shanaya said. "They live in China and Korea and places in the east."
"That's right, Shanaya," said their teacher. Then it was time to gather in a circle and light the chalice and sing. After that, everyone sat down and talked more about the animals, how the birds laid eggs, and the sheep grew wool, and the goat and the cow gave milk. "People use all those things," said the teacher. "We get food and clothes and help from animals, every day."
Steve nodded. Animals didn't get all used up in four days, like his money would have. They lasted for a long time. "What's the water buffalo do?" he asked.
"They give milk, too," the teacher said, "and people also use them to carry things or pull plows and help farm the land."
Steve wondered if a water buffalo would help the boy on TV.
"One of the most important gifts these animals give," said the teacher, "is more animals. They have babies, and when those babies are grown up, they make milk or eggs or wool, too."
"And those babies make babies!" said Shanaya.
"Then after a while, everyone can have an animal," Steve said. That meant everyone would have food and clothes. This was great! "How do we give other people an animal?" he wanted to know.
"We don't have any ducks or goats or pigs," said Shanaya. "And definitely no water buffalos."
"We give money to an organization that does, and they give an animal to a family who needs one. Does everyone want to do this?"
Everyone said yes, and then they started talking about what kind of animal to give. Steve and Tom voted to give a water buffalo, and two girls voted for bunnies, but Shanaya and five others all voted to give a goat, so the goat won.
"A goat costs one hundred twenty dollars," the teacher told them. "How can we get that?"
"I'll give my birthday money," said Steve. "Ten dollars."
"I have five dollars to give," said Shanaya, and the other kids said they had money too. When they added it all up, they had sixty-two dollars.
"We need fifty-eight more dollars," their teacher told them.
"We could sell cookies," suggested Tom. So the next Sunday they used the church kitchen to make cookies and sell them after the service. They put out a donation jar, too, and some of the grownups put in five dollars or even ten dollars. When Steve told his aunt what he had done with his birthday money, she sent him twenty more dollars for the goat.
Soon, they had the one hundred twenty dollars they needed, and the class sent the money to the organization that gave animals to people who needed them.
"Who is the goat going to?" Steve asked. "What's their name? Where do they live?"
"We don't know," answered his teacher. "There are many, many people all over the world who need animals. The goat may be given to a family in China or Uganda or Poland or maybe in our own country."
Steve had wanted to give the goat to the boy on TV. And maybe the goat would live there. Or maybe the goat wouldn't. Maybe the family the goat lived with would have another six-year-old boy. Or a six-year-old girl. Or maybe they'd have all older children, or only babies. It didn't really matter.
Because Steve knew that wherever the goat lived, and whomever she lived with, the family would take care of her. And when the goat had her kids, the family would take care of the kids, too. The people could drink the goat's milk or maybe sell some of it to buy clothes or other food. They would give the kids away to other families, and soon everyone would have a goat. And one of those people would probably be having a birthday, and maybe that person would be six years old.
Or maybe not. And it didn't matter, because Steve knew those ten dollars were the best birthday gift he'd ever given away.