by Michael P. Murphy
My friend Pastor Frank Shirvinski likes to tell the story of the night he took his then 5-year-old daughter, Abigail, to her first Major League Baseball game. He never forgets her wide-eyed fascination with the sights and sounds around her. When the game was over, dad and daughter held hands and talked as they walked to their parked car. Along the way they came across an unkempt man who held out a cup and begged for change to buy new tires for his wheelchair. Pastor Frank wordlessly dropped a small amount of money into the man’s cup and walked on with his daughter.
About a block later the young girl looked up at her dad and innocently asked, “Who was that, Daddy?” It was a question Pastor Frank never thought to ask the man.
Abigail didn’t see the cup. She saw the man who held it.
Abigail is now a grown woman with a successful career as a mortgage loan officer. As a member of her church who has watched Abigail grow up, I enjoy seeing that her compassion for others, grounded in Christ, has never left. She still sees beyond the cup.
A Birthday Gift
It’s Sunday afternoon, December 17. There’s a birthday party at Andie’s Coffee, located on the campus of Chaparral Christian Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. It is a festive occasion, with gifts on the table and people dropping by to wish the birthday girl well. To honor the occasion, Andie’s offers a free cup of coffee for everyone who brings a gift.
It is Abigail Shirvinski’s 23rd birthday. Like every birthday party she’s had before, this one is all about gifts. The gifts, mostly toys, diapers, wipes, and stuffed animals, will be donated to Child Crisis Arizona. For Abigail, the idea of giving back on her birthday is second nature.
She still sees beyond the cup.
“It was something my parents instilled in me when I was younger, so I kept doing it,” she said. “People would bring gifts anyway, but it would always be geared around some toy drive or money drive. When I was younger we would put out a little box, and people would bring money, and we’d donate it. My parents would decide where it would go.”
Now Abigail decides who receives the money and gifts. She has served on mission trips to Haiti and Mexico, but she yearned for an outlet of community service in her own backyard. That was exactly where she found it.
“Amanda Malcolm, a good friend of mine in the real estate business, spoke to me about Child Crisis Arizona—44,000 children are reported abused in Arizona alone, and every 5 seconds there is a report of child abuse,” Abigail explained. “It touched me because Amanda had gone through some of this stuff. I wanted to do it for her.”
It’s the stories that inspire Abigail, such as the one a nurse told about the worst case of child abuse she had ever seen. A 2-year-old girl had been beaten so badly that her eyes and mouth were swollen shut, and she had bruises up and down her legs. The abusive parents shaved her head to hide the fact that they had been pulling her hair out in places. The child seemed to give up on life and wouldn’t talk to anyone. The compassionate nurse would not stand for her to be lost in the foster care system, so she adopted her.
“I wanted to do it for her.”
Abigail enjoyed meeting this little girl and interacting with her. “Just to see how spunky and fun she was, you would never know that just months prior she had been beaten,” Abigail said. “That made it something I wanted to be consistently involved in.”
The nurse made a difference—something that Abigail herself strives to do. It’s why she supports children through World Vision, and it’s why she never forgets one child from her past who continues to impact her.
The photo of Abigail holding a young boy is touching. It is difficult to forget.
The child’s name was Sandelee. Abigail met him on her second mission trip to the Northwest Haiti Christian Mission, a medical mission serving the needs of Haitians. Here Sandelee was a patient. The boy was very sick, his little body deformed, bent in an odd U-shape.
“He looked like he was 6 months old, but he was 2,” Abigail recalled. “He would have seizures, he couldn’t eat by himself, he couldn’t speak. Nothing. I don’t know if it was the way I was holding him or the way I calmed him down, but when I held him his whole body relaxed, which was unheard of. I stayed with him for two or three days straight. I would feed him and do whatever they needed me to do. He became my little baby while I was there. It was really sad to leave him.”
Two weeks later she learned that Sandelee passed away. Perhaps all he needed was a nurturing soul to comfort him. When it is suggested that she likely gave him the best week of his short life, Abigail smiled slightly and said in a low voice, “I hope so.”
Like Going Home
Abigail had made a connection. It’s what keeps bringing her back to Haiti.
“Every time I go back there, it’s like going home,” she said. “I forget about anything here. It’s just a wonderful place. People think it’s sad when you’re there, but it’s really not. It’s just different. People are singing and so grateful we’re there. Yes, there is a lot of devastation, but to them it’s life.”
She recalls a woman with a large tumor on her shoulder who came to the mission with her 2-year-old son. After examining her, the doctors gave the grim news. The cancerous tumor had infiltrated her lungs; there was nothing they could do. She thanked the doctors for taking the time to examine her, then admitted her son into the mission’s orphanage and left to live out her last days.
“There is a lot of devastation,
but to them it’s life.”
The woman had been so thankful the doctors took the time to examine her that it did not matter what the answer was. She was at peace with her fate.
This made a powerful impact on Abigail. She has visited Haiti four times and expects to return by the end of the year. Every visit expands her view of who God’s children are. The people of Haiti are gracious. They sing. She sees children grasping their Bibles as their most prized possessions. The devastation is simply life. Jesus came to die for these people too.
“I don’t feel like God puts them all in line to see who is more important,” Abigail said. “God is everywhere. He uses the Holy Spirit to be in every single person and deal with every single crisis they may have. I see the devastation, yet I still feel the same way for them that I do for my friend who is struggling in her relationship. It’s not the situation—it’s the feeling that goes along with it. Whether they don’t have parents or they’re starving in Haiti, it’s the same feeling of emptiness. The same, but different. Jesus died on the cross for everyone who chooses to follow Him.”
Her experiences in Haiti have served to influence the way Abigail sees life in the United States, especially the way she treats money. It isn’t lost on her to know that people in Haiti live off a mere $100 a year. She never looks at her paychecks anymore. She has learned how to live off what is needed. The rest is for taking care of people.
“For my business, 0.15% goes to charities every time I close a deal,” she said. “Fifteen percent of everything. It goes to World Vision, Child Crisis Arizona, and Northwest Haiti Christian Mission on a rotational scale.”
Then there is the Bible verse she keeps close to her heart. Romans 12:17. Remember those numbers? They’re the same as her birthday—12/17. Abigail recites the verse with perfect clarity.
“‘Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought in what is noble in the sight of all,’” she said. “It’s kind of like how I live my life. No matter what other people do, that’s on them. It’s how you respond that matters.”
posted on March 13, 2018
Meet the Author:
Michael P. Murphy is a happily retired dental laboratory technician who now lives the life of a freelance writer in Scottsdale, Arizona. His articles and stories have appeared in The Lookout, Encounter, Straight, Live Wire and R-A-D-A-R. His 1990 novel Wise Up, Zack for Christian teens was published by Standard Publishing. (You still might find it if you dig deep enough on a used book website.) Michael is also a feature writer for Wander AZ, a travel magazine for Arizona tourists.