This week, this blog is dedicated to promoting child sponsorship. So many children in the world don’t have even the most basic food, water, medical care, clothing and schooling. In sort, they don’t have any prospect of a positive future.
We can change that. If we’re willing to sacrifice just a small portion of our luxury, we can change lives.
We first met him in the most unlikely of places – the Scottrade Center in downtown St. Louis, where the St. Louis Blues play hockey, Bruce Springsteen performs and Big Bird glides around the ice for Sesame Street Live.
My youngest son was then 12, and he, my wife and I were attending a concert by Amy Grant and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. It was shortly before Christmas 2000. There was an intermission, and World Vision, one of the show sponsors, had set up several dozen tables with photos of children who could be sponsored.
We’d been talking about this as a family for some time, a way to share with a child we might never see but whose life could be profoundly changed for a dollar a day. We looked at each other, and said, “We want to do this. So let’s do this.” We let my son select which child to sponsor.
He looked carefully, scanning the photos. And then he stopped and stared at a particular one of a little boy, not quite three years old. His name was Andera John, and he lived in a rural Kenya. The boy who looked at us from the photo looked apprehensive, as if he wasn’t quite sure what the photographer was doing. My son looked at us and nodded. This was the one.
So we became a child’s sponsor. Andera John is now 11. In the intervening years, we feel like we’ve become extended family.
He lives with his parents, two sisters and a younger brother in western Kenya near the border with Uganda. He attends school, and we receive report cards twice a year and a report from his coordinator as well. Each report card contains his progress in different subjects, something he draws or writes just for us, and a recent photo.
We treasure these photos. We’ve watched him grow from a little boy to a bigger boy. We’ve got the photos all over the door of our kitchen refrigerator, including the first one. The more recent ones show him in his school uniform – a turquoise shirt and khaki shorts.
We’ve sent him pictures of our family, our dog, our house and our neighborhood. We’ve also sent him several post cards of St. Louis (we had to send a post card of the Arch, of course). World Vision also has standard things you can send at different times – a Christmas booklet, an Easter greeting, a birthday card – and we do those as well.
On a couple of occasions, we’ve sent support over and above the monthly gift. And it was at these times when our eyes were opened to the realities of life in Kenya.
We once sent a gift, small by American standards, and told World Vision that we wanted it used for Andera John’s education and anything that might be of value and help to the family. Several weeks passed, and then we received a letter from Kenya. It turned out that our small gift was large by Kenyan standards. This is what the family bought:
· A school uniform for Andera John.
· A sweater for his sister.
· School shoes and school socks.
· And two cows.
Two cows. We were blown away. My wife asked why they would buy two cows when one would provide enough milk for the entire family. I knew the answer: one cow for the family, and one cow to sell milk to others. They were looking to better the family’s economic situation. Andera John was assigned the task of task of looking after the cows after school.
We received a letter written by the coordinator that included a drawing Andera John had made, showing a curved sidewalk connecting his house to our house. We also received a photo of a laughing Andera John holding the tethers tied to the two cows. And we were invited some day for a glass of milk.
With another gift, the family bought livestock medicine and vaccinations, a mattress, a dictionary and textbook for his sister, a pair of socks, school uniforms for himself, his brother and his younger sister, a goat and a bull. Clearly, the family had plans for the livestock business. And we received another drawing of our two houses.
The sponsorship has not been without its worries. Four years ago, Kenya was gripped by severe drought, and we worried and prayed until we contacted World Vision directly, who assured us the family’s situation was okay. And then two years ago, Kenya plunged into political chaos when the president was accused of rigging an election. Tribal violence and killings erupted all over the country. For a time, World Vision posted information on its web site, but then the staff was ordered out of the country, and the news updates stopped.
We turned to the internet. We knew the town the family was near, and we googled and search-engined and checked for days. We knew the violence came close but Andera John’s area seemed to have escaped it. A few weeks later, we heard from his coordinator – his family was fine. Our reaction was slightly different – our family was fine.
What started in the Scottrade Center nine years ago turned out to be an even greater blessing for us than for Andera John and his family. Our eyes were opened to a reality we simply didn’t know but one where we could make a difference. News like droughts and political chaos are no longer headlines but have become events affecting people we know. We’ve learned to pray for a child and his family who live thousands of miles away. We rejoice to see good grades in English and Kiswahili but wonder what’s going on in math.
And one day, I plan on drinking that glass of milk.
If you would like to sponsor a child, please don’t wait a moment longer… take the plunge today.
Toward the top right of this page, you should see a link to a child you could sponsor through Compassion, or you can find a child through my World Vision page, here: http://connect.worldvision.org/person/rtc
Go ahead, welcome someone new into your family today and start an adventure you’ll never forget.