When I was in elementary school I heard people at my church talking about an African country named Zaire. And one time in Sunday School we were able to meet a missionary from the church to Zaire. I can still picture the peaceful young man I met that day. Something about his demeanor and the nature of his work set him apart in my mind. He was doing something holy.
I can remember photos of African children taped to the refrigerator at home, kids my parents were sponsoring through church missions. I think I remember talking about them a little, perhaps as an opportunity for a penpal. I can’t recall whether I ever wrote a letter to Africa. I do remember corresponding with an American penpal in Connecticut -- a project my second grade teacher had set into motion. Her name was April, and I felt so special to have a friend across the country. I’m not sure why I thought I couldn’t develop a connection to kids around the world. How much more exciting that would have been! And yet, even as a young child, I knew it wouldn’t come so easily as my writing to April.
In recent years my husband and I have brainstormed ways to serve both locally and globally. A couple of years ago our church asked us to support the efforts of World Vision by sponsoring a child in the country now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I have to admit that I balked at the idea. I thought perhaps we should do that when our kids are a little older -- old enough to better understand why we would sponsor a child, old enough to be able to correspond with such a child and thus gain a penpal in addition to a larger worldview.
A couple of months ago my son and I attended an event about the Congo at our church. We learned that through the cooperation of World Vision (a Christian humanitarian organization), Global Unites (a Sri Lankan-based non-profit that works to engage youth from war-torn countries in peace talks) and the Evangelical Covenant Church (the denomination my church is part of), the Congolese people are directing efforts to revitalize the economy in the midst of political turmoil. They are providing food, clean water, access to education, medical clinics and are even planting tens of thousands of trees to revitalize regions for farming. They are a few years into a 15 year plan to give tribes a boost toward sustainability.
At the end of a powerful morning I asked myself what I was waiting for. I had been hearing about the needs of the people in the Congo since childhood. What was stopping me? Why was there always something to wait for? I looked at my son, too young to understand any of this, and I was convicted to sponsor a child...which in actuality, sponsors an entire family, and the funds are really used in a communal way, because in Congolese culture, community is everything. Since we had recently buried our dog and I was grieving at the time, I picked a child with the same birth month as Sanibel as a way to remember her beautiful life.
I worry about whether this is modern day colonialism. I despair that my small monthly donation won’t change the world. But I hope though the aggregated efforts of many, we can bring hope to a few. And I can now say that I am finally part of a global effort that I first heard of thirty years ago. It was a long time coming for sure, but I also learned it’s never too late.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.