Thursday, November 14, 2013

Our family's experience with child sponsorship.

In the fall of 2009, I went with WRCC to Nairobi, Kenya and served in the Mathare slums.  We spent several days running a vacation bible school in what we’ve now come to know as Area 2,  where our church has gone on to build a school.  It was less than an hour at the school when I noticed one set of eyes following me everywhere I went.  This little girl would look at me much like your own child does during a sporting event or performance to make sure you are watching them.  Her eyes were as big as her face and her smile even bigger.  One of our first projects was to make name tags and I then formally met Mercy.  She and I were fast friends and it was often I would look down and find her by my side or feel her little hand in mine.  This beautiful girl completely stole my heart.  One of the highlights of my trip was getting to wash her feet like Jesus did his disciples and place on her feet her first pair of new socks and shoes.  I will never forget the pride in her face. 

A few days later, the teachers and social workers were telling us about the new children at the school and how many still did not have sponsors but explained they could not turn them away.  Mercy was one of them.  I couldn’t sign my name fast enough to sponsor her through CMFi.  It is, admittedly, an easy choice when you can smell the raw sewage, see the dust covering her feet and hear the sounds of the slum she calls home.  Saying goodbye to her sweet face was so hard for me.  Through a translator I told her I would come back someday.  I wasn’t sure when but I promised that I would be back.  I told her how much Jesus loved her and how much I did and assured her that our family would be praying for her and her family daily.  I left her with a picture of all of us.

Over the next two years we sent letters and received them from her.  We sent care packages, pictures and Christmas presents.  She shared with us some of her fears and her prayer requests and her accomplishments and dreams.  Our entire family fell in love too.  We think of ourselves as a family of 8 with one us of living half a world away.  The kids were just sad she couldn’t come to live with us but I explained she has two living parents that love her very much but that where they live the unemployment rate is very high and there are simply no jobs.  I explained that some families will relinquish their child because they cannot afford to feed them or send them to school.  We are an adoptive family and the thought of parents having to place their child for adoption because of finances breaks my heart to it’s core.  It breaks God’s heart.  I explained this is something small we can do to make a very big difference for this family and for our Mercy. 

In 2011, I returned to Mathare.  As I came around the corner I saw her sitting and talking with friends and as her face met mine, I could tell she knew.  A smile spread across her face and I went up to her and asked if she knew who I was and she said quietly, “Yes, you are Jen.”  Tears welled up in my eyes and I hugged that little girl and told her I kept my promise to come back.  We spent time together and acted silly and sang songs and it is in those moments with Mercy that I know God uses us.  He used a broken vessel like me to bring hope to this child.  She asked about all of the kids and as I showed her pictures she commented that they looked like they had grown.  She was always fascinated with Grace much like a younger sister is with an older one.  She thought she was so pretty and asked what she was like.

On that trip I had a difficult time leaving Mathare each night to return to our hotel.  It hurt my heart that she stayed.  It hurt that I couldn’t do more.  Before we came I had asked if it would be possible to meet with Mercy’s family.  I was told their would not be enough time.  On the morning of our last day there, I was so heavy hearted to say good bye to this girl I love, to leave her behind…

And then, I walked in to the school and out of close to 800,000 residents in Mathare, God had brought Catherine, Mercy’s mother to me.  She sat there holding a baby on her lap and I knew right away it was her.  She looks just like Mercy.  I was able to speak with her through an interpreter and show her pictures of our family and tell her how much we pray for them.  She was warm and loving and slightly shy like Mercy.  She thanked me for what we are doing for Mercy.  It was incredibly humbling.  She had on the cross necklace I had given to Mercy just a few days before.  The cross now hung around her neck and it was such a God moment.  It felt in my spirit as if God were saying, Mercy is okay.  Her family is okay.  I am with them and I love you all so much.  I love you enough to give you the gift of this meeting and the peace I know it will bring to your heart.

Fast forward two years later and just this past October, my husband, Trevor, and our oldest, Grace,  went on the mission trip to Kenya and were able to meet Mercy.  Grace declares it the best part of the trip.  It was wonderful for Grace to walk in to her classroom and she could see the recognition Mercy had for her.  She looked at her just like she had looked at me.  She KNEW her.  She had that relationship established.  Trevor and Grace were able to meet with her and give her gifts we had handpicked just for her.  Yes, we've been able to, for five years now, provide schooling, food, medical access, school uniforms and immunizations to Mercy, but even more lasting, she has learned about the love of Jesus.  I can only imagine what this young girl from the slums of Nairobi thought when for the 3rd time our family came to visit her.  I can only imagine how much she felt loved, believed in, worthy…...

And Mercy has given to us, taught us.  She is our family.  She has taught me that our attitude isn’t in our circumstances but that our joy is in Jesus.  She has given as much love as she’s received.  Sponsoring her has taught our family about sacrificial giving and praying for other’s needs besides our own.  She has helped us focus on a global-God-view of the world instead of a closed focus of our own surroundings.  This sponsorship has helped us to be grateful for our blessings and to not take our privileges of a home, food, and access to healthcare for granted.  This beautiful child, our Mercy, has given us a relationship…a connection thousands of miles away and it feels amazing to know we are making a difference in her life.

Andy Stanley has a quote I love, “Do for ONE what you wish you could do for everyone.”  One sweet Mercy at a time.  To God be the Glory for the things He has done.