Contributed by Katherine Jones in Meet Other CAs
Just as every sponsored child has a story, so too does every sponsor: why a particular child was chosen, where the sponsor was when she made her decision, or how she concluded she was ready for that commitment.
Child Ambassador Cari Conklin’s sponsorship story, however, is a bit out of the ordinary: Her sponsored children are the fulfillment of a prophecy made years before when she was a teenager.
“I grew up in the church,” she says, “the kind where we hosted a Mission Week every year. When I was a teen, we had one of the pastors from the denomination come and talk at our church. He shared phrases, messages he felt God had for congregation. He called me out as one he had a word of knowledge for. ‘Someday you will have many children,’ he said, ‘but not necessarily your own.’”
In the years that followed, Cari forgot about that prophecy as she immersed herself in the activities of young adulthood, but as she reflects back on that time, she sees the stage for child sponsorship was laid when her dad took her and her brother to Honduras to build pews for a church. “That was my first experience seeing the third world, a developing country—but also seeing abundant joy in those who did not have abundant materials. God planted seeds.”
Cari eventually married and began working in the Seattle area, where she still lives. She and her husband planned to have children, only to discover that Cari could not. She underwent a hysterectomy, and her marriage ended.
Some time later, Cari started dating a guy who sponsored children through World Vision. “On his fridge,” she says, “I saw the kids he sponsored. He told me about them and explained World Vision’s method of sustainable and holistic development. He particularly talked about how powerful it was to sponsor a girl, how they are the glue in the community. And further, how sponsoring a child helps not only the child, but the whole community.”
For Cari, the rest was a no-brainer. Within a week, she’d gone online to sponsor a child in Tanzania—the first of six sponsored kids throughout Africa and South America. And thus began the fulfillment of the prophecy Cari had received decades earlier.
Around the time she sponsored her first child, Cari read The Hole in Our Gospel by World Vision president Rich Stearns—another game-changer for her. “When it goes into your heart,” she says, “that’s when you start sharing it. When it makes sense not just for you, you begin to believe that everyone should know about it.
Her desire to share all that she was learning about child sponsorship led her to become a Child Ambassador about a year ago. Though she’s still a relative rookie, she possesses the passion of a veteran. The refugee crisis, in particular, compels her to action.
“After I became a Child Ambassador, I sat at home so many evenings watching the videos [about the Syrian refugees] and crying, thinking, How can we be so disconnected to this? How is this so well hidden from us?”
The more she learned about the suffering of the refugees, the more she wanted to help. She submerged herself in that work, and began to understand, from a certain perspective, why the issue was failing to get the help it so desperately needed. “If all you do is share the darkness, the sadness, without a hope, you get tired emotionally, spiritually. Then you’re raising up your hands saying, What can we do? No one seems to have an answer, and I don’t want to talk about it because there’s nothing we can do about it.”
But here, she says, is where we as Child Ambassadors can step in—because we do have some answers. “As Child Ambassadors, we have that hope; we have that answer. We can bring up that conversation [about the refugees] because we have that hope to pair with it. If we can engage people in that and bring them that perspective of hope, then people will engage.
“One thing that has really pricked my heart is this Syrian family that I work with, who are now my good friends. We talk about their family, what they’re facing. They tell me about their family in Syria, who have no phone service. They lack food and face danger every day. They describe it to me and I say, I am so sorry. I say, I’m praying every day for your family, for Syria, and we’re doing what we can."
“And then they start telling me again. It’s as if they think if we hear it enough, we will understand. I feel like that’s what they’re doing with me. I feel that they’re saying, People can’t possibly understand what they’re experiencing over there or they would do something. I tell them I’m doing everything I can, I’m having a meeting with someone tomorrow, and on Thursday. They say thank you, and we cry. But they have this look in their eyes like, Why is there not a massive effort to solve this problem? They have this helpless look like, We’re in America, one of richest countries in world, so it’s confusing to them to see everything we have—the Costcos and malls and luxury cars—and they’re speechless as to why more is not being done. They have no words to explain it.”
Cari points to something she read recently, by the Christian theologian Henri Nouwen.
“The opposite of a scarcity mentality is an abundancy mentality. With an abundancy mentality we say: ‘There is enough for everyone, more than enough: food, knowledge, love ... everything.’ With this mind-set we give away whatever we have, to whomever we meet. When we see hungry people we give them food. When we meet ignorant people we share our knowledge; when we encounter people in need of love, we offer them friendship and affection and hospitality and introduce them to our family and friends."
Cari says that Nouwen goes on to explain that when we live with this “abundancy” mind-set, we live poised to see how everything we give away multiplies—that there will even be leftovers. “We can share the hope that we have so much to give,” Cari says, “and we can do it with joy.”
Which leads this Child Ambassador, whose life has seen the fulfillment of a prophecy, to make a prediction of her own. “I think we’re going to gain momentum,” she says, “and this year I think we’re going to see things busting loose—God working through the church and rippling out through churches. That is my prayer, and I do believe God is working in that way. I think that’s the way the church is going to become relevant.”
Contributed by Laura Walls in Stories from the Field
Nourishing others through the support of World Vision child sponsorship helps others physically, even while it feeds us spiritually.
It was late in the afternoon and the shadows were growing long when we turned down a narrow dirt road within view of the looming Mombacho Volcano. Our team of World Vision child ambassadors were making our first visit to a family in rural Nicaragua. As we walked up to a small collection of homes, children started pouring out of the doorways and crowding around us with shy smiles and curious giggles.
We learned these families were basket-weavers, led into the craft by their father and his father before them. It's a trade virtually unchanged between generations. We stood under the trees and watched as the grandfather used a knife to split bamboo into long, narrow planks for weaving and his son and daughter-in-law shared about the impact World Vision made in their lives.
They explained that, after helping the children get to the medical clinic, it was discovered by World Vision staff and their parents, that the kids were malnourished. It wasn't that they weren't getting enough food. They were simply getting the wrong kinds of food. As a result, the kids were suffering the effects of malnourishment - reduced stamina and muscle mass, a weakened immune system, and more difficulty focusing.
To help these beautiful kids to become nourished and full, World Vision helped their families to plant a garden. They also invited the mothers to take part in "The Common Pot" mom's club. This group meets once a week to cook a meal together and learn about nutrition. Gradually, as more nutrients were added to their diet, kids grew stronger, healthier, and more energetic. As their bright smiles indicate, the children were all healthy and thriving at that their last check-up!
As I came home, I reflected on the idea of malnutrition and the importance of nutrients for children - how one could be fed but not nourished - and another thought came to mind. This time, I reflected on my spiritual life. Am I malnourished as a believer? Just like my physical body would suffer from an imbalanced diet, so too, without a balanced spiritual "diet," I can be sluggish, weak, and easily frustrated by small challenges.
In John 4, Jesus talks about spiritual food. He had been speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well, treating her with great dignity and equality. After his encounter with her, the disciples urged him to eat. But Jesus said he had already eaten and added, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work." By doing God's will and ministering to the Samaritan woman and others, his own spirit was nourished and full. Likewise, by serving others, my spirit will be filled, as well.
Part of what led me to this ministry as a child ambassador was Isaiah 58:6-11. In it we read that when we share our food with the hungry, provide the poor wanderer with shelter, clothe the naked, and not turn away from our own flesh and blood, then our "light will break forth like the dawn" and our "healing will quickly appear." We will become like a "well-watered garden."
Isn't that a beautiful picture? A well-watered garden -- thriving, healthy, and producing fruit that nourishes others.
As child ambassadors, we have the chance to experience the energizing excitement of being used by God to serve children and families in some of the hardest places in the world. By finding sponsors for kids, we become part of stories like these - bringing health, wholeness, and fullness of life to children around the world. And in doing so, we too, become a spiritually strong, like a well-watered garden, providing nourishment to a world in need.
Greater Together is a collaborative blog written by volunteer child ambassadors for World Vision.