guest post by Rachel Teodoro / submitted by Paula Hemphill
Two years ago, I wrote a post for the World Vision Blog about how a community was forever changed by water. I shared a picture in that post of a little boy named Stephen. I had no idea that people would react to him the way that they have.
Just a few months before that post went live, I had the opportunity to travel with our church on a vision trip to Buliisa, Uganda. Buliisa is an extremely rural community several hours outside of Kampala, the capital. Our church formed a partnership with World Vision after we spent several weeks as a congregation reading "The Hole in Our Gospel" by World Vision president Rich Stearns. I'm lucky enough to live a stones throw away from the World Vision headquarters, but as our pastor said, "we didn't partner with World Vision because it was convenient, we partnered with them because they are the best at what they do."
That picture of Stephen has been shared twice now on the World Vision USA Facebook page. There have been hundreds of thousands reached with his image, thousands of shares, tens of thousands of likes and hundreds of comments wondering how they can send Stephen a real tie or if Stephen is available for sponsorship. What was it about this little boy and his paper tie that resonated with readers? What made people want to take action? As child ambassadors, we're always looking for that story or that image that strikes a chord and stirs a heart.
Our church took ownership of this community in Buliisa and wanted to provide access to clean water. For the past seven years, we've been hosting an annual walk for water to raise money for WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) projects. Every year since we started, our small but mighty church has been able to fully fund a well (we funded two wells this year!) and in the summer of 2014 we sent a team to dedicate one of those first wells in our ADP. At this afternoon well dedication I met Stephen.
In a sea of children singing and dancing, I noticed his paper tie immediately. It was made out of notebook paper and a small hole was cut so that it would fit into the top button of his shirt. After the presentation as the large group gathered to walk towards the borehole that was being dedicated, I took that little boy aside. I told him how much I liked his tie and asked him about it. He told me that an occasion as special as this made him want to look his best. Stephen was 12 years old, the same age as my daughter, so I knew how very special it was that he casually took my hand on that walk and held it tight chatting away the whole time.
He was curious about my camera so I showed him how he could take a picture. He snapped this image of me.
Stephen wasn't the only boy that day wearing a paper tie. There was another young man dressed up for the occasion. Stephen's paper tie has touched many people because he seems to be the face behind so many children who know a life without clean water. They know sickness and disease and have seen loved ones die from preventable causes like diarrhea simply because they don't have access to clean water.
Stephen knew how important it was that we had gathered in that small rural village. He knew that his life would be forever changed because of clean water. As a child ambassador it's important to know how a sponsor that you are connecting with a child is changing lives and how these children don't take that lightly. Stephen has clean water now, but there are many children who don't.
Maybe you have your own story to share. I share Stephen's. I think I might make my own paper tie and wear it around and see if anyone will ask me about it. I certainly asked Stephen about his.
To read more of Rachel's work, check out her blog at www.rachelteodoro.com/. You can read many more stories of the people she's met through her work with World Vision by clicking on the Real People tab.
contributed by Paula Hemphill
I think the most beautiful thing about the CA ministry is actually not the work we do out in the field. Rather, I think the most beautiful thing about the CA ministry is the work our ever-loving King Jesus does to us. He shapes and molds and shows us the very essence of His kindness toward the world. He reminds us that He is love. He is love for the good, for the bad, for the jaded, for the evil. He is love and He has breathed us out into the world to share that love with those around us. I know He has taught me over and over and over again that this ministry was never about numbers, but instead it is about the people He puts in front of me and the stories their hearts tell. It's so easy to feel beaten down when a picture folder expires or when a friend says no, but I continue to rest in the beautiful truth that God knew that folder would expire and He knew that friend would say no, but in His kindness He still gave that folder and that ask to me. And now, like a perfectly painted canvas, the strokes of those stories-- however brief-- are a part of the masterpiece He's making out of my life. This is what He has taught me as I've walked out this journey for the last 7 years.
Which got me wondering... what has He taught some of our other long-time CAs and leadership team members? Because what if we've all caught a slightly difference glimpse of His glory? How beautiful would it be to see the full view of what God is teaching each one of us in this ministry?
So today I am deeply honored to steward and share the words and heart of some of my dearest friends in the world. It is humbling to get to call these people my friends and family. And I think you will feel that same awe after reading these words.
But it makes sense when I think about it now-- because this is who Jesus is. He always tries to get His disciples and people around Him to see beyond the surface. See beyond the physical. To go deeper. This journey has been a journey of learning to walk more closely with Jesus. To get to know His heart more each day. What an honor it is to be in God's hands-- being shaped, broken, comforted, encouraged, and molded by the CREATOR of the UNIVERSE.
I praise our Sovereign Lord for bringing me to this organization & this calling! My story with World Vision is His story and I pray that at conference, when I share with you more of what He has done these 4 years-- that all you see is HIM! We are simply clay in His hands! HE is the potter. He has brought you to this ministry for a most beautiful purpose-- children and communities will be forever impacted because of YOUR obedience to Him! AND along the way He also wants to draw you nearer to His heart and change YOUR life! I know if He can take a scaredy-cat like me and bring me closer every day to being the wild lioness He has called me to be that He will do it for you, too! - Randi Rooks
What!? Utterly mind-boggling.
Then, He went about healing the sick, raising the dead clear out of their graves, inspiring others to walk on water with Him, and dying a sinners death. At it's core, Jesus' ministry is categorized by how He cared for the unwanted. The people who were without value to their society. He came to the hopeless.
It reminds me of the countless stories of athletes who get their first professional contract only to invest it back into their mother's' new home, or the community center that provided shelter in their adolescent years. Jesus went to the people who reminded Him most of Himself. As I read the Gospels, it is more clear than ever, that Jesus was compelled to act on behalf of those who, like Him, would not have a shot at something greater had He not come along. John tells us that in Jesus was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness. How else would we know that Jesus is life and light except we experience Him working in death & darkness? This is where Jesus hung out. His stomping grounds were not a neighborhood, they were the places that were plagued by death & darkness. He went into those places, and brought life and light.
I have a secret to share with you all. I'm a sinner. Yup, I've sinned against God in more ways than I care to share. I've been in some pretty dark places, deathly kind of places. I have never been so confronted with my own need for His love & mercy as when I am with the 'unwanted.' Forgiveness is a heavy cross to carry when, as a sinner, you have to watch an innocent man carry it. The unwanted cannot comprehend grace. Feelings of undeservedness come flooding in. The unwanted believe that they might be able to get themselves out of the mess they've made because they made it. Then Jesus comes along and tells us that he knows what it's like to feel unwanted. He knows what it's like to carry so much sin that His father looks away while He hangs on a cross. He knows. His knowing leads us to surrender and compels us to respond.
Today darkness and death still loom. The people enslaved by it think that somehow they've deserved it. The work we do, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is bringing life and light. It is bringing the unwanted the needed love & grace to move toward a more abundant life. I know that Jesus is proud of the work we do, because it is the work He did. - Javy Diaz
I have also learned that I am not like Him. I tend to stereotype and prejudge people before I ever get their story. But God's work of transformation in my heart is very real. Because every person is in a different place in their journey and transformation I feel like this brokenness for the unloved and unwanted tends to set me apart into a lonely place. That is why I love this ministry. I have found a place of sweet fellowship in the gospel work of compassion for the neediest on earth. I love Child Ambassadors. - Wendy Hemphill
As I progressed and opened my heart, so did my pastor husband, then our congregation, family, and many of our friends. Heart expansion is obviously catching.
Do I still rely on my source of strength verses? Absolutely! Do I still feel paralyzed at times! Yes, again. So what is the difference? Well, I have learned to concentrate more on God’s heart and less on mine, and this personal growth is due to my Child Ambassador/World Vision experiences. - Jeanne Bennett
Contributed by Laura Walls for Stories from the Field
My five-year-old daughter came out of her bedroom this morning, rubbed the sleep from her eyes, and asked, "What smells so good?"
" Apple muffins." I smiled, remembering how happy it made me as a child, to wake up and smell good things baking in the kitchen.
Then I thought about my writing topic for today. Hunger. The contrast feels so extreme.
A food crisis has been ravaging East Africa and World Vision writer, Kari Costanza, and photographer, Jon Warren, have been witnessing the grief and despair of families whose children wake up hungry and go to bed hungry. Kari's stories are "must-read" for every child ambassador.
This morning, I admit that East Africa seems so far away. I have muffins in the oven and children that are healthy and full. Nothing I see around me indicates that anything is amiss. And yet right now, on the other side of the globe, children are going to bed sick from hunger.
And Claire was once one of them.
While the Child Ambassador team was in Rwanda, we had the chance to meet Vedaste and Beata, a family whose lives were transformed and, overflowing with abundant grace and fullness of life, they reached out in turn to help little Claire. Read along to hear their story and to learn about how the Child Ambassador team is being challenged to act on behalf of suffering children in East Africa - because each of those kids, like the special children we have in our own lives, has a name and a story, a smile and a unique personality all their own. And each one longs to have a future, like Claire.
Petite, four-year-old Claire greeted us at the door of her rural Rwandan farmhouse, smiling sweetly.
"Muraho." (Hello!) She held out her right hand for a handshake, left hand holding her right forearm in a perfect, poised display of Rwandan etiquette. We were immediately smitten - every last one of us!
As her family shared their story, Claire batted her eyes, grinned, and peeked out from the safety of their arms. She was enchanting and sweet and adorable. It was hard to learn that life had almost ended early for Claire. Two years before, Claire had been malnourished and suffering. As the Rwandan rain poured down outside, Vedaste and Beata poured out their hearts.
"I want to share with you our story of God’s faithfulness." Vedaste began. "We once lived a very challenging life but God has protected us and enabled us to come out of our extreme poverty through World Vision." He smiled and asked Beata to share.
She spoke with a quiet, elegant confidence. "I am greeting you as friends. We were once very poor and had no land. We didn’t have enough clothing for our children. It was extremely difficult to earn money. We were farming and working so hard but our soil was so acidic that it didn’t yield much harvest."
She went on to share that their children suffered greatly as a result of their poverty. They were hungry and malnourished. She had been unable to breastfeed seven of her nine children because she was so malnourished herself, as well.
But in 2007, World Vision came into their lives. They received training in agriculture and their son, Emmanuel, was registered for sponsorship. Emmanuel had severe vision and hearing problems and the family was very concerned. But with medical care through World Vision, his sight and hearing were restored!
World Vision gave the family a cow and Beata started a small business doing some sewing. Things began to improve. They were able to save up and buy another cow and this cow produced a calf. Now they were able to not just enjoy the nutritional benefits of having a cow but also experience the financial benefits of selling milk! In addition, Vedaste devoted himself to the World Vision-led trainings he received in agriculture. At this time, the family farm contains 260 different types of produce and employs up to ten people in the community to take care of the cows and help with the harvest. Vedaste is also part of a model farmer program through World Vision. Through this specialized training program, he now reaches out to other farmers in his community and teaches them new agricultural techniques like mixing fruit trees with vegetables and preserving water for irrigation and cattle during the dry season.
Meanwhile, Beata's sewing business expanded with the help of micro loans through Vision Fund. Currently, she employs 6 people at her local shop and has trained 102 girls in her community to sew! And Emmanuel, her oldest son who was once at risk of becoming blind is now in charge of the embroidery machine, placing beautiful, intricate designs on the clothing in her shop!
But for Vedaste and Beata, it wasn't enough to employ and train others in their community. Their cup had gone from empty to overflowing and the family longed to do more to serve others. With great love and compassion, they adopted Claire.
Vedaste's face grew serious. "We found Claire living in the same condition as we were living in before. She was malnourished and suffering. We adopted her because we feel we have been given so much of God’s grace and we wanted to give back."
Beata explained further,* “I know what it means to be hungry. I know what it means to have a child when you don’t have food or drink to give to them. I feel compelled to help people, because God restored my life when I was almost dead. The second chance was given to me to live. I want to use it to help people.”
* Beata's last quote was found on the same page where the prayer guide is located. It was such a surprise to see little Claire's face on that page and to read Beata's words! I hope that you don't mind that I added it to this story of our time spent with them. It fit in so beautifully!
A Call to Action:
As child ambassadors, we have a chance to help a hungry child like Claire. We have the opportunity to take the grace and abundance that we have been given and overflow to help others, like Vedaste and Beata.
Downloadable Prayer Guide
The Prayer Guide was first found here on the World Vision site. A downloadable version can be found here!
Interviewed by Katherine Jones
In October 2016, Child Ambassador Anne Hicks traveled from her Seattle-area home to Kenya to run for Team World Vision in the Nairobi half-marathon. Along the way, she stopped in Ethiopia to fulfill a long-held dream: to meet the first child she sponsored through World Vision. Of all of her sponsored kids, Rahemet has always written Anne the longest and most emotive letters, fostering a special kinship between the two. Their much-anticipated meeting exceeded every expectation.
Getting from Point A to B (and C)
I flew 16 hours from Seattle to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, then took another 1-hour flight to Dessie. From there, it would have been a three-hour walk to the ADP where Rahemet lives, but because of local conflicts, World Vision deemed it too dangerous for me to travel. So instead, they drove Rahemet and father from their village to Dessie. At age 15, it was Rahemet’s first car ride—and her first time to get carsick.
When Rahemet and I met, words were not necessary. She was thrilled to meet me, and I to meet her. She walked right up to me and gave me the biggest hug, melted right into my arms. And her dad, Ali—he walked in all beaming, the brightest smile I’d ever seen. He hugged me, and while he couldn’t speak English, he kept touching his heart and raising his hands to heaven. He expressed so much joy and gratitude to me, and pride and excitement for his daughter.
I brought Rahemet a dress. Knowing the family was Muslim, I was careful to buy one that covered her. When I gave it to her, her eyes lit up and her father looked approving, so I assume it was appropriate. I also gave her a blue head scarf, which she skillfully put on right away. For the family, I brought a solar-powered flashlight because they have no electricity and live in a traditional mud hut.
Coffee Is King
Making, serving, and drinking coffee is a ritualized social event in Ethiopia. The production process—conducted by their version of a barista—takes about half an hour. They start with green coffee beans, roasted over a fire in a pan. After roasting, the beans in the pan are passed around for guests to sniff and appreciate the aroma. The beans are then ground and mixed into a coffee pot. The resulting brew, super-strong but not bitter, is then poured into teeny cups. They often serve it with popcorn.
On Overcoming the Awkward
How do you get past the awkward? I don’t know that you do. But the good thing is that the experience of being with your sponsored child is more powerful than the awkward. Plus, the World Vision staff [on the ground] are so good. Many of them, like our interpreter, are former sponsored children, so they recognize the special connection between sponsors and their kids. They know how to draw out the moment. Rahemet and I might have been unsure how to talk, but our interpreter was good at asking questions and facilitating conversation.
Advice from One CA to Another
As a CA, a visit to your sponsored child can provide you with some of your best storytelling material to then convey to an audience of potential sponsors. There’s nothing else like being able to see firsthand where your sponsored child gets her dirty water and see her living environment. To see firsthand what life is like for her. To sit on the same dirt floors, and experience the lack of running water and electricity.
To make the most of your opportunity, you’ll want to prepare before you go. Think of questions you want answered. When you’re there, ask about your child’s water situation, her education, and the other areas of community development. Ask questions such as, What do you do for income? If they’re farmers, What do you grow for crops? Gather their stories so you can bring them back and share them with your people. Meeting your sponsored child will change the way you talk about sponsorship.
And even if you can't make the journey, you can still pull from the stories of your CA friends when you share. Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal!
Click here for more stories from the field!
Greater Together is a collaborative blog written by volunteer child ambassadors for World Vision.