From the World Vision U.S. president: The year that put hope to the test

Masrafi gazes up at his mother at his home in Bangladesh. He had the opportunity to choose his sponsor last year and chose World Vision U.S. President Edgar Sandoval Sr. and his wife, Leiza.

How will the year 2020 go down in the history books? I’d guess something like this: a global pandemic infecting millions and interrupting daily life around the globe. Economies shattered, businesses shuttered, streets emptied. No school, no sports, relationships reduced to computer screens. And in the U.S., racial injustice once again laid bare, and legitimate calls for systemic change colliding with unjustified violence and destruction.

Many will see only what they lost or what might have been. Others will lament the damage done to our country by a virus that destroyed bodies and hatred that harmed souls. By those measures, 2020 was a very bad year.

But as I look back on this challenging year, I choose to focus on what God taught me through it. That is how hope is revealed. You see, in times of trouble, we understand that our God is not only a God of the good times. He is a God of the here and now. And He never stops working in our lives, inviting us to align our hearts and plans with His. What God cares about never changes — no matter what.

I choose to focus on what God taught me through it. That is how hope is revealed.—Edgar Sandoval Sr.

What does God care about? He cares about you and me. He wants everyone to enjoy fullness of life in His kingdom, here on earth and for eternity. He cares about our salvation and the salvation of others. John 3:16 tells us why God gave us Jesus — to love us into eternal life. And when I read the Bible, it’s clear that God has special care for people who are poor and vulnerable. Everywhere I look in the Scriptures, God is pleading with humanity to care for them, too.

When I reflect on the past year through the lens of a vulnerable person — a child in Bangladesh — I feel a renewed sense of passion for the mission God has given me. Don’t get me wrong: I experienced the same whiplash as everybody else. As the new decade dawned, I was energized. World Vision had just launched Chosen, a new invitation into sponsorship that put the power to choose in children’s hands. Chosen was the result of several years of diligent and prayerful work, but ultimately, we regarded it as a gift from the Lord. We couldn’t wait to fully unwrap it in 2020 as we engaged more churches and sponsors in this mutually transformative relationship.

In November 2019, I had the pleasure of attending a choosing party in Bangladesh, where I met Masrafi, a 4-year-old boy who chose my wife, Leiza, and me as his sponsors. He and his parents live in an ultra-poor community of 41,000 people. I’ll never forget Masrafi’s shy smile and his mom, Surmi, telling me, “Masrafi will serve his community when he grows up.” I was so excited for all kids reaching toward new futures and for their sponsors joining them on the journey.

Masrafi approaches the wall of photos and selects Edgar Sandoval Sr. and his wife, Leiza, as his sponsors at a choosing party in Bangladesh in 2019.
Masrafi approaches the wall of photos and selects Edgar and Leiza as his sponsors at a choosing party in Bangladesh in 2019. (©2019 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

But by March, the virus had leapt continents and threatened our own communities. Dozens of U.S. churches, eager to partner with us and experience Chosen, had to cancel their plans. All our in-person events were put on hold. We were dismayed, but at the same time, we mounted a robust COVID-19 response in the U.S. and around the world.

From the beginning of the crisis, the most vulnerable people in the most fragile places were on my mind. God reminded me of them often in my prayers. I knew that while many of us hunkered down in our well-built homes with plenty of food and clean running water, families living in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions were surviving with even less than before.

That was true of Masrafi in Bangladesh. His dad, Alomgir, previously earned about $3.50 a day molding bricks, but work dried up during the pandemic. He and Surmi worried about paying rent and feeding their son. Their stress caused them to quarrel. Surmi raised a bit of money by cleaning houses, but she didn’t tell Alomgir. “It would really affect his pride,” she says.

I prayed for this struggling family — and for millions more suffering from the secondary effects of the pandemic. And I was so grateful that as a sponsor, I could help in tangible ways. World Vision helped families in Masrafi’s community protect themselves against COVID-19 with prevention information and hygiene supplies. Those without income, like Alomgir, received cash disbursements to cover basic needs. And staff kept an eye on kids who were at greater risk when stress-fueled conflict boiled over at home.

Help that comes when it’s needed most creates hope.—Edgar Sandoval Sr.

Of course, this support doesn’t solve everything. But we cannot miss the deeper impact: Help that comes when it’s needed most creates hope. And it’s only a matter of time that those with newfound hope wonder about its source. Someday they will ask that life-changing question — the question to which Jesus is the answer.

Yes, COVID-19 turned our lives upside down this year, and it’s not over yet. It has killed so many and caused so much fear. And our country began the most painful reckoning of racism and injustice since the civil rights era. You could say that 2020 put hope itself to the test. Yet the hope of Christ overcomes! It never failed us. And we are bearers of that hope. That’s how I choose to look back on this year: as a time when thousands of sponsors faithfully and often sacrificially cared for children like Masrafi, when Americans gave so families in their communities wouldn’t go hungry.

It was a year when faith flourished — online instead of in churches. When a Zoom call with a friend could go from chatting about the weather to a deep conversation about Jesus in record time. A year when more people than ever waded into the turbulent waters of racial injustice by reading books, listening to their Black friends, and taking action. In our physical distance, we learned that community is not only a place but also a way of being.

Looking ahead, our mission remains unchanged — and more urgent. The world is still hurting, but we are still chosen to participate in God’s transformative work in people’s hearts and lives around the globe. The hope of Jesus has already changed history. And it continues today, through you and me.

Edgar Sandoval Sr. is president of World Vision U.S. Follow him at twitter.com/EdgarSandovalSr.

Edgar Sandoval Sr., president of World Vision U.S., poses for a photo with Masrafi, the boy in Bangladesh who chose him and his wife, Leiza, to be his sponsors.
Edgar poses for a photo with Masrafi, the boy in Bangladesh who chose him and his wife, Leiza, to be his sponsors. (©2019 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

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