My husband, Bob, and I have sponsored seven children over the past 15 years. Some of them, like our Zambian “daughter,” Olivia, have grown up during that time and now have families of their own. Bob and I now sponsor Olivia’s son, Talent, and last year Olivia and her husband, Clever, gave us a sweet new “granddaughter” whom they named Marilee. (Read Olivia’s story here.)
Every year, World Vision enables children to send Christmas greetings to their sponsors. Sometimes the cards are printed and the child just signs his or her name with a short message. But my favorite cards are always the ones made by the children themselves.
This year, we received a handmade card from our Kenyan “son,” Ladama. The card was cut from ordinary white cardstock, and on the front, he had drawn a simple rendering of our World Vision logo — an elongated cross that looks like a star. Usually, it is set against a bright orange background, but Ladama used Christmas red. I suspect that was because he did not have an orange pencil, rather than a clever homage to the season.
(Note to self: Send Ladama a new box of colored pencils!)
When I opened the card, I was delighted to see that he had filled the space with a personal message written in English. Kenyan schools teach in English, but often children choose to draw their thanks with stick figures of cows and trees and books and other things World Vision sponsors helped to provide.
Ladama, on the other hand, is an articulate boy who has always preferred to express his thoughts with words. As a writer, I like that!
And this year he outdid himself. While his grammar is a bit shaky, he began his message with an opening line I will never forget:
First of all is I am happy as a barren woman who deliver twins on Friday!
For a Kenyan woman, few things are more important than having children. And for a woman who thinks she is barren to have twins on Friday — the luckiest day of the week — well, you get the picture.
I burst out laughing and went to find my husband, Bob, so we could enjoy the rest of Ladama’s message together. Bob had actually been the one to choose Ladama’s face from among several sponsorship folders we were looking at before a trip to Kenya in 2005. And he was with me when Ladama’s father brought him to the World Vision compound in Kirindon to meet us for the first time.
I will never forget watching the tall Masaai warrior walk solemnly across the yard with his 5-year-old son clinging to his hand. In my travels with World Vision, I have had the joy of meeting most of my family’s sponsored children in person, and while they may be shy at first, it usually doesn’t take long to win them over — particularly after I bring out the presents.
But Ladama was different. Even after we sat down for refreshments (a cold bottle of Coke is a real treat in that part of Kenya) and showed him the blankets, clothes, and backpack of school supplies we had brought him, he didn’t warm up. He just kept looking at us with big, frightened eyes and pushing closer to his father — who didn’t look much happier!
When the soccer ball we pulled out didn’t get a smile, we knew something was very wrong. We asked our interpreter to ask if there was a problem.
While Bob and I couldn’t understand the exchange of words, we could easily read the tension on the father’s face begin to ease as they talked.
Finally, our interpreter laughed and said, “He thought you had come to take the boy away! World Vision is just starting here and, while we have explained how sponsorship works, it is a hard thing for the villagers to understand. He and his wife thought you were adopting the boy and taking him to the United States. They love their son very much and were very sad to see him go, but they decided that for his sake they would make this great sacrifice.”
“No!” Bob and I both blurted out, truly appalled. “We would never take your son from you! You are his father! We just want to help you to give your son a good life!”
As the truth sank in both father and son visibly relaxed. The soccer ball in Ladama’s lap suddenly became a thing of wonder. He picked it up and began examining its flawless checkered hide as though he had never seen anything more beautiful. And then it happened.
I returned to Kirindon in 2009, and this time there were smiles all around as I was reunited with Ladama and his dad and met his mother and little brother. His mother hugged me as though I were her sister, and I knew without a word being spoken that what we were doing through child sponsorship had given her the greatest gift a mother can receive — a bright future for her son.
Every year Ladama has written us greetings and pictures. He is no longer that wide-eyed kindergartener. At 14, he is nearly as tall as his dad! And while it is still hard to get him to smile for the camera, his message this year proves that he is obviously thriving:
I want to write this letter to you to wish you a happy New Year. I hope you are healthy and happy to receive this greeting from me and my family. My family is [also] healthy and happy! This year I am [in] standard seven and I am doing good as my God is willing me. I am praying too that he will help me in my studies as next year I would be in standard eight. Last exam I was better because I was number two out of 360 marks. (Second in his grade!)
I hope you will receive my message and be happy.
I can think of no better way to begin 2015 than to pray this blessing over the days to come: May you be as happy as a barren woman who gives birth to twins on a Friday.
Marilee Pierce Dunker travels the world as an ambassador for World Vision, the organization her father, Bob Pierce, founded in 1950. Like he did, she shares stories, pictures, and personal reflections, bearing witness to the extraordinary ways God is using his people to share the gospel and care for the poor.
Visit World Vision’s Speakers Bureau site to request Marilee or another World Vision speaker to present at your upcoming event.