I always find great joy in meeting our World Vision staff in the field. They are the front-line warriors who make our vision of “life in all its fullness” a reality for millions of children every day.
For our staff members who were once sponsored children themselves, this is their way of giving back and passing on the blessing they once received.
Among these is Tesfaye Ayenew, whom I met during a visit to the Antsokia Valley, Ethiopia, in 2003. He was in his 30s and still unmarried. I found this unusual, considering that he is well educated and could easily have a good paying job in Addis Abba.
But instead of sitting behind a desk all day and going home to a comfortable house and family, Tesfaye’s days were spent driving roads that were often nothing more than dry, rocky riverbeds. His hours were long as he worked in remote villages that were slowly being transformed by water, education, healthcare, and the hope of the gospel.
I wondered how this articulate young man was going to find his future wife in these remote mountains. The matchmaker in me couldn’t help but ask, “So, Tesfaye, do you have a girlfriend?”
He laughed and said that his days were far too busy for a girlfriend. He hoped one day to have a family but he was doing what God called him to do. He knew that if he was to have a wife, God would lead her to him.
I remember looking out at the rocky hillsides and wondering if Tesfaye’s bride was among the many young women I had seen carrying water on their heads or tending goats. And I was reminded of the way God brought Rebekah to Jacob. She, too, carried water — and in the end, she was worth the wait!
Tesfaye’s belief that God had a plan for his life was anchored in his childhood. As a small child in the 1980s, he had survived the worst famine in recent Ethiopian history.
While countless other children died, Tesfaye’s parents took him to a World Vision feeding center, where he was nursed back to health. It was there that he first dreamed of serving others as he had so lovingly been served.
His childhood dream might not have come true if World Vision hadn’t stayed in Antsokia after the famine, bringing water, healthcare, schools, small business loans, and advanced agricultural practices to the impoverished valley. The primary source of funding for this life-giving work was child sponsorship.
As a sponsored child, Tesfaye received the education that prepared him to achieve his dream of one day working for World Vision.
“My sponsor was from Australia,” Tesfaye says, his eyes lighting up at the memory of the man who helped change his life. “He used to write me wonderful letters and encourage me to read my Bible and work hard in school. He traveled a lot and sent me postcards from different places, saying that one day he hoped I would see them, too. He helped me understand that the world was a big place and that there were many things I could do.
“A couple times a year he would send me packages. They always contained pencils and paper and things to help me do well in school. But there was also candy and big chocolate bars!
“I kept everything he ever sent me in a box under my bed for years,” Tesfaye confided. “You see, he wrote that he might come to Ethiopia one day and would come to see me. If he did, I wanted to show him that his letters and gifts were the treasures of my life. … of course, eventually, I had to throw out the chocolate.”
Tesfaye’s last comment made me laugh, even though his story had brought me to tears. Even after all these years, his story touches my heart.
It’s hard to think of the notes and little things we have sent our sponsored children as “treasures.” But for Tesfaye, they changed the world.
My only regret is that he didn’t eat the chocolate!
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.