Column by Peggy Dover from the Rogue Valley Times
Lynn Leissler was the subject of a former column a few years back. She’s the wonder woman and close friend who has gladly accepted the challenges with the joys of raising her teenage granddaughter, Renee. Yes, Lynn possesses an impressive list of grandmotherly requisites; she knits, she sews, she quilts, she bakes—and all skillfully. She also reads voraciously.
Let’s just say at nearly 78 years old, Lynn might be considered beyond the stage of dealing with teen angst, prom dress shopping, and boyfriend troubles. The affection return Renee gives is well worth the investment.
Because she neither looks nor acts her age (however that’s supposed to look these days) this grandmother recently surpassed expectation by taking Renee on a mission trip to Kenya, Africa. I’m a witness as to just how many and prolonged were the challenges in preparation to leaving—everything seemed to work against them. Obtaining visas online was an exercise in humility; forget about patience. Taking the required shots and typhoid medicine made them ill, especially Renee. Despite navigating the potholes to get there and the ridiculous flight schedule with long layovers, they’re eager to return. I spoke with them about their incredible experience.
The program coordinating the effort is called Hope’s Promise. Various churches work with Hope’s Promise on behalf of bringing hope to children in the Kuza Project of Kenya—Kuza means light. They’re a faith-based organization who send teams of individuals to some of the most impoverished areas to work with neglected children and help them understand they matter. I asked Renee what she loved most about her experience.
“Meeting the kids,” was her quick reply. One thirteen-year-old boy in particular touched her soul. “He doesn’t have a lot. I asked him what his favorite thing to ever do was, and he said ‘praise the Lord.’ I said ‘what’s your second favorite thing to do?’ He answered, ‘help people who need things that I have.’”
Lynn explained the purpose. “It was a school break program, so, like a vacation Bible school type deal. The church there is facilitating a program that helps kids stay with their bio families, if possible. And if not, to be with non-relative caregivers to help them attend school—to care for them physically, emotionally, and spiritually and help these kids develop a sense of worth on their own, because they’ve had a lot of trauma in their lives.
They are westernized there and also proudly aware of being Kenyan. The children of Mathare watch movies that they believe represent the typical American family. It was quite an eye-opener for them to learn that our country shares the same issues, with dysfunctional homes, and less than ideal living conditions not uncommon. “We were careful to not go there as “White saviors,” Lynn said, ‘just to go there and walk alongside what they are doing.”
The small group visited the Mathare Valley Slum of Nairobi, where half a million people dwell within six square miles. They weren’t there to gawk and shake their heads. Renee explained. “We hung out with the kids. We sang, danced, and did art classes. There were singing and ukulele classes. Then we walked through the slum. We went into a couple peoples’ houses, which were small.”
“It’s a slum and it’s harsh, but there’s resiliency, determination, and joy,” Lynn said.
Those who escape the slum, though glad to be out, miss the community they shared. They no longer know and relate to their neighbors, but stay to themselves behind gated communities. Eight-foot cornflower blue iron gates surround neighborhoods.
The life-changing trip had a powerful impact on both of them and altered their perspectives. Renee’s least favorite part was saying goodbye. “I was a whole wreck.” She’s considering missions as a worthwhile investment for her future and that of the kids.
It was autumn there. The weather was cool and pleasant for the Oregonians, while Kenyans wore puff coats. Lynn added, “Kenyans are warm, friendly, welcoming people, and they smile a lot.”
Nana (sho-sho in Kenyan) and granddaughter made friendships and memories that will stand the test of time.
A REFLECTION ON THE LESSONS LEARNED DURING A CONNECTION TEAM TRIP TO KENYA.
By Keenan Morgan
While walking through the Mathare Valley slum in Nairobi, we would navigate these never-ending narrow walkways. Sounds of music, motorcycles, children playing, food cooking, and many others could be heard all around. The mod podge of wood and sheet metal surrounds you, almost making you feel claustrophobic. Ducking your head to avoid live wires and watching your step to avoid slipping on the mud and into the ditch is a daunting task.
One at a time we were waiting to enter the small home of an incredible woman who is trying to do everything to support her children. Waiting near the back I tried to use my senses to take it all in when I heard a small voice behind me say, “Hello.” I turned around only to be confronted with more wood and sheet metal. Until I realized there was a crack looking through to the next walkway.
Through the crack, I saw a beautiful little Kenyan girl standing in a doorway waving at me. I smiled and waved back before it was my turn to walk into the home.
Whenever God gives me the chance to travel internationally, I always wonder what He is going to teach me. This lesson might have been one of the greatest I have ever learned. In places of extreme poverty, we sometimes only see what is wrong. This causes us to go into “fix-it” mode trying to figure out what we can do to fix the situation. We have good intentions, but oftentimes we leave feeling like we haven’t even made a dent in the problem. But I don’t believe that God is always calling us to FIX what is wrong. I think God wants to use these experiences, like a Connection Team Trip with Hope’s Promise, to make a difference in our own lives so that we can return home with a passion and fervor to continue working to impact the lives of others. Could it be that our mission field is wherever we are in the moment? What may feel like a drop in the bucket can turn into a bucket overflowing over the course of a lifetime.
God always teaches me a valuable lesson when I am willing to listen to that still small voice saying, “Hello.” The lesson this time is this; when all we can see is the trash, the hurt, the brokenness, and the ugly dirty mess, God sees the beautiful potential. He sees the seed being planted in the empty desolate field that will one day be a beautiful forest flourishing with life. He sees the bad and despite it, redeems and restores it. We can see this beauty too and be vessels of the work if we are willing to peel back the layers of bad and look through the cracks. If we can put aside our motives, ideas, and wants, then we can look at the world through God’s eyes to see His plan and purpose at work. We can begin to see the beauty that exists despite the bad.
“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7b NIV
Somehow, we were lucky enough to visit the ends of the earth and find the same Jesus who works in our own hearts bringing hope and transformation to the Hope’s Promise Orphan Care program in Vietnam.
Child Sponsorship Re-imagined by Hope’s Promise
Hope’s Promise worked hard in 2022 to identify a new model of partnership designed specifically for the needs of an orphaned child’s heart. Early in the year, we asked current child sponsors to imagine a new kind of “sponsorship” that stays behind the scenes, invisible to the child but nonetheless essential to the family’s success.
We asked partners to consider with us global orphan care research that reveals a child’s greatest need when he or she loses one or both parents – God’s love expressed through a new caregiver and family. We asked partners to consider that sometimes a relationship with someone far away, especially someone who is known to support them financially, can distract a child from trusting and attaching to their family.
And we asked for feedback. Overwhelmingly, partners responded that they want what is best for the kids. The one concern we heard expressed is that our partners want to maintain connection. They want to pray for families and kids by name. They want to know that your generosity is impacting real people in real ways.
So, imagine becoming a “Family Champion,” someone who upholds, advocates, supports, and speaks up for orphaned and vulnerable children. Although Hope’s Promise children may never know the names of Hope’s Promise’s “Family Champions,” our partners are no less a catalyst for transformation than when we called them a “Child Sponsor.”
As we transition to the “Family Champion” model:
- We are committed to funding the kids in our program, so even without a child sponsorship program, we will never cut a child due to lack of funding without first letting all our ministry partners know about the situation and inviting intervention.
- Every donor is considered a “Family Champion.”
- Family Champions choose a specific country to give to, with the option of “following” a specific family.
- “Following a family” means Family Champions receive an initial information packet about a specific family in the country they choose and at least one update per year. We will tag current child sponsors to follow the family of their sponsored child.
- Family Champions will receive at least two “Impact Reports” per year, highlighting kids and families in the country where they choose to partner. Family Champion “followers” will also receive at least one report per year about the specific family they follow.
- We will continue to offer opportunities to send special gifts with teams to deliver to families.
- Family Champions can still write a note of encouragement to the families they “follow” or to a family in general to be chosen by the Country Coordinator. We forward emails to in-country staff for delivery.
The big change is that the kids won’t know Family Champions are sending money for their benefit. Instead, they will credit their caregivers and families for taking care of them by partnering with their country’s Hope’s Promise ministry. Family Champions will strengthen Hope’s Promise kids’ trust and attachment with the people God has first and foremost appointed to express His love to them. Family Champions will give orphaned and vulnerable children what they need most.
Learn more here: https://www.hopespromise.com/become-a-family-champion/
by Colleen Briggs | colleenbriggs.com
Imagine for just a moment: you are a newly widowed mother with nowhere to go. No income, no family support, no government social services. You re-locate to uninhabited land, build a mut hut, and eke out subsistence. Amidst the grief and hardship, your three children are your joy and hope. But you must make the heartbreaking decision to pull your oldest son out of school. Although he’s unusually bright and has only completed seventh grade, you simply can’t afford the fees.
Then one day a strange man shows up on the untamed land. A pastor, he invites your family to church in an open-air building of corrugated metal sheets propped up on a concrete slab. He does more than preach, though. He starts coordinating construction of greenhouses, teaches residents of your “squatter” community how to raise tomatoes and other crops, and eventually trains and empowers your oldest son to supervise other workers on the farm. Your family benefits from the food that grows on the developing land, but money remains sparse. Miraculous provision arrives in the form of a high school scholarship for your second-born, a daughter. But worry lines crease your face. When schools open again after Covid lockdowns, your youngest son, age twelve, remains at home.
Unbeknownst to you, somewhere far away, someone donates an unexpected gift. Wheels grind into motion, beginning with the realization that the funding will allow for the addition of eight more kids to a Zimbabwe relative-based orphan care program, and culminating in the appearance at your door of the church’s evangelist. She invites you to a program that will pay your youngest son’s school fees and surround your family with encouragement and training.
But the miracles aren’t over yet.
A group visits, including your pastor and several strangers. You welcome them to chairs under a tree, proud to introduce your youngest son and your daughter. Recently, she aced her high school completion exams. Her scores qualify her for top university placement! Face shining, she tells the visitors of her aspirations to study law.
Your heart sinks. The organization that funded her high school studies does not pay for university. Although your oldest son works on the farm now and the community wants to support your daughter, you know the resources available won’t be enough. You’ve heard stories of impoverished women who give in to “sugar daddies” to afford university. Somehow, God must make a way!
What you don’t know yet is that He already has. As it turns out, another donation has been received for Zimbabwe’s relative-based orphan care program to fund another student’s university studies, and the donation is more than needed. After the visitors leave, Zimbabwe staff and the visitors decide to designate the overage for your daughter’s first year of university. Their excitement overflows. Not only will a deserving young woman progress in her education, but she will write a new narrative of possibility for all the little girls in the squatter community.
Also unknown to you is the sacred wonder unfolding in the hearts of the visitors. Somehow, they stumbled into a moment perfectly choreographed from the beginning of time by a God Who has always seen you, who sees you now.
Who sees and loves us all.
Jack and Miranda traveled to Vietnam with a Hope’s Promise Connection Team in 2019. In a recent Vietnam Virtual Experience, they shared about a particularly moving visit with the biological family of N’goanh. After losing both his parents, N’goanh came home to a Hope’s Promise non-relative based care family in 2013. The team visited his biological aunt, grandma, and other relatives.
No one is called to do everything, but everyone is called to do something.
Our very own Director of Orphan Care, Colleen Briggs, talks about how Hope’s Promise has used virtual mission experiences in a creative way to support our four foundational purposes for facilitating in-person mission trips.
Do you remember Christmas when you were a kid? The thrill of trying to develop x-ray vision to see what was inside those boxes?
I met Sylvia (name changed) early this year. Yet due to the intervening pandemic, it seems like many years ago. So much has changed since January, when I looked into Sylvia’s sparkling, spunky eyes. Then, through Hope’s Promise’s support, she had the hope of attending school and pursuing a better future. In March, Zimbabwean schools closed due to lockdown and remain shuttered, with no date announced for re-opening. Additionally, the lockdown rendered most of Zimbabwe’s day laborer workforce unable to earn income.
Even before Covid19, eight-year-old Sylvia endured more real-life nightmares than many people will face in a lifetime. Sylvia’s parents died when she was very young, along with most of her aunts and uncles. Grandma and Grandpa took in Sylvia and her cousins. Then Grandpa died. Grandma’s only option – relocate as a squatter to nearby farmland, build a mud hut, and eke out subsistence day by day for her young charges. Compounding the challenges, some of her grandchildren now battle the same disease that wiped out their parents’ generation. They need healthcare, of course. But reports from earlier this year of seven babies stillborn in one night poignantly reveal the endemic malfunction of Zimbabwe’s medical system: France24 article.
More fundamental even than access to a doctor, kids like Sylvia need proper nutrition for medication efficacy, much less survival. But if Sylvia eats a little sadza (cornmeal mixed with water) every day, she’s lucky. Even before Covid19, half of Zimbabwe’s population (total population of over 14 million people) already needed food aid according to the World Food Programme. Sylvia represents one data point in that massive statistic.
As if food shortages were not enough, Zimbabweans lack even basic access to water and sanitation: Human Rights Watch article. The pandemic has further compounded terrible pre-existing suffering, but, shockingly, Zimbabwe’s health minister was arrested and convicted of grafting Covid19 resources. Aljazeera article.
Due to the leadership of Hope’s Promise Zimbabwe staff and the generosity of Hope’s Promise donors, Hope’s Promise is making a vital difference in the lives of kids like Sylvia. So far, we’ve provided emergency and rent funding for three months to our families and hold enough in reserve to assist through November if the lockdown continues. With each bag of staple food items passed hand to hand from our Zimbabwean staff to our families, we affirm this core truth: Zimbabwe is not comprised of statistics, but people counted one-by-one. Sylvia, and each child like her, matter.