As we kick off the week of Valentine's Day, I wanted to share a post written by one of our sponsors named Nancy Peterson who went to India this summer to meet her sponsored children. This is love and connection at its best.
Channeling my Inner Elsa
I’ll start by admitting that I am used to being in control when I travel. I actually counted, and I have taken over 90 international trips over the course of my post-college life over the last 15 years. (I would ask myself where the time went, but then I look back at that trip count.) Almost all of these trips have been for work, where I managed my own travel and was most often the lead of the team I was traveling with. India was a good lesson in letting go and letting others lead…especially God, the real leader of this journey.
Landing in Rajahmundry, India was like a homecoming. Though I had never met the Thota family, who are the local representatives for Children of the Kingdom, our entire team was welcomed with open arms…literally! Big warm hugs all around, beautiful flower garlands placed over our heads, so many smiles.
And with that, we were off to our hostel and straight into learning the art of letting go (cue the Frozen theme!).
One of the big goals for our time in Rajahmundry was to visit the families of the kids Children of the Kingdom is supporting through sponsorship. I was of course eager to know when I would meet my kids…like, literally when, per the typed schedule we didn’t have, would I see them? And God being the jokester He is, meeting my first kid was a complete surprise.
We went into the neighborhood where many of the sponsored children live, but we were not sure who would be home. In particular I had asked (of course) and had been told we wouldn’t meet Preema Vani that day. But per God’s plan, as we exited one family’s home, it turns out right next door was the home of Preema and her sister! Suddenly then, there we were, being welcomed into the small space they share. This one room, which couldn’t have been more than 10x10 square, served as living room, bedroom, and storage for everyone. What I would consider a small bedroom back home contains their entire home life in India.
And yet it was the most beautiful space. Soft blue and lavender walls, beautiful saris in bright fabrics tucked away in cubbies, shiny aluminum pots on shelves high above the bed, framed photos of family and of Jesus.
There was instant recognition between the two of us, like meeting a distant relative. Preema was shy, but I was too and was trying to overcompensate with a huge smile that was probably overwhelming and adding to her shyness.
We also met Preema’s sister and I immediately connected with seeing them interact. It is so clear how much they love and look out for one another like my sister and I do. Unlike my family, they just have each other at this point. Preema’s father left long ago, and their mother also left for life in a city. They are the sweetest young women!
I got to see Preema a few days later after we served lunch for women in the sewing program (and many of their friends). Once again, God put her in front of me when I was least expecting it. And it turns out my friend Preema is a talented henna artist!
It was such a quiet and genuine moment to watch her create an intricate design on my hand and arm, including putting my initial in the middle of my palm. It was such a simple gesture, but in that moment I felt so known by her in a way that surprised and blessed me. Most fun was had at the Children of the Kingdom banquet. The shyness evaporated in the midst of celebration. Smiles and giggles came out of both of us. Selfies were taken…many, many selfies were taken. Like old friends we wanted to capture this time together and have a memento. It was an amazing time.
Meeting Varun was planned out, but it didn’t exactly go as planned. Welcome to India! We went to his school, initially planning to find him as school let out. But the distraction of few Westerners standing around as kids were being picked up was a bit too much, so we retreated to a spot outside the school yard. When Varun came up, it was a mixture of recognition and surprise. All the photos I had were of a little boy, but standing in front of me was a tall young man. Very different from what I expected! He was a typical teenage boy, trying to be polite, but totally self-conscious meeting this new person in front of classmates…and it probably didn’t help that I was a Western woman…oh the embarrassment we adults cause teens! It was so cute! We kept it brief, and I knew I’d see him later at the Children of the Kingdom banquet.
The banquet just made everyone more comfortable. Varun was clearly happy to hang back with the boys his own age…I’ve concluded teenage boys are basically the same everywhere in the world. As the evening wrapped up, we took a few photos and I was so happy to see a big, genuine smile on his face. I think I broke through his shell a little.
The best for me was yet another unplanned encounter…I got to meet Varun’s dad at the end of the banquet. Varun and his dad look so much alike! Their closeness was clearly not just in similar features. When so many kids that we met had dads who were not around or not supportive, it was heartwarming to see even in just a short moment how much Varun loved his dad and how his dad loved and was so proud of him.
Meeting the kids I sponsor seemed so fleeting and so impactful all at the same time. It has created a connection that turns my monthly donation from a simple deduction in my bank account and an occasional letter, to now a shared experience and memory with Preema and Varun. For all my travels and all my planning, these unplanned moments with Preema and Varun rank among the best of my life!
As a way to ring in the new year today and to start 2019 with some news of hope, I wanted to share some good news from our students’ 18th annual mission trip. Children of the Kingdom had a follow-up mission trip before Christmas between December 19th- 21st to Kekuto Village where they planted a church last year in December 2017. Kekuto Village is approximately 83 kilometers from Lodwar town. It is situated in Loima sub-county, the western part of Turkana County. On arrival to the village, they were greeted by the community with a very warm welcome of dancing and shouts of joy. The area chief was among the welcomers.
The team hosted an open air revival meeting, they showed the Jesus film, they donated clothes, and they also went house to house in groups of four to share the gospel. Over 700 people came to the meetings our students hosted, and they visited over 130 people in their homes. They got to be a part of God’s work of bringing over 100 people into His kingdom as they have been faithful to share the hope they have in Christ. Our mission is to share God’s love with children in need to equip them to be servants in the kingdom. They are definitely living this out and exemplifying the verse from 1 Thessalonians 2:8: “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”
Paraphrase of John 1:12-13:
“For anyone who says yes to Jesus
For anyone who believes what Jesus said
For anyone who will just reach out to take it
Then God will give them this wonderful gift:
To be born into
A whole new life
To be who they really are
Who God made them to be-
Their own true selves-
May you be reminded that you are invited into this good news afresh in 2019 and may you experience hope and freedom as His beloved child.
"God of promise and hope and renewal,
God of love and joy and life.
Plant seeds of light within us.
Let them emerge from the darkness,
like the sun rising with the dawn,
giving new life,
where none seemed possible.
Newness is on its way.
Your Word, spoken from without,
Now flames within.
Your light birthed,
in the darkest places of our world,
and the hidden cracks of our souls.
Let the brightness of your Son shine,
In us, through us, around us.
Let your Spirit nourish and grow it,
until wholeness pushes up
through the broken surface of things,
and green shoots emerge
with the promise of life and hope and truth."
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!
On Christmas Eve, students in Kenya gathered together to celebrate Christmas. The party started with praise and worship led by one of the students. Bishop Kaaleng, founding pastor of Children of the Kingdom, and Mzee Musa, parent of one of the children and former security guard for Share International, shared messages of hope encouraging the students to continue to follow Christ and to live lives honoring Him. Silale Arot, Bernard Lokol and Linda Akitela, students in Children of the Kingdom, exhorted their peers to work hard and try to improve their performance in 2019. The children gave thanks for the gift of love and kindness provided by their sponsors and had a wonderful time celebrating Christ's birth together.
Master of both the light and the darkness,
send your Holy Spirit upon our Christmas season.
We who are anxious over many things give thanks for your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”
—adapted from Henri J.M. Nouwen
Let Christ be born in the innermost
quiet spaces of your heart.
Let Christ be born in the streets and in the ghettos,
in the famines and the plagues and in the wars.
Let Christ be born not faraway in distant ages,
but in every heart and every place where love and faith are found.
Let Christ be born and find in us His Bethlehem.
"We think of Advent as a time of us waiting for the birth of Christ, yet in some ways it is just as much a time of Christ waiting for us – waiting for us to notice him and to take time to acknowledge him and waiting for us to allow his light to shine through us."
Thank you for making room in your hearts for the children in our program! May you continue to allow God's light to shine through you this Christmas season.
Merry Christmas from Children of the Kingdom!
On Thursday this past week in Kenya, three of our sponsored boys (Gilchrist Billa, Silale Erot, and Benson Ekamais) graduated from college. Meanwhile, on that same day, we celebrated Thanksgiving here in the US. My two children, Anna and Taylor, helped raise $5500 with our annual Rafiki Run by running in a Turkey Trot here in Seattle Thanksgiving morning. It seems only appropriate to stop and give thanks to God for these three boys and their accomplishments, for the generosity of their sponsors through the years to get them to this place, and for the donations that were given for Children of the Kingdom on Thanksgiving for the Rafiki Run as well. What a wonderful celebration from one side of the world to another!
Since gathering around a table is so significant for the Thanksgiving holiday for family and friends here in the US, Anna was dressed as the kid table for our festive Turkey Trot, and I was running as the grown up Thanksgiving table. With all the fun, we raised over $5400 for Children of the Kingdom! May your tables also be bountiful this holiday season and full of feasting, merriment and good cheer!
It's that time of the year when I am compiling reports, and I feel like a proud mama as I look at these beautiful pictures of the children who are growing and flourishing in our program.
I wanted to share just a few of the profile pictures and to thank you for sharing God's love with these precious children through the gift of your sponsorship for their education. With your support, the world is changing for the better--- one child at a time.
Today we celebrate International Day of the Girl, which is an international observance day declared by the United Nations for the purpose of increasing awareness around issues that girls face around the world.
More than 62 million girls around the world have no access to education. We are grateful that we can be a small part of changing that narrative through sponsorship of the girls in our program in Kenya and in India.
The US Agency for International Development summarizes it best here:
"Education is one of the most critical areas of empowerment for women, and it shouldn’t be a luxury. When girls are educated, they lead healthier and more productive lives. They gain the skills, knowledge and self-confidence to escape the cycle of poverty. They become better citizens, parents and breadwinners. An educated girl has a positive ripple effect on her health, family, community and society as a whole."
Norwegian Ambassador to Malawi, Asbjørn Eidhammer proclaims, “Educating girls is the single most powerful investment for development. When you educate a girl, you educate a nation,”
It seems fitting that we received some wonderful news about one of our girls in India today as a way to mark the International Day of the Girls. Devera Bapanamma Bhargavi has been a part of Children of the Kingdom since 2015. She has completed nursing school this year and was just offered a job this past week. We celebrate her hard work, give thanks for her sponsors who have come alongside her to support her education, and look forward to seeing how she will be an agent of change in her family, community and beyond.
Thank you for your commitment to our girls in Children of the Kingdom. When these girls and women are empowered, everyone benefits.
Join us in praying for safety, protection, and increased opportunities for girls and women around the world:
LORD, WE PRAY FOR GIRLS WHO HAVE NEVER SEEN THE INSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM. WE PRAY YOU WILL BREAK INTO THEIR WORLD AND REMOVE THE OBSTACLES THAT LIE IN THEIR WAY. TEACH THEM HOW PRECIOUS AND BEAUTIFUL THEY ARE. STRENGTHEN THEM TO PERSEVERE AND TO LIVE THE ABUNDANT LIFE THAT YOU INTEND FOR THEM.
The fall means back to school routines here in the US, and in Kenya, students also are back to school after a break in August for their final term of the year.
With that in mind, I wanted to share this blessing from our church to encourage you to come alongside your sponsored child in their studies through your gift of prayer.
God, our teacher…the source of all wisdom and knowledge…we are grateful for the gift of learning. Lord, we ask your blessing on these students. May they welcome the hard work of learning and discovery with joy and not fear. May their minds be open to new wisdom wherever it can be found—in books, in relationships, in fun, and even in mistakes.
And Lord, we ask your blessing on these teachers. May they share their knowledge with patience and grace, may they model your generosity and kindness with the students in their care, and may they trust that you go before them into every lecture hall and classroom and seminar. And Lord, may all of us learn to seek YOU first, and your righteousness, trusting everything else will be added in its time. Amen.
-J.J. Kissinger, University Presbyterian Church, Seattle, WA
Below are pictures of some of our students at a recent school visit to the Salvation Army Nawaitorong Secondary School.
The picture above is from the banquet hosted by Ratnakar Thota (India director) and Emily Huff (USA director) for the children in Children of the Kingdom last week in India. (See our updated website for more pictures from our time in India with these wonderful children). Our director in Kenya, John Lohoi, hosted a banquet for the children in Kenya this week. We are so thankful for these gatherings around the world to celebrate these sons and daughters of the King!
The following story is an old favorite that Emily Huff shared with the children at the banquet last Friday in Rajahmundry, India:
On May 28, 1972, the Duke of Windsor, the uncrowned King Edward VIII, died in Paris. The same evening, a television program rehearsed the main events of his life. Extracts of earlier films were shown, in which he answered questions about his upbringing, brief reign and abdication. Recalling his boyhood as Prince of Wales, he said, “My father (King George V) was a strict disciplinarian. Sometimes when I had done something wrong, he would admonish me by saying, “My dear boy, you must always remember who you are.” It is my conviction that our Heavenly Father says the same to us everyday: “My dear child, you must always remember who you are.”
Below are pictures of the beautiful children who were crowned at the banquet in India-- may they remind you of the "great love that the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!"
The following post is written by Heidi Hopkins who is a dear friend who has sponsored boys in the Children of the Kingdom program with her family for the last 18 years. Her family had an opportunity to go to Kenya this summer and were finally able to meet the boys who have grown into young men. It was exciting for me to see pictures while they were there and to share stories upon their return about the incredible joy it was for them to see the fruit of this ministry.
We got off the airplane in Lodwar and stepped into the heat. It was a stark contrast from the more chilly, rainy weather in Kitale and Eldoret. Baggage claim in Kenya is refreshingly simple: you stand outside near the plane, they drive the trailer full of bags up and you pull your bag out of the trailer. We walked through the tiny airport and out the front doors and there they all were: Philip, Loibach, Peter, Alfred, and Zakayo. Grown now, here were the kids whose pictures and reports and letters we had opened in the mail regularly over the last 18 years. Here they were! We hugged them and called them by name and let ourselves feel the fullness of our belonging to each otherwhich had up to this point been virtual.
We piled into the back of a van with our bags while the boys hopped on motorbikes. We waved at them through the rear windows of the van like silly children on a school bus all the way back to the center where we would be staying. We spent a couple hours gathered around the table eating lunch and chatting with them. We heard about Zakayo studying at the medical training college to become a community health worker and Alfred training at the technical college to work in shop keeping and warehouse management. We found out that Loibach had to drop out of school in grade 5 to start working after his father died, so he is a "boda boda" driver now (motorbike taxi) and doesn't speak much English as a result of his schooling being cut short. We made sure John translated what we were saying from that point on so Loibach could be included. We learned that Peter had an engineering contract with an oil company, but after that ended he opened up his own welding and fabrication business next to his family home. And we listened to Philip share his earnest passion for shepherding young people as he described his work as a volunteer teacher. He is waiting for a paid position to open up now that he has his bachelor's in education. We gave them each a gift of a watch, and chuckled to ourselves at how American that is since, unlike the Africans, we really do allow time to rule our lives!
Then we piled back into the van and visited all 5 of their homes. Wow! We bumped along narrow dirt roads and into areas fenced off with sticks, with several homes built on the dirt. Some were mud and dung with a thatched roof, others were cement with metal doors. We went inside some of the homes and at others we sat outside under a tree. Life is very indoor/outdoor in Lodwar because it is so warm--laundry, dishes and cooking are often all done outside the home. Trees are used for shade when people gather or students study. Kenyans are hard-wired for hospitality--visitors are one of the most important things to them. It isn't politeness or manners--it is their heart to attend to you with all they have inside and out. No matter the type of home, chairs were arranged and we were invited to sit down. Each person introduced themselves. Given our situation, there were words of heartfelt thanks, sometimes with tears and much earnestness, and so much was exchanged non-verbally.
I gave a small gift of jewelry to each of the mothers or sisters. Alfred's mom received a moon and star necklace of mine which sparkled on her dark, dark skin so beautifully. We talked about how we can both look at the same moon from opposites sides of the planet and think of each other. Alfred's parents have 7 biological children and 11 orphans in a tiny cement house about the size of a small American kitchen. I'm not sure where everyone sleeps. Alfred says they are all in bed when he needs to study in the evening. Philip's family was so grateful they gave us their goat. And by the time I got to Loibach's house I had run out of gifts, so I fished around in my purse to see what else I had. I asked John if a headlamp would be a useful gift, and he said it would be! I gave it to Loibach's wife.
Peter asked if we could sponsor his brother for college, as the whole extended family depends on Peter's income from his welding business and he doesn't have enough to pay for his brother's college. Similarly, Loibach's entire family depends upon his $5/day income as a driver, but $2 goes back into the motorbike for fuel. He asked if we could sponsor his first born as he is about to enter school. We enthusiastically agreed.
The rest of our visit was spent visiting all different levels and kinds of schools, and meeting COK children there. Our boys had a ping pong round with some of the boys at a high school, and Maisy got to participate in a lesson with fellow 4th graders at a primary school--85 students in the room all sitting on concrete blocks at little wooden benches for desks. The common denominator everywhere was that they were thrilled to meet us, fascinated by the way we looked different, full of questions, and radiating joy. Constantly being "on" was both tiring and exhilarating as we knew this was a very special chance to really connect with the people and take in the culture. At one point when Maisy was overwhelmed by students crowding around, Marcus got irritated with her after we left that location saying, "Maisy, you have to be fully present and engaged with the people!" So sweet. The kids humbled me with their easy laughs and conversations with all the kids, never tiring of talking, playing soccer or volleyball, answering questions and making jokes.
A highlight for me was visiting the medical college and being shown around by Zakayo, as well as seeing and connecting again with Alfred at the technical college. At that particular school, 95% of graduates get a job immediately upon graduation. It was so exciting to realize that by sending a small amount of money each month, children are able to truly build a life of food security for themselves and their entire extended family, as they are able to support so many with a college-level job. It made me want to come home and see how many of the now 47 kids on the COK waiting list I could find sponsors for! My oldest works washing dishes at a restaurant and noted that he could easily give $40 per month to sponsor a child. This is only a few hours of work for him. My younger son wants to get a job reffing soccer games in the fall so he can sponsor someone. It's so exciting to think about leveraging the tremendous earning power even teenagers have here in the states and funneling it across the globe where it goes SO FAR and radically changes an entire family's future. Such a small drop in the bucket for a huge impact.
Being up close with the COK folks in Lodwar and with the families and sponsored children gave me a taste of what I will call their humble boldness--and I absolutely love the flavor of it. They are so aware of not wanting to take advantage, so aware of what has already been given, so ready to give whatever they have as a sign of thanks (for example they even took an offering at church because our family brought the message and it's customary for them to give a stipend to the speaker--amazing!) At the same time, they know that we have a lot, and that a little of what we have will change their lives. They are survivors, and in this spirit, they discern when and where it is the time to humbly ask for something. Like Peter asking for his brother or Loibach asking for his son. I wish you could see and feel the energy and presence that accompanies these requests. It is truly beautiful, and you realize that the scripture in Corinthians is really right on which says basically that some of us have essentially been given "other people's resources," and this is so that we will connect and share and find a special kind of oneness in this interaction.
We went shopping for some summer clothes and shoes this week, and the kids kept revising what they felt like they needed or wanted, what they could do without. I could see that their inner "calculators" had been adjusted. We didn't talk overtly about it, but I noticed. Even more important than this kind of perspective, in my opinion, was the fact that they formed true friendships with Kenyans, they laughed and sang and danced and ate with beautiful people from the other side of the planet who are different in every way and the same in every way all at once. I hope it is just the beginning for them of many, many relationships like this with other humans.
Write to your kids! Go if you can! Share with your friends the vision and genius of the beautiful exchange that happens through sponsoring and let's see if we can whittle down that waitlist! Wishing you all a restful summer :)