“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Luke 15: 4-7
Today was our final day visiting Child Development Centers in Tanzania. Part of me is exhausted, a tired that I have rarely felt any other time of my life. Yet part of me feels more alive, more energized than ever before. Inspired by the words of one of our group leaders, Shaun Groves, I prepared to give as much of myself to this last group of children as I did to the first.
As we drove the hour or so to the center, we passed amazingly open countryside, Mount Kilimanjaro looming in the background. Occasionally we would see a person walking, often herding goats or cattle. What we rarely saw, however, were bomas, the homes of the Masai people who populate these lands. I began to wonder how far these people walked to find grasslands for their livestock to graze.
How far were the children walking right now to meet us at the Compassion partner facility?
The children at project TZ-505 greeted us with singing, taking our hands as we came off of the bus and onto their school grounds. They talked to us in the English they are learning as part of the Compassion program, and one by one they shared with me their hopes for the future – to be a nurse, to be a teacher, to be a doctor, to be president. I told them I would pray for each of them, and they solemnly looked me in the eyes and said they would pray for me as well. They told me about their schooling and the skills they were learning. We looked at pictures of my family, laughing at the orange hair on my husband’s face and the waist length ponytail of my daughter. We talked about the mountain behind the center, giggling as I tried to pronounce its name in Kiswahili. But while I looked around and got to know these beautiful, joyful children, I still did not see homes.
The time came for us to go visit the homes of three of the children enrolled in the Compassion International program at this partner facility. I was surprised when we got back on the bus because even though some of our walks to visit the children’s homes were long, they never required driving to the location. We drove for a few minutes and then the bus turned down a dirt road in the middle of what looked like a giant field of white flowers. Suddenly it stopped, and we got off…at what? Maybe a dirt path? A break in the flowers wide enough for one person to pass?
Led by the Compassion partner director and the fourteen year old boy we were visiting, Sunari, we walked for several minutes, jumping over paths worn into the earth by rain water, side stepping thorny bushes, marveling at termite mounds that rose up out of the ground. The longer we walked, the more I realized that I had no idea how to get back to the road. Occasionally we passed a boma of another family, but they all blended into the countryside, all looked one just like the other.
Eventually we came to Sunari’s home, his mother coming out to greet us at their boma. As we got to know one another we learned more about Sunari’s home life, his family’s situation, and the difference it has made to them that Sunari is sponsored by the Martin family. Without his sponsor, Sunari – who would like to attend university and become a doctor – would not be able to attend school. His mother also shared that before Compassion International registered Sunari in their local church’s partner program, she was without faith. She told us that since she has been filled by the Holy Spirit, she “thirsts for prayer”, praying for her husband to find faith as well, praying for her son’s continued education and health.
The joy of the Lord was so clearly evident in this family’s life, the Spirit moving through them, reaching out to other members of the family.
The changes to their lives as a result of Compassion were profound.
Joy. Hope. Love. Laughter.
As we left Sunari’s home, I began to wonder how Compassion found Sunari and registered him as a Compassion child, participating in his local partner program. I also wondered if we would find our way back to the bus. Sunari took my hand as we walked quickly, once again sidestepping the thorny plants at our feet, jumping over holes in the path. He told us that he walks this way by himself to school every day, guessing that it takes him about an hour, but not really sure of the time. Shaun asked the partner church’s representative how he is able to find Sunari’s home – or the homes of any of the children – when everything looks so similar, no clearly marked paths or roads or signs to guide their way.
His response? ”This is my office. It is my responsibility to know these children.”
Thankfully we did not become lost and we soon rejoined our group heading back to the center. But running through my mind was the parable of the lost sheep. The center staff near Sunari’s home – near being a relative term – valued this one lost child enough to make the journey to find him and release him from poverty – financially, spiritually, cognitively, emotionally.
Every child still waiting for a sponsor is equally worthy of our love, prayers, and assistance.
My time here in Tanzania is coming to an end, and while I will continue to share my experiences with my readers, friends, and family, I am beginning to feel an urgency for those precious children still waiting for us to leave our flocks and come find them.
I am asking you again today as I have all week to sponsor a child through Compassion International. Decide today to invest $38 a month and profoundly change the life of a child, that child’s family, and the entire community. Then please return here and share your decision with all of us, and together, we will rejoice!
Read the reflections from my fellow Compassion Bloggers at CompassionBloggers.com.