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He has a smile that fills up his whole face; his laugh draws you in. When you really get him going, there’s a light in his eyes that tells you this is one of the good ones. His name is Mayeso, and I met him in Malawi in July 2010. When I went on the trip, I had no intention of sponsoring a kid. But this guy — he found his way into my heart and is still there today.

That first day in Malawi, I clicked with him and his little entourage. They taught me how to build a wall out of mud and bricks, with Mayeso acting as my main coach. When I got carried away thinking I was Bob Vila, he would laugh, fix the brick, smooth the mud, and push me on to the next one. It took no time for us to fall into the habit of old friends, poking fun and laughing along with each other. Every day when I showed up to the village, Mayeso and his crew would find me. Within minutes one of them would be wearing my sunglasses and another my backpack, and we’d dive in, the conversation flying. Sometimes we had a translator, and we’d ask questions, talk, and laugh. Other times we had no idea what the other one was saying… and still we’d ask questions, talk, and laugh.

I get letters from my now 14-year-old buddy Mayeso. They read like any 14-year-old boy’s would — aloof, playful, with all the necessary details — and I can see his smile in every word. And each time I write him back, I hear him laughing as we walk down the village path. As for Mayeso’s entourage: Mike, who always took my sunglasses first and tried to hide his tears the day I left — my twin brother now sponsors him. And Enoch, who refused to let my Southern drawl pronunciation of “Eee-nuch” stand, but coached me until “Ee-nauck” came naturally — Mom and Pops now sponsor him.

I made a little family while I was in Malawi, and now they are part of mine. I had a set idea of what sponsorship should and would be — but it was so wrong. I didn’t extend help; I extended a hand. And the resulting handshake? Well, it shook me to the core.

Guest blogger Del Schwalls is a long time Summit partner and a volunteer in Base Camp, Base Camp Live!,  and Worship. He is also an editor for SUMMIT MAGAZINE.