In September of this year, while we were celebrating our 13th birthday as a church, one of our longest standing ministry partners was celebrating 20 years of ministry in Africa and the Caribbean.

We have been partnering with Children of the Nations (COTN) for nine years, working in Malawi and Sierra Leone. During this time, there have been innumerable stories of transformation, both in the lives of Summit and those in COTN.

Nine years ago, we sent our first team to see, learn, and participate in the work COTN was doing in Malawi. The mission of COTN is to raise children who transform nations. Their mission resonates with us both in the priority given to serving the world’s most vulnerable and in their desire to see long-term transformation happen from within, through the children.

So we sent a “modestly-sized” team of 46 people, and ended up almost completely overwhelming our hosts. However, God used that team in amazing ways, and we are still in the midst of that story being told. Here are some of the noteworthy things that have happened since that time.

That first team of 46 ended up sponsoring more than 46 kids during their travel and sparked a sponsorship movement in Summit, meaning there are now over 400 kids sponsored in Malawi, Sierra Leone, and Ethiopia through both COTN and Children’s Hope Chest.

Since that first team there have been around 400 Summit attenddees who have gone with COTN to Africa, 57 of whom have gone again (and many of those who have gone again and again...).

At least 11 of those who have gone on teams have ended up joining COTN staff or worked as in-country consultants.

Many lasting relationships were formed between the team and our hosts, from in-country interns to COTN staff. Through those relationships, we share in milestones, celebrating weddings, career changes, etc.

One participant on that first team ended up forming an international non-profit that addresses the irrigation challenges he observed on that first trip. Now, Africa Windmill Project is partnering in agricultural communities throughout Malawi and into Tanzania, so that thousands of families are moving from subsistence farming to farming as a small business.

After witnessing the limited marketability of goods made by the widowed mothers of sponsored kids, another person on that team eventually shared the idea that became Market Colors. Now, Market Colors markets the handmade goods of those same women as well as similar groups throughout Africa and India.

Others on that first team saw the opportunity to partner with COTN in serving children with disabilities. Now, Summit sends a team each year to work specifically with disabled children and their caregivers. Their lives, and the cultural views about their disabilities, are being changed through this ongoing work.

On that first team, during downtime, team members playfully engaged with children who curiously approached from the “unknown” village behind where they were staying. Those interactions led to questions, which led to relationships, and then to partnerships. Now Summit has a significant and special relationship in the village of Mgwayi. We have partnered with them in schools, community centers, agriculture, sponsorship, etc. We have learned with them, lived with them, celebrated with them, and grieved with them.

The list of ways that God has used our partnership with COTN to change us, grow us, and invite us into His work could go on and on. The road has not always been easy, nor has the partnership, but it has been worth it.

And it will continue to be worth it in the years ahead.