I've wanted to sponsor a child for a long time. I made excuses about the money and the timing, and I wondered if my small contributions could even make a dent in such enormous issues as poverty and injustice and limited access to education. Children of the Nations is a child-sponsorship organization that operates through village partnership programs and children's homes, and their mission is to raise children who transform nations. Our church partners with them in a variety of ways, one of which is sending an annual “teach team” to Malawi. Traveling with this team was the impetus I needed to finally pull out my wallet and put away my excuses.
Just before we left, I sat down with some of the staff from COTN’s Florida office, and they helped me select a child to sponsor. I narrowed down my search criteria and scrolled through the pages of pictures. I wasn't sure what I was looking for, exactly, but I figured it would be difficult to make a bad choice.
Then, I saw her.
I wondered about the missing R in her name and how it was pronounced.
I chose her.
Friday was our first full day in Mgwayi. All day long, a herd of children surrounded us, whispering “uzungu” (the Chichewa word for “white person,”) and asking, “One picture?” I kept scanning the crowd, looking for a face that matched the profile I had seen online, but no luck. So, I asked Davey for help.
The kids know him as Uncle Davey. He's COTN's Sponsorship Coordinator in Malawi. In that role, he maintains the relationships between children and sponsors, and he coordinates the delivery of services and resources to children in the program. In Malawi, COTN runs 3 Village Partnership Programs and 2 children's homes, providing services to several hundred children. If you show Davey a child's photo, he can easily tell you the child's name and recount his or her story. His intimate knowledge of the children and their needs is astounding.
“Davey, right before we left, I sponsored a child. Her name is Fotunate. She lives here in Mgwayi. Can you find her for me?”
“Oh! Fotunate? Oh yes.” He looked at another kid and said something in Chichewa, sending her off on an errand to find Fotunate.
Some time passed. We continued cooking our dinner and spending time with the family we'd been paired with that day, but Fotunate never came, and eventually I started the walk back to where our team was staying.
I was a long way down the path, talking to a new Malawian friend about what he wanted to be when he grew up, when I heard my name being shouted in the distance.
“Lindsey!” someone called. “Fotunate!”
I ran back and sure enough, there was my girl. Fotunate. She was wearing a green dress, slightly worn, and a bad cut was scabbing over near her right eye. Her hair was shaved close, and her smile was faint but sweet.
While Davey acted as translator, she told me about her family, and I shared pictures of mine. She never spoke above a whisper, so I leaned in close. She held my hand and hugged my waste, and the red dust settled at our feet as we talked. Fotunate. There wasn’t much for us to say, culture and language and age getting in the way. “Tionana mawa,” I promised. “See you tomorrow.”
As our time in Malawi wore on, I met so many children. We played silly games and chatted about school. They gave me their best “sakalela” and I took their picture. A few times, I connected with a child strongly, and I wondered, “Should I have waited to choose a child? Maybe I should have waited.”
A boy named Steven told me that he hoped to be an engineer. He prays for a sponsor every day, so that he can be certain his education will be paid for.
A preteen girl named Ivy joked with me, saying “21” when I asked her age. The two of us just collapsed into a fit of giggles.
A 4-year-old name Rashidi sang “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” for me and refused to let go of my hand.
Fotunate barely whispered.
I don’t know her hopes and dreams. I don’t yet have a good sense of her family’s stories.
But we colored a butterfly picture together, and she repeated my son's name as she looked at his photo.
And I chose her.
Evan and I are looking forward to sponsoring her for many, many years, Lord willing. We are praying for her every day.
One day, I hope we'll go back to Malawi as a family and meet her again. I'll stand in awe of the woman she's become and tell her I've read every letter she sent. She will still be missing the R in her name, but she will not have missed out on a quality education and she will not have missed a meal.
I still have so much to say about Malawi, but here is the most significant thing I learned. Here is the thing I most want you to hear:
God is at work in the developing world, and He is working through child sponsorship.
God is at work in me, and He is working through child sponsorship.
Written by guest blogger Lindsey Cornett who volunteers as a writer for the Summit blog and SUMMIT MAGAZINE. This post originally appeared on her personal blog.