Over the years, I have sponsored a few children who lived in poverty. I would mail a check, or better yet a automated bank draft, and the funds were sent like magic. A handful of letters and emails between myself and the child would go back and forth throughout the year, but I would be fibbing if I said that I ever truly felt connected to the person and family on the other side of the world. That wasn’t because the child and his/her family didn’t make the attempt, either, because they surely did. The disconnection came from me.
I remember one incident where I am the most ashamed. After an issue with a bank draft, one of my children stopped receiving the sponsorship funds they so desperately needed. Instead of jumping on the phone or running to the bank to get the problem sorted out right away, I simply chose to do nothing. I chose to do nothing. As if the child didn’t still live in poverty so they really didn’t need my funds anyway and totally wouldn’t notice if I quietly slipped away. I chose to pretend that this child didn’t even exist.
This guilt has stopped me from sponsoring children over the last few years because I absolutely didn’t feel worthy of doing so. I had left one child behind and I would do it again. I just didn’t have it in me to care for anyone beyond myself and my own family and should not get the hopes up of yet another child and his/her family to later crush them all. I cannot tell you the amount of guilt and shame I harbored for such a long time over that one decision to do nothing.
On a travel assignment to India last summer, I had the opportunity to visit several small villages and schools that had access to clean water, education and bathrooms, with the help of organizations like World Vision. Witnessing the impact these simple rights to humanity had on these children living in poverty hit me the hardest. THESE were the children I saw on sponsorship websites. THESE were the children that only have one pair of worn shoes, if that. THESE were the children that have trouble finding meals. THESE were the children that REALLY DO EXIST. God must have known that I needed to see these children in person to pull me out of my own guilt, shame, ignorance and self-absorbed mindset. God needed to wake me up so that I would finally do something. Say something. Act.
So I did act by sponsoring a child from World Vision. Zhanna from Armenia. A few days ago, I had the chance to meet Zhanna.
photo by Laura Reinhardt
Zhanna is 5 years old and lives with her parents and 2 brothers in an Armenian community that struggles with poverty. She loves to play with dolls and help her mother with household tasks at home. Though she isn’t currently in school, she plans on attending later this year. With my sponsorship, she can finally get school supplies, increased access to healthcare and medical services, various youth activities, Bible studies and summer camps.
At first, our meeting was a bit overwhelming for Zhanna. So many questions were coming from this strange woman (me) who didn’t speak Armenian and who didn’t really know her. After a tear ran down her cheek I decided to give her a gift instead – a gift bag of notebooks, pens and stickers. I stopped asking questions and just let her draw. She happily sketched a few pink flowers in her new notebook. She even smiled.
While Zhanna doodled, I directed my attention to Zhanna’s mother who I learned was a teacher of the Russian language. She even knew a bit of English. She expressed her gratefulness for sponsoring Zhanna and invited my family to come visit very soon. We ate our lunch together, glancing at each other between bites with a smile. Sometimes words do not need to be said to feel connected.
photo by Laura Reinhardt
After some time passed, Zhanna broke out of her shell a bit. She taught me how to count to ten in Armenian, shared her favorite color (pink) and told me what she wanted to be when she grew up – a doctor! A doctor. She has every right to be a doctor.
Though we only spent a couple of hours together that day and we may never met again in the flesh, I felt a sense of peace and calming. I felt incredibly honored and blessed to have met Zhanna when I did. To know that she’s shy like my own son, loves to play the same games as my boys and has a mother that loves her immensely – she just felt like a part of my family and one that I must care for.
photo by Laura Reinhardt
I have committed myself to Zhanna because she deserves a good education. Zhanna also deserves proper healthcare and to become a doctor if she so chooses. She deserves the life she has every right to have and I will be there every step of the way.
Zhanna exists and therefore will not be forgotten.
A big thank you to World Vision for sponsoring my travel, accommodations and meals during my trip to Armenia.