Three years ago, my daughter, “Sixteen” and I went to Revolve Tour. It’s a two-day conference for teen girls…lots of bands, speakers, loud music, ear-piercing screams, giggling, etc. When World Vision (child relief organization) came onto the stage and shared the need for sponsors for children in third world countries, my daughter asked if we could sponsor someone. I told her absolutely but I wanted her to pick someone who lived in Sierra Leone, Africa because I knew our church had begun to do some relief work there and my heart was touched by the plight of the war-torn people. She chose 5-year-old Abu.
We began sending our monthly support but within a couple of months I received a phone call from World Vision. The woman on the other end of the line said she wanted to tell us how much they appreciated our support for Abu but she had bad news. He had been ill and they had transported him to a hospital but it was too late. He died in the hospital. She began to cry. She said she didn’t have to make many of these kinds of calls because once kids were in the program they received medical care and often clean water and nutritional help. But help had just come too late for Abu. Turned out he had Typhoid which is usually contracted by drinking contaminated water. I was stunned. And I had no idea how the loss of this little boy’s life would profoundly affect my life and that of my family and friends in the coming months. It was a seed planted that grew into a new direction for my life.
Less than a year from the time of that phone call I found myself standing on the red dusty roads of Sierra Leone, watching a clean water well being dug just outside of an elementary school much like Abu would have attended. That was the first well that local Buffalo non-profit, LetThemLOL funded in Sierra Leone. It was February 2010. As of today, in what I can only describe as a miracle, LetThemLOL has raised funds for 40 wells in Sierra Leone. That is staggering. We had no idea as we stood in that school yard two years ago watching children drinking clean water for the first time, that such amazing things would happen. There is so much to tell about what’s happened since I received the phone call about little Abu. I’m sure that much of the story will make its way into future blog posts and pages. (Click here for more writings about my trips to Africa) But for today, I’d just like to introduce you to a friend of mine.
I received a weathered 5×7 envelope in the mail this week. It took over two months to reach me and it contained pictures of another little boy in Sierra Leone.
This is my Joshua. I met him at that elementary school and somehow we just clicked. Every time I arrived at the school, there was Joshua…waiting for me. Offering to carry my bag for me, teaching me his native Mende language, scrounging up a handheld fan as I melted during a 110 degree church service. The strangest thing about it was he reminded me so much of my own son, Joshua. He is a couple of years older than my son, but they are all small for their size there due to malnutrition. His expressions, his eyes, so much about him made me think of my son…so much so that he felt like my own son. After a week, a piece of my heart belonged to him and leaving was so hard. Here is a picture of our good-bye. This is Joshua and his younger brother Caleb. It wasn’t until I got home and looked at my pictures that I saw how sad he looked that I was leaving.
Throughout the next year I prayed for him a lot. I was very frustrated that I had no way to keep tabs on him…no way to know if he was okay or in need. As the next trip loomed I began to fear what might happen when I arrived. The mortality rate in Sierra Leone is high. What if something had happened to him in the year I was gone? I don’t get anxious very often but this one had me worried. (I wrote a bit about my concerns one day. Click here to read.) I kept putting it in God’s hands but then I kept taking it back and worrying about what I might find when I drove up to that school.
It turned out (as it often does) that my worrying was in vain. Joshua was alive and well and happy to see me. I didn’t get to spend too much time with him but I did meet his parents and get their contact information so that maybe I could keep in touch somehow. His father worked at a huge mine that has electricity and allowed him occasional internet access. He promised to email me.
And he did. Not long after I returned home I got an email letting me know how the family was and what big events they had coming up in the summer (i.e. Joshua’s graduation from elementary school). In one of his first emails he said, “I would like you and your husband, Bill to give this request of mine a very solid thought as I want you to adopt Joshua as your son. You have concern for him just as the way me and wife cares.”
I was floored. Of course I would want to adopt Joshua if I could but Sierra Leone’s government has stopped all international adoption over the last couple years so it’s not even possible right now. Even so, think about his request. He and his wife would rather give up their son to give him a chance at a better life than continue to raise him in the harsh conditions that are the reality of life in Sierra Leone. Just imagine being in their shoes!
I explained to him that we weren’t allowed to adopt due to Sierra Leone’s laws but that we’d like to pay for Joshua’s schooling. (No free education in Sierra Leone.) So that’s what we are doing now. He’s in the midst of his first year of secondary school and we are so glad that we can at least do something to help him. And since he’s now in the capital city of Freetown, he can occasionally pay to use a computer and he emails me. Those emails are my favorite messages to find in my inbox. I remember one that had the subject line: “Missing you mum!” Heart…melts.
In his last several emails he’s asked me if I received his letter yet. He told me if I hadn’t he’d go to his post office and ask them where it is. 🙂 So after two months it has finally arrived. He wrote the sweetest letter telling me how much he misses me and thanking us repeatedly for our assistance with his schooling. He included 6 pictures of himself and his family members. He said, “Enclosed this envelope are some picture of mine in my school uniform. I send them for you to see how grown up am I now.” (So precious.)
My fervent prayer is that we will have the privilege to watch him grow up into a young man. He is part of our family now. My sons occasionally ask me if we’ll be able to adopt him. It doesn’t look likely. (Of course, if God opens that door…I’m there!) But maybe we can be a college dorm room for him when he’s eighteen!? Only God knows. I just know that I’m extremely excited to see him when I’m in Freetown in a few weeks. And I wanted to share with you all a little bit about my son from Africa. Thanks for hanging in there on a super long post!