Two and a half years have passed since I clicked the “Sponsor Me” button on Compassion’s web site. Thus began the years of correspondence and of brightly colored pictures arriving in my mailbox.
I had heard of people traveling overseas and actually meeting their sponsored child, but I never dreamed that it would be possible for me to meet Wubalem, the little girl I sponsor in Ethiopia. It wasn’t until one day last summer that I even considered the possibility.
I was planning to go visit my sister who lives in West Africa and was checking around for the best flight options. On that particular day, all the connecting flights flew through Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. All of them.
I got in contact with Compassion immediately and they helped begin the process of making this trip possible. I filled out paper work, cleared background checks and applied for visas for my mom and I.
Our time in West Africa came to an end, after spending five wonderful weeks with my sister. We boarded the plane and flew over the Sahara desert and landed in Ethiopia.
We arrived at the Project around 2pm where we met Wubalem’s school teacher, pastor, and principal. They ushered us into the office. The smell of incense and freshly roasted coffee met us as we stepped inside. A coffee ceremony was being prepared for this special occasion.
Without warning, Wubalem entered the office. Tiny, timid, but with big, trusting eyes.
She greeted everyone there in the traditional way, and then sat next to me. There was silence for a moment, as all eyes were on me, then her, then back to me. I wasn’t sure how to proceed. “Did you have a good day?” I asked, looking at her. After the translator interpreted, she nodded. I knew that her eighth birthday was coming up. “What would you like to do for your birthday?” I asked. Her eyes shone as the words slipped from her mouth. “Maybe we will eat cake.”
But best of all, she told me that she would like to become a pilot when she grows up. Why? So she can fly to America to visit me.
After a thorough tour of the school grounds and church building, we climbed into the Compassion vehicle and headed across town to Wubalem’s home where we would have the chance to meet her family.
We parked on a quiet street and walked towards Wubalem’s home. She lived in a poor section of town, but it looked clean and well kept. As we rounded a corner in the street, I could see through an open gate to a small gathering outside one particular home.
We stepped through the very same gate and moments later, were met by her family and a few curious neighbors. Wubalem’s dad greeted me first, speaking the few English words he knew, “I am Wubalem’s father.” Her mother emerged from the doorway and wrapped me in a tight hug. She told me through tears how much she loved me and appreciated what I did for her family.
Throughout the visit, it became so evident to me that these people knew Jesus. There was light in their eyes and joy in their faces, in spite of the few possessions they had.
We were invited inside and sat down in their small, one roomed home. Crowded into their living room space, we exchanged stories. Wubalem’s mother sat across from me, cradling her baby girl. “You have helped my family so much. I am grateful to God for you,” she wiped the tears away from her eyes as she spoke. “God is so good to let you come and visit my family. Thank you, thank you.” she said.
“I grew up without a dad, but God always provided. No matter what. So, I am so happy to be able to share whatever I can with other people. And I have waited for this day to come for many months. I could not wait to meet you!” I said.
Wubalem’s father spoke up next. “Every time I think of you, I pray that God blesses you in return for the ways that you have blessed my family.” I let the words sink in slowly. Wubalem’s family prays for me. Somehow it had never occurred to me that these beautiful people from half way across the world prayed for me.
This sponsorship was so much bigger than I had ever imagined. It wasn’t only about what I could give to a needy child and her family. It was about a relationship that was impacting both of us. That day, I learned how giving and receiving intertwine.
The visit came to a conclusion much too soon, but the memory lives on forever in my heart.