For 5 days, I am touring Kenya to see, learn, and blog about the incredible impact Compassion International’s 287 projects are making in Kenya. Each day teaches me more about the importance of child sponsorship. And each day teaches me more about how child sponsorship dramatically changes a kid’s life.
Today I had the honor to take Owen to a Kenyan amusement park. I’ve seen the local poverty. I’ve heard the stories. But this was the first time I saw with clarity the gritty reality of what my child sponsorship means to Owen.
Owen is a smart kid. He knows 3 languages. He loves school. And he works hard. But the gritty reality is this alone will statistically never get him out of extreme poverty. Without the support of Compassion International, children like Owen spend their lives in a cycle of poverty constantly struggling against hunger and disease.
We get that story. Many of us have seen the photos, watched the videos, and listened to the stories. But many of us are still detached and unable to truly grasp the gritty reality of what extreme poverty is. We get the concept of the bad, but it is not until it is benchmarked against the good (that we’re so often desensitized to) that I was able to understand how important of a role my family will play in Owen’s life.
I’ve never seen chicken bones picked so clean. Owen’s smile was heart gripping as he cleaned a few inches thick of food off his plate. His eyes were wide and voice filled with “ahh’s” as we looked at photos of my wife (Evie) and son (Eli), who were unable to make the trip.
“He has so many toys!” Owen exclaimed about a photo of Eli with a bag of erasers and preschool basketball goal. His comment wasn’t necessarily surprising, but I was amazed by the stark contrast between his perspective and those of U.S. kids.
What did surprise me was Owen’s excessive joy when he climbed into an inflatable playground. I don’t think he had ever experienced such a thing. It overwhelmed me, and I began to cry. I held back my tears not wanting him to rob him of an ounce of joy by thinking that something was wrong. But after years of children’s ministry, I have never seen a child so thrilled with an inflatable playground (watch video).
The smiles continued as we rode rides, gave presents, watched crocodiles, and spent the afternoon together.
But this story also has bitter to go with the sweet. I had to leave Owen. And Owen had to leave the park. I cannot take him back to the park (at least anytime soon). I want to return someday with my family to visit Owen, and I wanted to promise him I’ll be back soon. But it is not a promise that I can guarantee soon or ever. The best I can do is write him often. It is hard to say goodbye to Owen. It is hard to say goodbye to each Kenyan child I leave behind, like the Masai boys who grabbed my arms and legs and sat on me saying that I couldn’t go… that I have to stay.
If you let yourself become detached from child sponsorship, it is easy to look at it as an inconvenient $38 per month. Some even consider it expendable when budgets get tight. But if you ever have the honor, the privilege, the life changing opportunity to meet your sponsored child, you will no longer think about the $38. You will think about how can you give more to that child.
In Kenya, there are 3,000 children waiting to be sponsored. If this story touches you in the least possible way, please try to make the time and money to write and sponsor a child monthly through Compassion International.