Friday, September 4, 2015

A Bloody Robe, A Tiny Ark, and the Vessels of Salvation

Rescued from a ruler bent on his destruction.
Restored in the house of the king.
Released to bring redemption and liberation to the masses.

And it begins with a bloodstained robe…
Genesis chapter 37 tells the story of Joseph. The 11th son of Jacob, Joseph grew to be treasured in his father’s eyes. As a physical sign of his favoritism, Jacob bestowed upon Joseph a beautiful robe; a symbol of what would be his place in the family and an emblem of the growing envy of his brothers. When Joseph began having dreams in which his siblings were bowing down to him, envy gave birth to hatred, and hatred led to a plot against Joseph’s life. Far from home they stripped the young boy of his robe and abandoned him in an empty cistern.  One of his brothers thought better of killing him and managed to persuade the others to merely desert him in the reservoir. Instead, tempted by a passing caravan, they sold him as a slave to the traveling merchants. Joseph was transported to the land of Egypt and auctioned to the highest bidder. The brothers, having rid themselves of the favored child, dipped his robe in the blood of a goat and returned to their father with evidence of Joseph’s demise and the tale of his slaughter by a wild animal. In the land of Jacob, the father grieved his thought to be dead son. In the land of Egypt, Joseph began a slow ascent to redemption.
Years later famine enveloped both the lands. In an act of desperation Jacob sent his sons in search of assistance outside their borders, a search that would eventually take them to Egypt, where they would unknowingly encounter the favored child once more. In Egypt, Joseph had risen to power alongside the Pharaoh and ruler of the land. Because of Joseph’s wisdom and foresight, Egypt was equipped to deal with the same hardships, having stored up grain to survive the years of deprivation. Joseph would eventually reveal himself to his brethren, forgive them for their act of betrayal, reunite with his father, and welcome Jacob and his people into the land of Egypt.  All told, the people of Jacob, the Israelites, some 70 in total, relocated to the land of the Pharaoh and began a new life in Egypt as the book of Genesis comes to a close.
As the years passed Israel swelled in volume in their now adopted land. 70 had become hundreds of thousands now occupying foreign soil.
They…”multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.” (Exodus 1:7)
But as their numbers grew, their favor shrank. A new pharaoh rose to power and brought with him no connection to the events of the past and no knowledge of the man that was Joseph (Exodus 1:8) To this new ruler, the Israelites were nothing more than a resource, nothing more than a mass of potential workers and laborers. He was convinced, perhaps with merit, that if these people were allowed to continue growing and expanding, eventually they would be the majority. They would be capable of joining with the enemies of Egypt, and they would be the new rulers of his land. 
Some time earlier Egypt itself had fallen victim to an invading force know as the Hyksos, a people who poured into Egypt from the land of Canaan, overthrew the governing pharaoh, and ruled for over a century before being driven back out. Would this pattern repeat itself? Would Egypt be overthrown again?  This time, was Egypt’s biggest threat growing freely within its own borders?1
In pharaoh’s mind, the fate of his country and his people were hanging in the balance, and an intervention was needed. A plan was formed; it was time to cull the growing herd.
“Come, let us deal wisely with them.” (Exodus 1:9-10)
The plan was simple but brutal. Work them to death. The Israelites were marched out to sites around Egypt and tasked with building and manual labor. Taskmasters were ordered to lay the whip to them and required unceasing toil.2
“They made their lives bitter with heavy work at mortar and brick, and with all kinds of labor in the field. All the work they exacted of them with ruthlessness.” (Exodus 1:14)
Israel in Egypt by Sir Edward John Poynter, 1867
 It was common practice for Egypt to enslave a people for public works and expanding of territory, but Pharaoh’s real motive was simple population control.3 Philo, an ancient Jewish chronicler, described the scene as such,
“And so they died, one after another, as if smitten by a pestilential destruction. And then their taskmasters threw their bodies away unburied beyond the borders of the land, not suffering their kinsmen or their friends…” to even attempt to bury them, nor weep over them.“4
In the Talmud, a piece of Jewish oral tradition, a story exists of Pharaoh forcing the people to build their beds next to the work sites, claiming that walking to and from the job site was a waste of valuable time. But the underlying rationale is even more sinister. By keeping husbands away from their wives, there exists no possibility of procreation.
Yet, even this wasn’t enough to quell the population growth. Pharaoh was forced to take a more direct approach. A degree was issued; any male baby born to an Israelite would be immediately killed. To accomplish the task, the king recruited the midwives charged with assisting in births to act as immediately executioners.
“When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him, but if it is a girl, let her live.” (Exodus 1:16)
This idea of mass genocide was not new to the ancient world.  But the midwives refused, afraid of the divine punishment that might follow such an act. When Pharaoh learns that his plan is faltering he orders the midwives to answer for the failure.
“Why have you done this thing, why have you let the boys live?” (Exodus 1:18)
The midwives understand that their own lives are at stake with the answer to this question. So they make an excuse.
“Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” (Exodus 1:19)
The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptians, they claim. Once in labor, they drop their babies so quickly that mother and child are finished and gone by the time we’ve even heard of the labor. They assert that they’ve tried. They claim it’s impossible.
Pharaoh, like most men at the time (and perhaps even now), would know very little about the ways of childbirth. Naturally, he accepted their excuse.5
Undeterred, Pharaoh turned his attention to the public and tasked them with fulfilling the command the midwives had been unable to follow.
“And Pharaoh gave this order to all people: “Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.” (Exodus 1:22)
And in this, pharaoh succeeds. Jewish oral tradition passes along 2 particularly disturbing tales from this genocide.
According to one story, the Israelite men would be given a daily quota of bricks, and the result of each days work was calculated at sunset. If he were found to be even one brick short, the youngest child of the Hebrew worker would be seized and built into the wall in place of the bricks. The child was entombed alive into the wall.6
Another story has squads of soldiers roaming house to house in search of male babies. They would bring with them an Egyptian mother and her child. When they entered a home, they would pinch the Egyptian baby, forcing it to cry. The bawling of the child would prompt any hidden Hebrew babies to begin crying as well, and the soldiers could easily locate it and take it away.7
It is into this environment that the boy Moses was born. It is into this these turbulent times that Israel’s immediate salvation found his way into the world.
“And the woman conceived, and bore a son,; and when she saw him that he was a godly child, she hid him for three months.” (Exodus 2:2)
The nightmare of these 3 months is unknown and left to our imagination. Any parent can attest however, to the difficulty there would be in trying to keep a 3-month-old child a secret from the world. Newborns aren’t particularly known for being quiet.  I cannot begin to imagine however, the fear that a mother and father would live with, knowing that any moment someone could come to take their son. Every noise, every knock on the door, “is this the moment they’re coming to take my child.”  
And yet miraculously, Moses survived those 3 months. Unfortunately as a child grows, so does the inability to keep him hidden. Relying on God, on faith, and on courage and ingenuity, she developed a plan to give her child one last chance at life.
“And when she could no longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch; and she put the child therein, and laid it in the flags by the river’s brink. “(Exodus 2:3) KJV
Moses' Mother by Alexey Tyranov, 1808
Imagine the pain in a simple push. Imagine the emotion that must come from launching a tiny vessel containing your child and not knowing whether you are sentencing him to life or to death.
The Bible records his sister following at a distance, watching to see what will happen with this little boy. Will the boat stay upright? Where could it possibly end up?
“Still, the Bible offers a subtle signal that predicts the success of their daring ploy. Like the ark itself, the baby would be picked up and carried along by the current of a freshening stream of sacred history. The Hebrew term used by the biblical author to describe the frail little boat of woven reeds in which the baby was sheltered is teba, a word that appears elsewhere in the Bible only once, and then to describe the mighty vessel in which Noah and a precious remnant of human and animal life sought refuge from the flood that destroyed the rest of life on earth. Something momentous was at stake, we are meant to understand: the survival of an enslaved people and the destiny of humankind would depend on the ark that now floated in the shallows of the Nile and the goodly child who was sheltered inside.”8
And the ark would provide. It would shelter Moses; carry him to a better life. The tiny vessel led Moses into the outstretched arms of the Pharaohs daughter. She would gather him from the river, rescue him from the genocide, and raise him as an Egyptian prince. He would be restored in the house of the king; clothed, educated, disciplined, and cared for. He would grow in knowledge and compassion. And eventually, he would be released to return to his people and be the leader God appointed to rescue them from their own slavery.
A massive ark provided salvation for a remnant of humankind in the flood. A frail and miniature ark provided that same opportunity for what would be the salvation of the Israelites in Egypt. Both were vessels of hope.
In 1995 Children of Promise began in Tanzania, offering food, clothing, healthcare, education, and spiritual nurture to children in need. At the time it was customary for countries to choose a name under which COP would operate, a moniker to describe in national terms what Children of Promise was striving for in their host country. A patriarch of the church in Tanzania, Eliezer Mdobi, christened the newly founded program, “Safina.”
“Safina” is a Swahili word, and a direct reference to the Biblical narrative.
Quite simply, it translates to, “Ark.” 
The “teba.”
From the mighty boat that sailed through the flood to the tiny basket that lapped through the waves of the Nile, “Safina” was to be a vessel that carried children out of unfortunate circumstances and into a hope filled future. “Safina” was to be both a physical and spiritual vessel of salvation.
Like the arks of Noah and Moses, Safina was to Rescue children from desperate situations. Safina was to Restore them both physically and spiritually. And Safina was to Release them into a life of providing those same services to others in need.
Outside the Safina Offices in Tanzania, 2011.
 Since then thousands of children have been carried along through the work of Children of Promise, not only in Tanzania, but also in 28 other countries around the world. Children who, through no fault of their own, have been born into often times hopeless situations and environments. COP has been the vessel that has carried them through the rough waters of life. Each of these children has been supported, sheltered, protected, and guided by individuals on the other side of the world in the form of their sponsors, and in the folks from their own countries who have invested their lives in offering the same hope they once found.
If you are currently sponsoring a child through the work of Children of Promise, or any organization that provides hope to children in need, thank you. Thank you for being a part of this vessel, and for being a part of introducing children and their families to the love of God.
If you haven’t got involved yet and you’re interested in learning more about the life changing work Children of Promise is doing around the world, please visit our website at or call us at 765.648.2190.
Change a life. Sponsor a child.

1.  Kirsch, Jonathan. “Born at the Right Time.” Moses, A Life. New York: Ballantine Group, 1998. 31. Print. 
2. Kirsh, 1998, 31.
3. Kirsh, 1998, 33.
4. Philo of Alexandria, The Essential Philo, ed. Nahum N. Glatzer, New York: Schocken Books, 1971. 200.
5. Kirsh, 1998, 36.
6. Kirsh, 1998, 37 citing Angelo S. Rappoport, Ancient Israel, London:Senate, 1995. Vol. 2, 237, citing, inter alia, Shemot Rabbah.
7.Kirsh, 1998, 37 citing Louis Ginzbert, The Legends of the Jews, trans Henrietta Szold. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1909-1938. Vol. 2, 257, n. 23, citing, inter alia, Midrash Shir Ha-shirim Rabbah. 
8. Kirsh, 1998, 43.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Transfer of Leadership: Herman David Kisasila

When we made the decision to leave Tanzania at the end of this year, we didn’t do so because we were tired, frustrated, or worn out from the work here. In fact, we very much grieved the decision. But, we did so because we were on the cusp of completing the work we were sent here to do. Our primary goal here in Tanzania has been to be a transitional piece, a bridge between the missionaries who have run the Children of Promise program in the past and a new Tanzanian director. For us, when we made the official transfer of leadership to Herman David Kisasila, a Tanzanian, it felt like the end of a journey. But that journey didn’t begin with us; it started many years before we would ever arrive in East Africa. This is the story of how a young East African boy would grow up to be the new Director of Safina: Children of Promise in Tanzania, and the folks who have helped him along the way.

Herman was born in 1978 and spent his first few years in Arusha town. His father and mother would separate when he was only three, as his father walked out on the family and never returned. To this day Herman hasn’t seen or heard from his dad in over 30 years. At age seven his mother sent him to live with his grandmother in Babati. The small house he shared with six other cousins would be his home for the next six years; his bed was a small patch of floor, he spent his nights nestled in amongst his relatives.

At age 13 Herman began Secondary school, sleeping in a dorm on the small school campus in Singe. It was here that Herman first learned English, and here that he would graduate in 1995. Upon completion, he moved back to Arusha and completed a two-year course in electrical installation, graduating with his certificate in 1997.

Having moved back to Babati, he began working with local electricians doing small installation projects around town, while also attending the Babati Church of God. It was also here that one of the patriarchs of the Church of God in Tanzania, Elizer Mdobi, began encouraging Herman to apply for admission at the Bible school. Although he knew little about the Bible, he was anxious to learn, and passed his entrance exam and was given admission.

Herman began courses at the Bible school in September of 1999. It was also during this time that he began developing a relationship with then missionaries Don and Caroline Armstrong. Don and Caroline were the directors of Children of Promise in Tanzania, but Don was also the principal of the Bible school. Caroline, for her part, would be Herman’s English teacher during his tenure at the school. In 2000 Don left the Bible School to focus on the work of Aldersgate and Bruce Hazel became the new administrator. Bruce would begin several projects during his time at the school, including a new grinding machine and chicken development. Herman would be appointed the supervisor of each of these projects, and would also continue doing small electrical projects around campus.

Herman graduated in 2002 with a certificate in theology. At around the same time a new ministry of the Church of God was beginning in Dar es Saalam, Tanzania’s capital.  It was to be the first Church of God congregation in the city. The current pastor of the project was elected to a new position and the church began looking for someone to take over while they searched for a new fulltime pastor. Herman agreed and in October of 2002, left Babati for Dar. He initially agreed to provide leadership for two months. Despite receiving no payment or income for his work, he stayed to lead the church until February of 2003.

Herman returned to Babati and reconnected with Don and Caroline. Don offered him a job working at Aldersgate and he continued there for several months.

By this time, Don had passed on leadership of the Children of Promise program to new missionary Jeri Kemmer. Jeri’s husband Rick was beginning his own community development project at the time, working under the title of CDM. As Rick sought an assistant for the newly developed program, Don was quick to recommend Herman. Herman began working for CDM in December of 2003, and would spend his time assisting Rick in teaching and instructing development programs with Maringa trees, goats, and dairy camels. At the same time, he was overseeing the construction of new Bible school dormitories.

In 2004, Jeri would hand over leadership of Children of Promise to new missionaries Ben and Kelli Shular. Herman would continue working with CDM through 2006 when the program ended. It was this same year that Herman would marry his wife Grace. As his employment with CDM had come to an end, Ben offered Herman a full-time position with Children of Promise. He had been doing some part time work throughout 2006 with the program, but was now coming on as the lead assistant for the program, overseeing employee salaries, letter translation, driving, and disbursement.

In 2008 Jon Matlock replaced Ben with Children of Promise, as Ben moved on to other projects in Tanzania. While Herman would continue to work part-time with Ben, he maintained his role with COP. Eventually Ron and Carol Baker would take over for Jon, and Ben and his family would finish their work in Tanzania. At that point, Herman returned to COP fulltime and was given the title of Tanzanian director, a position that had him working alongside Ron as the National Director of the program.

In May of 2012 we arrived in Tanzania and eventually took over the position of National Directors from Ron and Carol. For the first several years of our ministry we worked alongside Herman in a co-director role along with the rest of the Tanzanian staff of the program. We knew when we arrived that Herman’s leadership was the future of the program. After continuing together for several years, the time was right to make the full transition of leadership. In May of this year we announced to the general population that Herman was now the official Director of Safina: Children of Promise in Tanzania. In August we will have a special ceremony with Linda Mason from our American office to recognize the decision.

Herman has been uniquely shaped, educated, and prepared for this position. His path and the folks that have walked along with him through its various stages have equipped him in every way possible. I can’t begin to explain to you the quality of Herman’s character and the qualifications he brings to this position. I’m confident he will do amazing things going forward. While Herman is now technically the “boss” of Safina here in Tanzania, he sees things with a unique perspective,

“The title isn’t my primary concern. My real boss is each of the Children of Promise students. Together with the staff, the committees, the parents, and the church we will work together for the benefit of the children. They are our central focus. They make our positions exist and their care and well-being will continue to be at the center of everything we do. “

Please know that the future of Children of Promise in Tanzania is in great hands. We rejoice in knowing that our students in East Africa will be well taken care of for years to come. Not only because of the amazing staff here in Tanzania, but also because of all of the wonderful sponsors around the world who continue to invest in changing the lives of these kids. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The End of the Sea

Five years ago when we started the process of moving from our home in Ohio to our new life in East Africa, we were quick to realize the difficulty in the transition. But among the painful experiences necessary for our relocation, (selling our home, transitioning employment, fundraising, and finding homes for our pets), the most trying part of moving across the world was the physical act of leaving our friends and family behind. 

Naturally then, you would think that as we prepare to move back to the U.S. at the end of this year, the greatest joy would be in reuniting with those folks. And while that is certainly true, it’s also not that simple. Not only because those relationships have changed in the last several years, but also because we’ve developed so many new ones on this side of the world. Whereas we grieved our stateside relationships 5 years ago, we are now beginning to grieve what will be the loss of our relationships here in Tanzania. No matter where we go, we’re forced to say goodbye to someone.

And as we continue to process that paradox as a family, a specific text of scripture keeps reappearing in my life: 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelations 21:1-4)

I don’t think, as so often we’ve understood, that the book of Revelations was intended to scare us away from hell. I don’t think it was written, as can be said about the Bible as a whole, to push us into a life of fear at the hands of an angry God. I certainly don’t think it was ever intended to be used as the subject of innumerable corny Christian movies. 

Pieces of apocalyptic literature, which is what the book of Revelations is, do however paint broad pictures of a final destiny for mankind. And if you scrape past the details of flaming lakes and fiery dragons, you’ll stumble upon an actual message of hope. I think often we wrap ourselves up in the details and try to spend our time deciphering each minute piece of the narrative. The reality is that the medium itself is the message. The details may be wild and ripe for speculation, but it’s the core message underneath that really matters. Read the text again:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelations 21:1-4)

I may never understand the full complexities of all the analogies, metaphors, and images presented in the book of Revelations, but I can understand passages like this one. I can appreciate and connect with words that paint a picture of a God who understands, sympathizes, and feels our pain. A picture of a God who’s calling out, “One day I will bring an end to your suffering and recreate everything again, newly free from pain and absent of mourning.” 

That is a beautiful and profound thought. But it’s not where my mind keeps focusing. Instead, I keep coming back to the end of the first line, “…and there was no longer any sea.”

Why? Why bring an end to a body of water? What’s wrong with the sea? I can understand removing death. It makes sense to get rid of pain and mourning. But who doesn’t like the sea? Most people I know like the ocean. Personally I’m a big fan of rivers, ponds, lakes, gulfs, and streams. Why then are we going to eradicate them? 

I’m actually a scuba diver. I’ve got a little card that says I’m certified to strap a giant tank to my back and go underwater for extended periods of time. I can speak firsthand of the wonders and miracles of life that exist in the sea. God created these vast stretches of life-giving water, so why remove them?

The author of the book of Revelations is a man named John. An early follower of Christ, John found himself the subject of persecution at the hands of folks who didn’t embrace the message that Christ had brought and that was now expanding in the areas around the Mediterranean Sea.  But unlike other early messengers of this new hope, John’s persecution did not take the form of martyrdom. In fact, John is believed to have lived a long life. 

Unfortunately for John, a significant portion of that life took place during his exile on the island of Patmos. Patmos is about 13 square miles. It has almost no vegetation and is volcanic in origin. Quite simply, during John’s life, it was a rocky and barren place. It was here that John was banished for his beliefs. 

When John woke up each morning and peered off towards the horizon, he was surrounded by water. And it was that water that separated him from everything and everyone that he had ever loved. The sea kept him from the embrace of a family member or the touch of a friend. That vast expanse of water kept him alone and isolated, a physical wall separating him from the physical presence of his loved ones. 

So when I read Revelation, I do so thinking about a lonely man trapped on an island. And when I read that there will be no more sea, I understand why. That isolated man is describing his own hopes for the future. He’s envisioning a world where loneliness and isolation don’t exist. There will no longer be anything separating us from the love of one another. 

When John penned what would become the book of Revelation, I believe he was writing out of the great longings of his own heart. Hopes that someday death will be abolished, mourning will cease to exist, and all of the pain of this world will pass. One day, there will be no more seas separating us from that which we love.

My problem is not the same as John’s. I carry with me my wife and my children. On this side of the world I have friends, colleagues, and folks who are committed to walking alongside me as we work together to care for the lives of those to which we’ve been entrusted. And on the other side of the world, when we return to the U.S., I have friends waiting. I have brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and grandparents anxious for us to be physically close once again.  
Even so, no matter where we go, there will always be a sea separating us from a group of people that we love. 

For now. 
"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes...There will be no more death...There will be no more crying or pain."
In the meantime, we rest our hope not in the physical relationships that ebb and flow in this lifetime, but in an unchanging bond with the Most High. We dwell in a relationship that knows no separation, 
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-29 NIV)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Princess and the Boy's Bike

When we arrived in Africa we inherited a number of items from the families that had occupied our compound in the past. One of those objects was a small red bicycle. Our children were still too young to ride it initially, but over several months our daughter took interest in it and eventually rolled it off of the porch and into the driveway. With the training wheels attached, she would scoot and wheel the bicycle over the stone surface of our parking lot. In time, she learned to remove the small rear wheels that offered additional support and was able to navigate around the property on her own. 

As she continued to grow in height the bike became less and less conducive to her continued development. As she pedaled her knees would scrape against the metal handlebars and her thin, lengthy frame would scrunch together as she lowered herself in the seat. Eventually she stopped riding. 

Because finding a bike for myself had proved so difficult I didn’t think much of looking for one my daughter might be able to ride. She hadn’t shown interest in one in several months, having been deterred by the tiny one at the house. But one day God smiled upon us while I was in town and I stumbled across one that was her size. I inquired as to its price before eventually agreeing to trade an old workout bench in exchange. The bicycle was in decent shape physically, but cosmetically it had seen better days. The green and white paint was chipping off in places and the stickers that had once detailed a shiny frame were all peeling back and cracking. I stuck the bike in the backseat of the car and returned to work for the remainder of the day. 

 I sat at my desk that afternoon considering my daughter’s potential reaction. You should know that she is a princess. She lives and breathes a world of pretend kings and queens. She dresses herself in bright pinks and purples and has, since moving to Africa, worn dresses exclusively.  She refuses to wear jeans; and she accessorizes with only the glitziest fake jewelry. Every available space in her room is adorned with colored pictures of princesses and ponies. She refuses to play with certain toys, proclaiming them to have specific gender assignments, “That’s a boy toy.” 

She would never sink to the supposed level of participating in an activity she deems too masculine. I’ve tried challenging this on multiple occasions in her life and we’ve specifically raised her to experience things from both sides of what some would consider typical gender attributes. But she is, and perhaps always will be, ingrained at some very deep physical level to be a pink loving princess of a woman. 

For this reason, the more I thought about the lime green and white bicycle in my car, the more I was convinced she would hate it. She is also strong willed, so if she immediately saw the bike and didn’t like it, she’d be hesitant to ever ride it at all. She has very specific tastes. I considered these facts for the rest of the day and even as I drove up to the house later than afternoon. While there was, what I believed to be, a strong chance she would dislike my gift, I had decided to present it anyway.

That evening after dinner I asked her to come outside with me. I had washed the bike when I had returned home and left it sitting in the garage. Under the overhang she noticed the somewhat glistening piece of equipment.

She looked at me in surprise. “Is that for me?”

“It sure is honey. I knew you were too big for the other bike and I found this one in town today,” I replied.

I knelt down beside her as a huge smile appeared across her face. She pulled me in for a hug and yelled in my ear, “I LOVE IT!” She raced to grab her helmet before darting off to try her new bike. Soon she was flying around and circling the driveway. For weeks afterwards not a day went by where she wasn’t riding well into the evening hours. 

Later I talked with Deanna about my initial fears. I explained how I was worried about our daughter’s reaction and how the bike definitely wasn’t what you’d consider “girly.” 

We started looking back at the last couple of years we had spent in Africa and I realized that I hadn’t given my little girl enough credit. In America she was showered with presents. Birthdays, holidays, and sometimes for no reason at all she’d be loaded down with gifts from her parents, her grandparents, and her aunts and uncles. In those days, the quantity was so large she had no choice but to be picky. When a heap of toys is lying at your feet on Christmas morning it’s only natural to pick out the one that has your favorite color or your favorite character. It’s easy to be choosey when you’re surrounded by selection. 

But here, on the other side of the world, those gifts simply aren’t available. The selection of goods is minimal when compared to the western world. It’s the reason you see African men wearing bright pinks or shirts that would be associated with a woman in western culture. Those are the items that were available to them. It’s why you see houses painted in vibrant purples. That was the only color that fit their price range or was passed down from a friend. It’s why village kids only have homemade toys, small wire creations or the lids of buckets pushed along the ground with a stick. 

Granted, I’m not talking about necessities when I speak of my daughter’s bike. Even if we wanted, we could go to a major city and find toys or items that matched our children’s primary interests. We’d be able to afford them, unlike many of the village children we work with. We can pay extra for clothes that fit or for paint colors that don’t blind us. 

For our family, life doesn’t depend on just accepting something because that’s all there is. Still, as I watched my daughter circling around the driveway, I began to appreciate another of the small lessons she had learned while living in East Africa. She was appreciating a gift, not because it was a color or the exact item she had requested, but because it was given to her in love.

When the gifts are few and far between, a chipped and peeling “boy’s” bike can be pretty special. 


A note about Children of Promise…

Each time you support a young boy or girl with Children of Promise you are speaking that same message of love to an underprivileged child on other side of the world. Your gifts are far greater than a small bicycle. Not only are you providing tangible resources to these children and their families, but you are equipping children with the tools necessary for a lifetime of success. You provide food, clothing, and healthcare, but you also give resources that will continue with a child long after they’ve graduated from the program. You’re giving the gift of education and spiritual nurture. 

Believe me, your gifts are making a huge difference in the lives of children here in Tanzania. I wish for a moment you could experience the joy that comes in watching a family hear that their child has been sponsored, knowing full well that their life is now forever changed. I wish you could see the smiles on the faces of your kids when they receive letters and pictures from you. And I want you to know, just like my daughter, their joy really comes from simply knowing that someone loves them.