Singer, songwriter, and World Vision Artist Jennifer Shaw writes about her recent trip to the Dominican Republic and the life-changing experience of meeting her sponsored child, Melandia.
* * *
World Vision has been a constant part of our family. When I was little, we always had a sponsored child's photo up on the refrigerator. At 17, I sponsored a child for the first time myself.
And now, as part of the World Vision Artist program, I have been working to find sponsors for World Vision children at my ministry events for years. I was thrilled to be able to go and see their work in the Dominican Republic a few months ago.
Before we left, we decided to sponsor a new little girl in Dominican Republic so that my husband, Nathan, and I could meet her while we were down there. Her name is Melandia. When we got her picture folder, we wondered who she really was. It's so easy to see all the pictures and think of children in need as a big group or a problem to be fixed, but they are not. They are individuals, children just like mine, with their own dreams and gifts and potential to make a difference in the world. We were so looking forward to meeting her!
Before we got to Melandia's neighborhood, we got to see several of the programs run by World Vision in her area, and it was truly amazing. I was expecting the schools and the medical clinic. I was expecting to see children who had access to nutritious food and clean water where there had been none before.
What I wasn't expecting was the realization that when we sponsor a child, it's not just that child who is sponsored -- it's his or her whole family, community, and future.
Melandia's area is caught in the grip of generational poverty from which there is no escape without help. They are of Haitian descent, people who immigrated here to live in shantytowns and work the sugar cane plantations. There's nothing else here. If you have nothing, how can you get the start-up funds needed to become educated, or move to a better area, or buy a bike to get your crops to market, or find the materials to create something for sale?
I saw World Vision running not just medical clinics and schools -- which are incredibly important -- but also teaching gardening techniques to moms; giving classes at the vocational school, such as barbering, baking, and sewing; and teaching basic math skills and how to run a business. Perhaps most startling was to see the small business loans of $100, $200, or $500 that had completely transformed families.
These are sums most Americans wouldn't think much of, but we met a father and son who used that money to buy a grinder. They collect plastic trash from their area, grind it up, and sell it to area companies as recycled plastic. They paid their loan back in 10 months, and now they support their entire family with it. They are saving and plan to expand their business next year.
When we got to Melandia's house, we met not only her, but her younger sister, her mother, and her little niece as well. We met her chihuahua and learned that he made her less shy. The first thing she brought to show us was the letter we had written to introduce ourselves. We gave her a picture of our family and letters our children had written to her. We brought her some school supplies and little presents and groceries for her family.
And during that whole time, her mother just beamed at her. She was so proud of her daughter! It was her mother who got to me. What mom doesn't want to see her child thrive? How difficult it must be to not be able to give your children the future you want for them; and that is what World Vision is addressing.
That was the moment I realized that we are not just sponsoring Melandia. We are sponsoring her family. It costs us so little, and because of our sponsorship they have access to so many resources. Because of our sponsorship, we can write and remind them that God loves them and that we are praying for them every day, even though we live thousands of miles away.
When one sponsored girl we met was asked, “What is your favorite thing you ever received from your sponsor?” she answered with no hesitation. “Every time they write, they send me their love! Every time!”
That incredible gift of love is what World Vision makes possible.
* * *
Jennifer Shaw is a World Vision Artist. She is also a speaker, author, singer, and songwriter whose ministry has been featured by Focus on the Family, FamilyLife, Joni and Friends, Autism Speaks, and many more. She loves glorifying God with her songwriting and has had five Top 40 Billboard songs.
She lives with her husband, Nathan, and their three children in Columbus, Ohio. For more information, visit www.jennifershaw.com.
Consider sponsoring a child today! Your monthly contributions will help provide life-saving basics for a child like Melandia and her family.