One of the greatest blessings I've ever experienced was the opportunity to travel to Southern Africa with my daughter, Amanda, who was 20 at the time. I had worked with World Vision for almost 15 years in various capacities, mostly related to web and social media communications, and had traveled abroad several times. But this would be my first opportunity to meet our sponsored child, Gracia, in person.
The day Amanda and I spent with Gracia -- who lives in the southern part of the Congo and was 8 at the time -- is forever burned into our memories. Gracia is sweet, funny, and very smart. She lives in the poorest of circumstances, but has great potential to break the cycle of poverty, thanks to the way the Lord is working in her life through World Vision and others.
I'll never forget how Amanda burst into tears at the end of a day in which she and Gracia basically became big sister/little sister.
"Dad, we can't leave! What will become of Gracia?"
Amanda knew as well as I did that World Vision's support and our sponsorship already gave Gracia the best chance of achieving her dreams. But Amanda was reacting from her heart, and not her head.
Africa grabs your heart and never lets go. That's one of the reasons I've so enjoyed working with Dallas water activist, Karen James, as she's prepared to head to Zambia to visit her own sponsored child, Abgir Muleya.
Karen has had her own heart broken already. Later in 2006, the same year Mandy and I enjoyed our visit to Africa, her husband, Kelly, participated in a climbing expedition on Oregon's Mount Hood. He and his two colleagues perished after a freak accident near the summit, where a sudden, unexpected winter storm descended upon them.
A short time before their climb, Kelly had shared his heart with his wife, saying that his climbing skills might be put to an even greater use bringing attention to the plight of suffering children. The vision caught hold within Karen after Kelly's tragic death.
In Zambia this week: (left-right), Jennifer Smith (Karen's teammate), Musonda Chimbamba (World Vision Zambia), and Karen James.
Along with four friends, she launched the organization "if you knew..." Their slogan is "5 Women, $5 Million, 5 Years." Their mission is to help World Vision establish clean water sources in Africa to combat diseases that claim the lives of so many children. To date, they have already raised more than $2.1 million for this purpose.
But, as Karen says, "Time is ticking and these babies are dying!"
So, nearly halfway toward her goal, Karen left for Zambia last weekend to meet Abgir Muleya and to see how World Vision's work -- funded with the help of those who have so generously contributed to the "if you knew..." campaign -- truly is making a difference in real children's lives.
I am so excited to see what this trip will do in Karen! She has a huge heart, very excited to learn what God can do through ordinary people who attempt extraordinary things -- even those who have experienced some of life's most difficult tragedies.
Even if you can't follow Karen's footsteps directly by traveling to Africa yourself (and I hope you can!), you can follow along virtually on Karen's blog, encouraging her by sharing your comments and supporting her and her husband's dream.