Jennifer’s gift

Jennifer’s gift | World Vision Blog

7-year-old Steven in Zambia and the malaria net that now helps keep him safe from malaria. (Photo: 2014 Jon Warren/World Vision)

Often in the communities where World Vision works, blessings abound.

Two weeks ago, our writer Kari Costanza discovered a new blessing: Mercy, a young mother in Zambia whose village believed her possessed because she had malaria so often, her 7 year old son Steven, and their whole village no longer get malaria!

Kari also discovered that the American couple that sponsors Steven are her friends! And the greatest gift to Mercy and Steven. Read their story!


I’ll be honest. One of the reasons I love reporting stories in the field for World Vision is that I see God at work. The work is challenging and often heartbreaking, but along the way, blessings abound.

It happened today.

World Vision photographer Jon Warren and I were reporting a story on malaria in Hamaundu, Zambia, interviewing Mercy Mumbala, 27, a mother of five. Malaria did more than nearly kill her. It made her the town freak show.

“Whenever I had malaria,” says Mercy, “I would have seizures. It has been perpetual. We never had two weeks of being well. It was quite difficult. We thought we were bewitched.”

So did her neighbors.

Jennifer’s gift | World Vision Blog
Mercy, cooking in her home in Zambia. (Photo: 2014 Jon Warren/World Vision)


Rennie Miyoba, a World Vision-trained caregiver who would check on Mercy, says, “I had to visit her regularly because she had malaria so much. I would help take her to the hospital. People said she had demons. It was like a show for everyone to watch.”

“I wouldn’t know what happened,” says Mercy. “I didn’t know what was going on until I opened my eyes and saw people staring at me.”

And then Mercy’s son Steven got malaria.

“That fateful day, my son Steven was experiencing a high body temperature. I took him to the hospital,” she says. “They gave him an injection and then sent us home. I put him on the bed to sleep. I saw his him turn his eyes upside down.” They went back to the clinic.

Steven, now 7, shut down. “He was just quiet,” remembers Mercy. “He didn’t shake or make noise. At that point, I was frightened. I thought he was going to die. He couldn’t walk. We went to the hospital for two weeks.”

After a time, he opened his eyes. “He could not move his body, his hands, or legs. But when he ate food, I knew he would survive,” says Mercy. “Then he began to sit up. He was weak and very thin. He couldn’t do things on his own. Malaria is truly a terrible disease.”

World Vision distributed mosquito nets—with training on how to use them properly—in the village right after Steven was stricken.

“I feel good now. I do not suffer anymore,” says Mercy. “There’s more dignity to my life. I feel blessed by God that I’m still here. The son of the principal died, but I survived.” And so did Steven.

“Now we no longer suffer from malaria,” says Mercy. “The hospital no longer treats malaria cases,” she adds.

Steven is healthy again. He’s shy and sweet. He has a sponsor in the United States who visited him in 2011.

“She told us that they have two kids and that they sell motorcycles,” says Mercy.

I ask if they have a picture of Steven’s motorcycle-selling sponsor and Steven runs into the house to find one. When I look at the family smiling back at me, I see it is my friends, Mark and Jennifer Smith.

A few years ago, I traveled to Ethiopia with the Smiths to visit World Vision water projects. Jennifer is effusive. Mark is a little more reserved. But in Ethiopia, he had a profound experience, carrying a heavy jerry can of water to the home of Kuma Wanboro, an Ethiopian father who had lost a daughter to sickness caused by dirty water. Mark was never the same after that walk.

In 2011, Jennifer visited Zambia. “Only Jennifer came,” says Mercy.  “I was really excited. When I saw her, I knew she was a loving person, that she is loving and kind.”

Now it is Mercy’s turn to be effusive. “Tell her that I met you,” she says. “Tell her I say hello. I was so moved when she visited. She brought clothes and sweets. It made me realize that God has his own way of doing things.”

Dozens of chicks scamper about underneath the guava trees as Mercy marvels at Jennifer and her kindness.

“I see God in our relationship,” she says.  “I see developments happen in our family as a result of sponsorship. I see God in the middle of it.” For that, she gives thanks.

“I pray for Jennifer,” she says. “I am thankful that she sponsored my child. It’s not about gifts. The most important thing is that she has given herself to my child.”

For Mercy and Steven, Jennifer herself is the greatest gift they could have.

But I ask Steven one last question—if Jennifer might send him something, what would it be?

“I would love some cookies,” he says.

While Jon photographs Steven with one of the World Vision-provided mosquito nets that now protects his entire family from the deadly disease, I go to the car. We have cookies there. They would be the perfect gift for Steven.

I walk back to the family’s home. “If Jennifer were here, she’d want you to have these,” I say, presenting Steven with delicious chocolate cookies. A big, bright smile replaces the shy grin he’s been wearing.

It’s time to let the family get back to the business of life—a life free of malaria and brimming with possibilities. Mercy gets busy cooking beans tonight with mustard greens and the local maize, nshima.

And thanks to Jennifer, there will be cookies for dessert.

Be the greatest gift in a child's life! Choose a child in Zambia to sponsor today.

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