My journey to Africa started with a rock star from Ireland telling me the church had missed the point.
While the Christian world was arguing over who was going to heaven and who was going to hell, Paul Hewson, a.k.a. Bono, was reminding us that thousands of children in Africa were dying every day from preventable diseases such as malaria, cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery and even HIV.
Jesus came to preach “Good News” to the poor, and yet His bride, the church, by its apathy, was telling the poor that the “Good News” was not for them.
Mr. Hewson promptly kicked my butt by reminding us that in the final judgment Jesus would not be asking us about how solid our doctrine was, how pure our thoughts were or what side of the political aisle we were on. No. He would be asking us about how we treated the hungry, the homeless, the naked, the imprisoned, the poor. That was it. No caveats. Pretty clear and simple. I was sitting there wondering how we had complicated it and missed the mark so badly.
But Now What?
How was I supposed to help Africa? Where could I start? The ONE campaign was one way, and it was a good way, but I needed something more long term, more hands-on. I needed something I could get our whole church behind.
I didn’t want to re-invent the wheel, but I also wanted to make sure we got involved with an organization that was having a huge impact in defeating poverty and had opportunities for anyone and everyone to be involved.
Compassion International fit this template. It’s a holistic organization that helps the poorest of the poor with education, health care, social skills, community, introduction to the local church and most of all, a relationship with Jesus.
And best of all, through the child sponsorship program, anyone in my church could participate. From students to senior citizens, everyone could sponsor a child and save a life. And not only save a life, but propel a life towards being the leader of change in his or her community.
So now we had to decide: where in Africa did we want to work with Compassion?
Helping Where It's Most Needed
Green Valley has always had a philosophy to go to the most difficult places, so I called Compassion and asked them, “What African country would you recommend our church get involved with?” The answer was, “We are just starting in a new country called Burkina Faso, and we would love it if your church would focus in on it, since it is such a poor country and people tend to focus on east Africa or South Africa. This is a forgotten region.”
My response was, “Burkina Fa…what?” I had never heard of it before, so I had to go to a map. Burkina Faso didn’t even sound like an African name. Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia were all familiar African names, but Burkina Faso? They said it was a very poor country that was wide open to the hope of child advocacy. So we said we would pray about it before our big Compassion sponsorship weekend.
Just after that conversation, a team from my church flew to Washington D.C. to work with some inner city ministries. We decided to visit the Burkina Faso embassy to learn about the country.
Our Divine Introduction to Burkina Faso
Driving down Massachusetts Avenue in the northwest quadrant of Washington D.C. can be very impressive. The architectural brilliance of the Japanese and British Embassies helped create a harsh reality of how poor the country Burkina Faso was. We drove up the street to a narrow two-story “row” house made of brick – tucked away – only to be seen by the small Burkina Faso flag waving above the weathered front door.
As we entered the building, the lobby had a few misplaced pictures on the wall and the wooden floors were worn and faded. There was a waiting room next to the lobby filled with mismatched chairs and furniture. We went upstairs to meet with a representative and they ushered us into a boardroom that was simple but functional. The people were so kind and very surprised they had guests.
We told them that we were getting ready to invest in hundreds of children through Compassion International’s sponsorship program in their country, and asked what were the main things we should be praying for? The gentlemen and their assistant seemed startled by the request. They told us to pray for enough rain, not too much, not too little, just enough so that their crops would be plentiful this year, and to pray for those infected by malaria and other diseases, and to pray for the families that were living under the weight of extreme poverty.
We prayed together, and as we were saying our goodbyes, the gentlemen pulled me aside and said, “Thank you so much for coming here, we have never had anyone come into the Embassy to pray for us. I am a Christian, and I am so excited about your work with Compassion, I will be praying for you and your church that you will be blessed by blessing my country.” I will never forget that kind, hopeful smile.
Funny how things go. I had just heard of the country Burkina Faso, and now God was giving us a huge burden and interest for the country.
Later that day, we were eating at a restaurant in Chinatown, in downtown D.C., and as we were getting ready to leave, the busboy at our table said, “Thank you for coming, have a nice day,” with a very thick African accent. We walked out the door, but something inside me told me to go back in and ask the young man where he was from. I walked back in and asked and the young man said, “I am from Burkina Faso.”
Tears filled my eyes as I smiled, shook his hand and told him “God bless you and your country.” He smiled and said very sweetly, “Thank you, my country is beautiful and very much in need of God’s blessings.”
I walked out on to the busy streets of D.C. in amazement about how God works. I had never heard of Burkina Faso a few weeks before, and I had certainly never met anyone from there and within one day, I got to pray in its embassy and meet someone from there “randomly” at a restaurant. God certainly has a way of showing us what we should be involved with.
A month later families from our church sponsored about 400 children from Burkina Faso and Bono’s kick in the butt was in full swing. (Today, we have about 600 children from Burkina Faso sponsored and over 1200 children worldwide.) Since then, I have been to Burkina Faso twice to see many of the Compassion projects and churches in the capital town of Ouagadougou. I got to spend time with the 3 children my family sponsors there: Lionel, Issouf and Larissa. They are more beautiful than you can imagine.
Words seem to fall short when trying to describe the impact Compassion is making. I knew that Compassion helped children, but never could I imagine the lengths it goes and the depth it reaches. We saw children being able to go to school because of Compassion. We saw tutoring and continuing education at the after-school project sites. We saw simple health care and education as well as serious life saving HIV drugs helping mothers and children live.
I sat in the dark, stifling hot hut of a mother and sponsored child, both who were HIV positive and alive because of the HIV drugs and education that were provided by Compassion. We saw micro-financing for families within a program that allowed greater profits as well as business education for sustainability. We saw clean water being brought into projects and villages along with education about water and the importance of washing hands before meals. We saw thousands of children who had been introduced to the love, Grace, hope and redemption of Jesus.
Compassion is walking the talk, investing and creating a powerful future for the next generations.
Sharing God’s Love with Muslims
One of the most impact-filled days on our trip was when a few of us walked into a very poor Muslim village on the outskirts of Ouagadougou, where several Muslim families had children who were sponsored by Compassion. We brought large bags of rice, cooking oil and soap for many of the families.
The people proudly showed us their clay huts with tin roofs. We saw one-room homes that housed simple open fire kitchens while sleeping eight. Even with a large language barrier we could see their gratitude and excitement to show us their dwelling places.
Just before we left, one of the mothers stopped me and asked if we could pray for her son because he was sick. Her son looked like he possibly had malaria. He was lying under a shade tree in the 100-degree weather, with a blanket covering him, shivering from the effects of a life-threatening mosquito bite. We knelt down and with deep respect prayed for the young man. We prayed for the village, for the mothers and for the families. When we were done praying, we opened up our eyes and about 20 moms had lined up with their babies and children so we could pray for them, too.
Muslim mothers who knew we were Christians, asking us to pray for their children…chills went down my spine and I knew this was one of those divine moments where all you can do is smile, be obedient and take it all in. All of these events were not accidents, but God’s divine plan. We just must listen closely to his voice and to his clues.
Africa is a beautiful continent filled with smart, beautiful people who do not need our pity, just an opportunity. With education, health care, and spiritual development these children will change the face of Africa. Thank you, Mr. Hewson, for kick-starting God’s miracle work in West Africa. Thank you for waking up the church.