Konrad Lickel still has hundreds of letters and photos from the children he has sponsored for nearly 40 years.
Konrad Lickel's tractor cut through thick mud in layers of cold Arkansas rain during the fall of 2004. The steering wheel vibrated under his callused hands as he stared toward the horizon. Suddenly, the tractor tipped sideways violently. Gray sky somersaulted into brown earth.
Konrad tried to sit up, but his broken body was pinned beneath the tractor. The pain was excruciating. He dug his wrinkled fingers into the rich soil, his fervent prayers drowned out by the tractor's steady growl. "Lord, take me home."
Death seemed imminent. But even as he whispered for a heavenly exit he knew he would live. He had to. Snapshots of faces flooded into his mind. A smiling Angeline. The furrowed brow of Jossy. The earnest eyes of Sawadogo. All abandoned and orphaned children from around the globe whom Konrad sponsored and called his own. He had to live for them.
A shot of adrenaline surged through Konrad's body as he strained against the weight of the tractor. This wasn't the first time death had loomed over his life. More than 60 years ago he was also near death. He had been saved then, just like he would be saved now. Saved so he could help others.
A Mother's Love
It was winter 1944 in Hilter's Europe. An entire continent was swept up in the wasteland of death and destruction perpetuated by the Nazi regime. Jews were slaughtered. Also persecuted were other people Christian, ethnic minorities, intellectuals, anyone who didn't fall in line with the Nazi view of the world. Caught up in this maelstrom of destruction was a young Yugoslavian refugee.
When Maria Lickel boarded a train in Yugoslavia, she and her husband believed they were escaping the war. But as that train crept across Europe, Maria prayed fervently for an end to the grueling journey. Each day she sat with dozens of other young women, now all prisoners, in a dark, stinking cattle car, her body curved protectively around her son, Konrad. Her husband gone. Her body wasted. Her baby dying.
Maria's nights were terrorized by the fear of the unknown. "How much longer can this starvation last? Will I ever be free? How will my child live in this desolation?" She heard other mothers speak the unspeakable Who can raise a child in a prison? My baby is so hungry, would he be better off if &. ?
And one night the unspeakable became reality. When Maria went for her regular dose of "exercise" with the other mothers, the women left with bundles in their arms. They returned to their prison empty-handed. Their bundles placed in the snow bank near the cattle car. Arms dangled except for two. Konrad's mother decided to believe in hope rather than death.
"I was the only one spared," Konrad says quietly. "That stuck with me my whole life. I was spared for a reason."
And some 60 years later as he lay under a tractor near death in a field of corn, Konrad remembered that purpose and lived to tell about it.
"The one thing that I held on to after my accident was those children," says Konrad, now recovered from his injuries. "I remembered that in their letters, they always said they were praying for me. I felt their prayers. And I knew that I needed to hang on for them."
"They needed me &"
While in his 20s, Konrad began sponsoring a child. One day he was flipping through a Reader's Digest, and his eyes were drawn to a small picture of a Korean* child. As he scanned the ad, the words Children, Abandoned, Orphaned jumped out at him. But the last word in the ad caused him to tear out the page and shove it in an envelope with a check: Rescue.
"My mother rescued me, and that made me want to rescue these kids," says Konrad. "They needed someone to help them. I felt like they were the reason my life had been saved."
"It was a blessing to me &"
Over the next 38 years, Konrad poured his time and resources into serving children in poverty all over the world, including 14 Compassion-assisted children. Although he and his wife, Erika, never had children of their own, they considered their sponsored children part of their family, and they felt particularly drawn to those who had no parents.
"It was a blessing to me to be (their) family," says Konrad. "You know, there's poverty, but if the parents are still around, they can serve as an anchor for the child, like my mother was for me. But for orphans and abandoned children, it's much more difficult."
Today, Konrad and Erika sponsor six children through Compassion. "My only regret is that I didn't start sponsoring earlier," Konrad says with a smile. "Each one of those kids opened my eyes to poverty and to what life is like in other countries. Supporting them gave me the will to live."
- Why are you a sponsor? Share your story.
* In 2003, Korea became a Compassion partner country, marking a turning point in Compassion's history. Compassion's first sponsored children were from Korea. Now, Compassion Korea is one of Compassion's leading partner countries, with thousands of Korean child sponsors. For more information on Compassion's history with Korea, click here.