Eighteen years ago, before I had my own kids, before I was married, before I had even started dating my husband, before I had my first full-time job, I "adopted" a little girl.
Her name is Kebabush, and she lives in Ethiopia.
I had the incredible privilege about a year before that to spend 12 weeks in Africa. To this day, those three months would rank among the most life-changing times of my life. I came home and went through the very difficult process of reverse culture shock.
Many of you have been there. It's a feeling of disgust of all we take for granted in this country. Walking through the grocery store feels far too indulgent. Taking a hot shower is no longer a given. All of the clothing, the toys, the shoes, the food, the restaurants. It all seems like too much.
And I was desperate to find a way to do something to continue helping the people I left behind. The women whose eyes were filled with delight when I gave them my half-used bar of soap. The moms who were overjoyed with my hand-me-down shoes. The three families who couldn't stop thanking me because I took them to the market with $100 and bought them enough food to feed their families for several months.
Once home, I felt guilty standing in a hot shower with water pouring over my head, knowing they might never in their lives experience such a simple luxury.
I was so thankful I had been able to meet people in Zambia who worked for World Vision. I saw the work they were doing to help communities that didn't have running water or electricity. I saw how they helped kids get an education, even in a building without a roof. While their mission included telling families about the hope of Jesus Christ, they also provided practical assistance to help improve people's lives and make it easier to get through the day.
When I got home, I looked up World Vision and asked to be assigned a child in Africa. It wasn't long until I received a card with her picture, telling me about her favorite games and subjects. She was too young for school then, but she helped with carrying water and cleaning up the house.
We wrote letters. I sent gifts. And every year when I received her picture, I was amazed to see how much she had grown. I dreamed of seeing her in real life some day. What would that be like to walk into her village?
A lot has changed in my life in the last 18 years. I became a newspaper reporter. I moved from one city to another. I got married. I became a stay-at-home mom. I've given birth to four children of my own.
Through all of that — all of the changes, all of the envelopes that have come in the mail — Kebabush has been a constant. I can't think of any other organization or company I have written a check to more times than World Vision. I've paid off cars. I've moved out of apartments. I've paid off student loans. I've switched churches. We bought a house.
And for 18 years, I've been sending my monthly check to World Vision.
This week, I got my last bit of info about Kebabush. I knew this day had to be coming.
She grew up. She graduated from the World Vision program. I don't really know what this means. I hope she's healthy and able to support herself somehow. I hope that maybe in some small way her life was better because of my help.
I feel sad knowing I might not ever hear from Kebabush again. I've said her name so many times. I've "known" this girl longer than my own children. I might not ever know what happened to her. I probably won't ever hear if she gets married or has kids. I won't ever know if she moves out of her community in Ethiopia.
World Vision assigned a new child to me. It feels so abrupt. I'm not quite ready to accept the fact that my "adopted child" has a new name, a new face and a new family. It's bittersweet to think that this little girl will someday grow up and graduate and be on her own, too.
It feels so small to send off that check every month for a mere $30. I've done it so many times without even really thinking about it. I hold onto my memories of meeting those World Vision workers and hope that somehow I've helped.
And I think about Kebabush. A young woman now. All grown up.
What about you? Have you ever sponsored a child in another country? What has the experience been like for you?
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