February 2019

This post was originally published on this site

World Vision’s Global 6K for Water is a one-day event where people from all over the world walk or run 6 kilometers in their own neighborhoods to bring lasting clean water to children in need. Why a 6K? It’s the average round trip distance women and children in the developing world walk for water — water that is often contaminated with life-threatening diseases. Every step you take is one they won’t have to.

When you sign up to walk or run the 6K on Saturday, May 4, 2019, you’ll provide life-changing clean water to one person! We’ll then send you a race kit with everything you need to walk or run your 6K, including a unique race bib with the picture of a child receiving clean water from World Vision’s water projects, a T-shirt, and a medal. After the 6K, you can even continue the relationship with the child on your bib by becoming their sponsor.

Check out what people like you have to say about how easy and impactful it is to walk or run the Global 6K for Water:

Judy Carlson, 71, walked the 2017 Global 6K for Water at her own pace — slow and steady, using her cane for support. Six kilometers is the average distance people in the developing world walk for water. Judy walked her 6K for 6-year-old Bintou from Mali. Who will you walk for?
Judy Carlson, 71, uses her cane for support while walking the Global 6K for Water with her friend Debbie Torres, 61, in Portage, Indiana. Team World Vision Manager Steve Spear doubled back on his bike after finishing his 6K run to walk alongside them. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Heather Klinger)

Global 6K for Water: ‘If she can do it, you can totally do it’

By Heather Klinger
Published May 2, 2018

The excitement was palpable on May 6, 2017, for families in Portage, Indiana. It wasn’t only World Vision’s Global 6K for Water at Real Life Community Church; it was the local high school’s much-anticipated prom night.

Students and parents alike were excited to complete the Global 6K but also excited to get on to hair appointments, picking up corsages, and getting ready for the big dance. So about an hour-and-a-half after the 6K began that morning, pastors and volunteers started to close the course that about 75 people had completed to expedite the clean-up process.

When a family — which volunteers thought were the final participants — came around the corner to cheers and the banging of cowbells, instead of first celebrating, they shouted to the crowd that Judy and Debbie were still on the course behind them. Suddenly everyone was in motion once again to restore the course.

Meanwhile, 71-year-old Judy Carlson was walking the Global 6K at her own pace — slowly and steadily using her cane for support. On her race bib was Bintou, 6, from Mali. Read more >>

A woman kneels at the table after finishing a walk to bring clean water to people around the world. She is filling out a form to sponsor the child through World Vision.
Six months pregnant and having finished the 2017 Global 6K for Water in Seattle, Brittany Kukal kneels down to fill out a form to sponsor Innocent, a child in Malawi. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Andrea Peer)

Two children brought together by clean water and a mother’s love

By Phil Manzano
Published April 25, 2018

Brittany Kukal, 31, of Kirkland, Washington, kneeled down to fill out the form at the sponsorship table at last year’s Global 6K for Water at Gas Works Park in Seattle. She had been on her feet awhile having just finished a 6-kilometer loop and she was, after all, six months pregnant.

“I felt great. I felt empowered,” Brittany says. “I felt encouraged, and I felt like the Lord was really here today. It was wonderful.”

Around the globe, about 844 million people lack access to clean water, and people in the developing world walk an average of 6 kilometers to find water. Oftentimes, it’s women and children who make that walk, lugging heavy cans to bring back water that is likely impure and unsanitary.

A friend told Brittany about the Global 6K for Water last year and encouraged her to sign up. “I gave it a lot of thought, a lot of prayer. And being I’m six months pregnant, I thought it’s a great way to really engage and understand what these women and families go through,” she says.

And it was a way to make giving more personal, “to actually experience the walking and the process just makes it more real for you,” she says. Every $50 Global 6K for Water registration fee will provide clean water for one person.

But walking the 6K wasn’t without some concern, Brittany says; it was her first child and a high-risk pregnancy. But with her doctor’s approval and time spent praying, she moved full-speed ahead, wanting to empathize with mothers’ globally.

Brittany Kukal, with her medal and picture of her sponsored child after walking in the Global 6K for Water last year. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Andrea Peer)

As she walked, her race bib featured a boy from Malawi named Innocent. And it was Innocent she sponsored at the table that Saturday morning.

“I think as I bring my baby into the world and being able to provide for him — a lot of kids don’t get that,” she says. “I actually sponsored the kid I walked for today. That really means a lot to me because now we get to continue that relationship.”

Today, you could say that Brittany has two children: Leo, who was born after the Global 6K, is now 8 months old and Innocent in Malawi.

“I wanted to participate for all the right reasons,” she says. “It ended up being really good.”

Leo and Innocent are already linked in some way. “Honestly, I did it for my son,” Brittany says about sponsoring Innocent. “A lot of what I do now is for my son.” She shows Leo pictures of Innocent, and one day she hopes Leo will write to Innocent.

She will raise Leo alongside Innocent — who will open up not only other parts of the world to him but lessons in kindness and encouragement.

“If I can help another child in some way, it’ll set a good example for my son and also it helps me too — to feel more connected and to give me purpose,” she says.

Brittany has signed up to participate again in the Global 6K for Water May 19, 2018, at Gas Works Park — this time with little Leo in a stroller.

And she’s excited to be joining together with a group of mothers who are walking the Global 6K together.

We wanted a child for a long time, Brittany says. It changes your world and mindset. You really focus on what matters doing the 6K; it gives you an idea and glimpse into life.

Mom and 7-year-old daughter sitting together wearing World Vision Global 6K for Water shirts.
Kari and Kamryn Thackrey, of Flora, Illinois, participated in the 2017 Global 6K for Water to help bring clean water to people who need it. This year, they’re inspiring their community to join them to increase their impact. (©2017 Genesis Photos/photo by Sean Loftin)

7-year-old girl leads Illinois community’s Global 6K for Water

By Chris Huber
Published Feb. 15, 2018

Carrying a tea kettle, 5-year-old Cheru walks more than 6 kilometers with her siblings to dig for water in a dry riverbed in Kenya. The water often makes them sick, but they have no other choice. (©2016 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

The last thing 7-year-old Kamryn Thackrey sees before she goes to bed each night is a photo of Cheru, a 5-year-old girl from northern Kenya, holding a tea kettle full of dirty water on her head. Cheru looks tired from walking 6 kilometers with her siblings to collect water for their family to use for cooking, drinking, and bathing.

The photo inspires Kamryn and reminds her to pray for Cheru: that she would get access to clean water and not have to walk so far for it.

Kamryn and her family participated in the Global 6K for Water last year in their hometown of Flora, Illinois. The second-grader and her little sister, Abigail, spearheaded their effort to raise $1,200. That’s enough to help provide clean water to 24 people like Cheru.

“I was excited that I got to help kids not have to walk so far and that they could have clean water,” Kamryn says. “And I liked walking with my mom and dad and sister and brother.”

Kamryn’s journey with Cheru began early last spring. One day, her mom, Kari, was sorting through the mail and about to toss out the World Vision magazine, when the cover photo caught Kamryn’s eye. “Who is this?!” Kamryn asked.

When Kari took her over to the couch to read it together, Cheru’s story brought Kamryn to tears. Cheru was 5 in the photo, the same age as Abigail.

“Kamryn started crying and I said, ‘what’s wrong?’” Kari recounts. “She said, ‘I can’t imagine Abigail having to walk that far for water. That would be scary.’”

So Kamryn decided to do something about it. She and her family signed up for the 2017 Global 6K for Water. This was the first time they had done anything like this, but they knew it was the right thing to do. As they began fundraising and planning the race course, Kamryn shared Cheru’s story with her class, friends, family members, and kids at her church. She and Abigail made promotional fliers and posted a video on Facebook. Supportive parents and affirming comments on social media helped motivate the sisters to keep sharing Cheru’s story.

“We were losing-our-minds excited when money kept coming in,” Kari says.

The family charted their own 6K course and invited another family to join them.

“We enjoyed being able to do it just on our own, rather than drive to a big event, but knowing we were part of something bigger,” Kari says.

Kamryn is planning to host a bigger Global 6K event in her community and raise more money for water this year. Kari says they hope to rally a few more of Flora’s 5,000 residents to participate. “I want to try and do a big one at my church,” Kamryn says.

She began promoting this one before Christmas.

“Once she sets her mind to something, there is no swaying her in a different direction,” Kari says. “From the moment she read the first magazine about Cheru, we as a family were sold.”

Kamryn has been praying expectantly for Cheru since last spring. She recently learned that Cheru and her community will be getting access to clean water this year.

“Awesome,” Kamryn says matter-of-factly. “We will walk for other kids now.”

8-year-old Luke Flowers used his birthday to give back by running World Vision's Global 6K for Water with his friends.
Not many 8-year-olds would use their birthday as an opportunity to give back, but last year, Luke ran World Vision’s 6K for Water with his friends. (©2017 Genesis Photo Agency/photo by Charlie Leight)

An 8-year-old spends his birthday running 6K for water

By Alissa Sandoval
Published March 23, 2017

Not many 8-year-olds would use their birthday as an opportunity to give back, but on March 19, 2016, Luke Flowers from Phoenix, Arizona did. Instead of the usual games and cake, his birthday party went the extra mile — an extra 3.7 miles, to be exact. He invited his entire school to join him in running the 6K for Water, and on race day, Luke and 10 of his best friends ran together and raised $1,755 for clean water in Africa.

“I decided to run because I thought it would be fun, and it was,” he says.

Luke encourages running the 6K with a group because not only is it more fun, but more runners equals more impact. He enjoys organizing friends and family to make a difference, and he loves knowing that this race will help change the lives of people who live without access to clean water.

Jessica Flowers, Luke’s mom, says Luke’s birthday was a way for him and other second graders to both celebrate and do something for others at the same time.

“This was a great way to introduce the kids to World Vision’s mission and give them a chance to give back,” she shared. “They were proud of themselves for running and proud of themselves for making a difference.

Malinda doesn’t love running, but “getting clean water to people who need it is life and death,” she says. That's why she runs the Global 6K for Water.
Malinda doesn’t love running, but “getting clean water to people who need it is life and death,” she says. That’s why she runs the Global 6K for Water.

Following God’s call to run 6K for clean water

By Kristy J. O’Hara-Glaspie
Published March 23, 2017

Malinda Fugate has known about World Vision “for what feels like a zillion years.” The 33-year-old from Torrance, California, has sponsored a child since 2003, and when she used to work for a radio station, she partnered with World Vision several times. But when she moved into children’s ministry work at her church, Faith Presbyterian, in 2015, her relationship with World Vision began to change.

“We worked on a project where our younger kids could be hands-on, and we thought a fundraiser for clean water could be good to show them about the need for water,” she says. “We said, ‘Let’s walk the distance many children walk and have them carry the water.’”

The first year they did the 6K for Water, more than 50 people participated at a local park, even though “it was hotter in L.A. than it was in Kenya,” Malinda says.

Last year, her church partnered with another church, and more than 70 people joined the event. The 6K sparked questions in the children who participated. “Kids started thinking outside of the box,” she says, asking questions about children living in poverty.

The event also pushed Malinda to new places as she dealt with the pain of her divorce. “This past year especially has been a rocky one,” Malinda says. “God and my friends convinced me to do a half marathon to raise money with Team World Vision, and that’s been transformative. It’s not just time with God, but it’s also the discipline of running.”

This year she plans to run in the Global 6K for Water and another half marathon. And though she doesn’t love running like some Team World Vision members, “the bottom line is, getting clean water to people who need it is life and death.”

“When God calls you to do something, not being obedient is way more scary than obediently running a bunch of miles every morning,” she says. “Whenever you’re serving God, he changes you. That’s how he works.”

Walk for water leads to Chicago woman’s healing

By Phil Manzano and Laura Blank
Published March 17, 2017

Iza Narciso had just completed World Vision’s 6K for water in Chicago last year — she was breathless, sweaty but full of joy: She had come full circle to get out of poverty.

Her post-race video interview captured a moment of profound healing for Iza, who grew up in Angola walking miles every day in search of water. Each step of the 6K in Chicago reminded her of her own struggle and the struggle of millions of women and children who walk for water.

“As a little girl, I was maybe 5, I would have to walk every single day to look for water. That was a reality for me,” Iza says. “I don’t remember how many miles, but I remember that we would try to find water wherever water was.”

When she found water, there were often crowds; people fought to fill their jugs before the source ran out. And walking back, while balancing a heavy jug on your head, other children would ask for water, “but you have to keep walking because your family is counting on you for this water.

“So you get home with a little bit of water,” Iza remembers, “and this water is just so precious. Every bit of it is counted.” She remembers long excruciating nights of going to sleep thirsty as her mother strictly rationed their water.

As young children, Iza and her sister fled civil war in Angola. A social worker at a refugee center in Belgium essentially adopted and raised them, she says. Iza came to the United States to study at Loyola University, receiving a degree in literature. She now owns a daycare in Chicago.

Last year, members of Team World Vision came to her church and spoke about the 6K for water event. Because of her past, she was intrigued and signed up. But she was unprepared for the emotional impact.

“All of those people, warming up early on a Saturday morning, getting ready to run 6K, 7, 8, 9. And emotionally my heart was getting bigger and bigger. I couldn’t really handle the emotions. I was trying to search — why am I feeling this way? Why is this becoming so overwhelming for me?

“And I realize, it was the meaning of what they were doing. Those people in Chicago were running for me. And I realized all this time I was in Africa suffering, didn’t have access to clean water; I realized I was not alone. That there was a team of people trying hard to get water to me. It just means so much because no child should go without water.”

It was a healing moment — healing from the trauma of seeking water as a child.

“It just really means a lot to me that all this time, I was never alone,” Iza says. “Even in suffering, I was never alone. It just illustrates what God says — even in suffering, I am with you. The Bible has become so real for me.”

She looks forward to the upcoming Global 6K for Water and has adapted the 6K for the toddlers at her daycare. The children dress in orange, use sippy cups at the water stations and run a lap around the park. Money raised at the event last year was used to sponsor children through World Vision.

“It was so touching because we explained to the kids why we’re doing it,” Iza says. “I remember a 4-year-old looking at me, and she said she was tired and she didn’t want to do this anymore. And I explained why we are running, and I explained to her the picture of Sophie, our sponsored child. And she said, ‘I will finish the race.’ And she ran to the finish line. And when her mom came to pick her up, she said, ‘Mommy! I ran for Sophie because she didn’t have water. I ran for her!”

Photos and videos of children in need of clean water haunt Iza.

“That was me. And it’s painful. It hurts not to have water.”

But the realization that the children walking miles for dirty water were not forgotten and people were walking, running, and doing what they could to care for them is healing the trauma of poverty.

“I just want to say thank you for doing it for me,” Iza says. “You’re allowing me to stay alive. I wish I could do more. But you’re not just helping the kids in Africa; you’re also psychologically helping the adults like me.

“And you’re helping us feel better. And you’re also helping us to see God really. It’s just so powerful. The fact that they are running, it’s so meaningful. I can’t help but say thank you.”

Kianna’s family walks 6K for water

By Kathryn Reid
Published March 17, 2017

California mom Kianna Lyons doesn’t take water for granted. But she’s not only concerned about the water shortages that have affected southern California where she lives. She has a heart for moms and children in sub-Saharan Africa who walk 6K (3.7 miles) daily to bring home dirty water, and she’s determined to do something about it.

Kianna has chosen to join World Vision’s Global 6K for Water. Like last year, she’ll walk with her husband and three children — ages 2, 5, and 7 — and other members of Highland Avenue Community Church of the Nazarene in Rancho Cucamonga.

“Clean water — this is something everyone should have,” says Kianna. She’s certain of that. When she first heard about the 6K at her church, she was less certain about participating.

“I’m not a runner at all!” she says. Kianna and her husband wondered if they would be expected to run. And what would they do with the kids? They were quickly reassured that runners, walkers, and stroller pushers are all welcome.

The family’s race kit included a bib with a picture of a child who needed clean water for each “racer” to wear. Maya and Owen, now 5 and 7, immediate “got it.”

“I bet he plays basketball,” said Owen about the boy whose picture they pinned on his shirt. Maya was determined to finish the course for the little girl whose picture she wore.

Kianna has kept the bibs because the 6K was such a great memory, she says.

“We could say … this is their name; this is what they look like. These are the people we hope we made a difference for. It’s like they are walking with you.”

It’s important to Kianna that her children understand what God has given them and give back. Her family has not always been able to do all she would like for others. Now it has become a top priority to her and her husband to model generosity for their children.

Walking the talk

Eighty people were expected for Highland Avenue Church’s first 6K, but even more joined the walk. Son Owen was quick out of the chute and confident of finishing strong.

But after about 4K, “everything began to break down,” Kianna says. Owen was flagging; Maya and other youngsters needed piggyback rides.

Kianna realized then what a powerful experience and a “teaching moment” the 6K could be.

She reminded Owen that while the 6K was a once-a-year event for him, other children walked that far every day for water. That’s when he remembered: They carried water; he carried nothing but the bib on his shirt.

“That’s why we’re doing this,” Kianna assured him, “so the kids don’t have to.”

This year Owen knows exactly why he’ll be walking the 6K.

“We’re walking for people who don’t have water,” he says. “It’s to raise money to get clean water and water fountains for kids. And if we keep doing it every year, there will be lots of clean water!”

Walking to build community

In their first 6K, Highland Avenue Church’s participants ranged from “babies in strollers to kids on shoulders, kids riding scooters and bikes, all the way up to a man in his 90s,” says Pastor Gabriel (Gabe) Martin.

Pastor Martin’s five kids — ages 3 to 13 — took part. Like Kianna, he embraced the opportunity to broaden their understanding of their place in the world.

He told them: “Not only do we have blessings in our lives, but we are responsible to make sure that other kids are blessed as well.”

Walking the 6K together was a blessing and a transformative experience for his church family as well. Congregation members who had only seen each other in the pews found time to talk. They met parents and kids from the preschool attached to the church.

“I can’t think of any better opportunity to engage our entire congregation and community in something that has a global impact,” says Pastor Martin. “It reminds us of the mission that we’re called to as part of the body of Christ.”

Says Kianna, “It really felt like we came together as a community.”

The Sibblies family from New York heard about the global water crisis and decided to do something about it — walk for water so others don't have to.
The Sibblies family — (from left) Winston, Shurawl, Matthew, and Sollande — near their home in Hopewell Junction, New York. (©2017 Genesis Photo Agency/photo by Christopher Capozziello)

Family feeds their souls by walking for water together

By Heather Klinger
Published March 15, 2017

The choice to walk a 6K was an easy one for Shurawl Sibblies. Part of the appeal was a family activity. A little bit was staying healthy. Then there was the faith motivation — wanting to serve people less fortunate.

The global water crisis is staggering. Worldwide, 663 million people live without access to clean water, and those in sub-Saharan Africa have it the worst. There, women and children spend a total of 20 million hours every day collecting water. They walk an average of 6 kilometers (about 3.7 miles) a day to fetch the water they need for drinking, cooking, bathing, and washing.

“I can’t imagine a child walking that long for water,” says Shurawl, the mother of two from Hopewell Junction, New York. “I had no idea the significance of that distance. It led us to think how privileged we are.”

So last year on a cold spring day, Shurawl walked and ran a 6K with her family — her husband, Winston; then-13-year-old daughter, Sollande; then-8-year-old son, Matthew; and her church community from Hopewell Reformed Church.

“It was fun to talk with people along the way, run with people along the way, and have our children participate,” Shurawl says. “People were out with their baby carriages and strollers, but there were also some avid, hardcore runners in our bunch.”

The 6K was right up Sollande’s alley; Matthew was more reluctant. But when Shurawl asked him, “Wouldn’t you like to help another child? Think of how much you have,” he agreed to join the rest of the family.

That’s the bonus appeal of the 6K for Shurawl — instilling good values in her kids, like thinking of others first and missional living.

After receiving their race bibs in the mail — each with a child’s name, age, and photo — the family prayed together for the children on their bibs.

Next came fundraising to provide clean water for kids and communities in need. “When I reached out to people to donate,” Shurawl says, “they were happy to give, and I was happy to give. I give where my heart is called.”

This year, Shurawl and her family are again signed up for the Global 6K for Water.

“It is something I would highly recommend,” Shurawl says. “It’s fun. It’s for a good cause. You’re giving, and you’re also receiving something in the process. Doing something good for others feeds your soul.”

Johgina Densmore has completed three 6K walks with World Vision to raise money for clean water for children in Africa. She hopes to double her team for this year's Global 6K for Water May 6, 2017.
Johgina Densmore has completed three 6K walks with World Vision to raise money for clean water for children in Africa. She hopes to double her 150-person team from last year in this year’s event on May 6. (Photo courtesy Johgina Densmore)

One woman creates a ripple in bringing clean water to impoverished communities

By Kristy J. O’Hara-Glaspie
Published Jan. 11, 2017

As Johgina Densmore walked along Lake Michigan on a bitter November day in 2014, 20-mph winds pelted the lake water at her, repeatedly stinging her face.

But the fierce winds would not deter her and her best friends from finishing their walk in Chicago. Too much was riding on them finishing — they were walking a 6K with World Vision to bring clean water to children and families in Africa who walk the same distance every day to get dirty, contaminated water.

“It was God who got me through those 20-mph winds on the lake,” 52-year-old Johgina says.

Despite not being a runner, when Johgina learned about the lack of access to clean water many families face, she signed up for the 6K event with Team World Vision to raise money to do something about it. And in two-and-a-half years since that race against the harsh winds, her first step has multiplied into thousands — all making a difference in the lives of children halfway across the world.

“My life has changed regarding water,” Johgina says. “I was ignorant to the lack of clean water. Just to think that there are kids that don’t have access to clean water, and the water they do have access to is dirty and contaminated, it’s made me more self-conscious. I try to share this as much as I can and share the awareness so others’ eyes can be opened too.”

Gathering friends

Johgina already was making an impact on a community in Kenya by sponsoring a child with World Vision. But when she first heard about the 6K in 2014, despite knowing the need so many faced in the world, because of her sponsorship she was shocked to learn how many people don’t have access to clean water.

“When the 6K came up, and they were talking about providing clean water to kids in Africa, I was like ‘What? Everybody has clean water!’” she says. “But in my naiveté, I didn’t know.”

She learned that her entry fee would help provide clean water for one person, and it inspired her to take the first step and join the event as a walker.

“I am not a runner. I am a zero runner. I walk, jog, walk — and my jog is just a little faster than my walk,” Johgina says with a laugh.

She convinced her best friend, who competes as a triathlete, to join too and walk with her on that cold November day. The two finished, feeling empowered.

Steps multiplying

Johgina’s steps began to multiply in 2015 when she shared what she’d learned about water with friends from church and work. They were inspired to join her in the 2015 6K — this time during a warmer month. That year, about 15 of her friends participated with her.

In 2016, Johgina felt God calling her to do even more, so she decided to captain a team and asked her pastor if they could announce it in church. Johgina says, “He had just a little bit of competition in his spirit, and he said, ‘This is what we’re doing, and we want to have the largest team — let’s sign up because of what this cause is; it’s phenomenal.’”

People stepped up, no matter their circumstances. One man didn’t even have proper shoes for the event, but she assured him he was going to be fine.

“He just really understood the value of walking the 6K,” she says. “We have to be able to do what the Bible tells us. Christ says, ‘I was in prison, and you came to see me, I was hungry, and you fed me, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink.’ We have to live those Scriptures.”

On race day, Johgina and a team of more than 150 people walked and ran the Global 6K’s 3.7 miles together — a far cry from that first race she walked with just one friend along Lake Michigan. On race day, Johgina made an even bigger impact by deciding to sponsor another child: a little girl from Kenya named Dorcas, whose picture was on her race bib.

Creating ripples

This year, Johgina wants to multiply her steps even more. She’s praying to double her team for the 2017 Global 6K for Water on May 6, and she’s already recruiting family and friends to join her.

“You don’t have to be a runner to make an impact,” she tells them. “You can make an impact just by walking. If you jog, you jog. If you run, that’s great. You have to look at the bigger picture.

“This may sound cliché, but people need to know they can be the pebble that’s thrown across the water. People think a pebble can’t make an impact, but it creates ripples, and the 6K can do that. They have to see themselves creating ripples and giving back.”

Elisabeth Morton overcame being on a feeding tube to run the World Vision 6K for Water.
Elisabeth Morton overcame being on a feeding tube to run the World Vision 6K for Water. (©2015 Genesis Photos/photo by Matthew Bowie)

Once on a feeding tube, a Chicago woman runs 6K for clean water

By Kristy J. O’Hara-Glaspie
Published Oct. 25, 2015

Elisabeth Morton was one of the last to cross the finish line during the World Vision 6K for Water in Chicago last year, but she collapsed in joy anyway.

Nobody thought she could finish the race, which raised money for World Vision’s clean water work in Africa.

“I fell over in tears,” the 28-year-old says, “and it was a great feeling to know God gave me what I needed to cross.”

The run was about more than reaching the finish line for Elisabeth, who suffers from an unexplained health condition. Starting in 2012, Elisabeth couldn’t eat or drink without excruciating pain, and while her diet contained the fattiest foods possible, she lost half of her body weight. Doctors still haven’t figured out why.

Just before Christmas that year, she was attached to a feeding tube, which was replaced five times in 17 months. Throughout it all, Elisabeth’s faith radiated to the medical staff around her as she confidently prayed for God’s sustenance and healing.

God is bigger and has a plan. He just asks us to submit to him.—Elisabeth Morton

Miraculously, in May 2014, she had improved enough for doctors to remove the feeding tube. Slowly Elisabeth regained weight, but her ability to eat remained restricted. Nevertheless, when a friend at church invited Elisabeth to join the World Vision 6K for Water, she decided to run.

She started running that summer, at first one block. Then a second block. She slowly linked those blocks together, building stamina and raising pledges for clean water in Africa. By the time the November race day arrived, determination consumed her.

“I have clean water,” she says. “I have food, even though it hates me. [Some children] don’t. I want to give back.”

Despite 20-degree temperatures and extreme wind that sent Lake Michigan waves splashing runners as they raced, Elisabeth persevered. When she crossed the finish line, everyone was amazed.

Elisabeth is training to run the Chicago Marathon with Team World Vision and raise even more for clean water. Her medical condition hasn’t improved, but she still sees God’s goodness in her life.

“It’s a testimony that God is bigger and has a plan,” Elisabeth says. “He just asks us to submit to him. I learned a lot about having to rely fully on the Lord to keep you alive every day.”

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While the story of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is the greatest story ever told, I would like to tell you another true story about a little girl God used to change one man’s vision and, consequently, the reality of life for millions of people around the world.

At World Vision, we call her by her English name, White Jade, and she was World Vision’s first sponsored child.

The story of White Jade

In the summer of 1947 my father, Bob Pierce, was invited to hold a series of evangelistic meetings throughout China with an organization called Youth For Christ (YFC). For nearly four months, he and the YFC team traveled from one major city to another, speaking to thousand of spiritually hungry youth. In a letter to my mother dated September 9, 1947, he wrote:

We’ve now had about 11,000 accept Christ! … There is no explanation for these things except that God is sovereignly showing his power — calling out a people here for his name.

In light of these tremendous results, it is not surprising that my dad didn’t mention in his letter an invitation to speak at a girl’s school on a tiny island off of Amoy. Often it is only in hindsight that we come to appreciate a moment that changes our lives forever.

The school was run by a group of Dutch Reform missionaries, and the principal, Tena Holkeboer, invited Dad to speak in their morning chapel. As he always did, my father gave the gospel message with simplicity and great passion, and many received the Lord.

Most of the girls lived at the school, but some were local residents. Their parents allowed them to come to the missionary school for the excellent education it offered, but they did not want their children to be led away from the traditional worship of their ancestors. So when my father challenged the new believers to tell their families that they were now Christians, he had no idea what he was asking of them.

The next day when he returned to say goodbye, Tena met him at the door with a little girl in her arms. The child had obviously been beaten.

“Dr. Pierce, I want you to meet White Jade,” Tena said with fire in her eyes. “She did what you told her to do. She went home and told her father that she is now a Christian. When she refused to deny her new faith, he caned her and threw her into the street! She can never go home again. This child has lost everything!”

Shocked and dismayed, my father looked helplessly at the weeping child. She couldn’t be more than 10 or 11. “Well, you’ll take care of her, won’t you?” he finally stammered.

“I am feeding as many children as I can,” Tena answered wearily. “The question isn’t what I am going to do. The question is what are you going to do?” With that, she thrust the sobbing child into my father’s arms.

In an excerpt from Franklin Graham’s book, This One Thing I Do, my father recalled that moment:

I stood there with the child in my arms. Tears were running down her cheeks. She was scared to death, shaking in my arms. She was heavy, and my arms were getting tired. I was shaken to the core. I had never been held accountable for any consequences of my message. Now I was faced with “Is what I say true? Is there any responsibility involved?” Believe me. You do some thinking at a moment like that.

I had never been held accountable for any consequences of my message. Now I was faced with ‘Is what I say true? Is there any responsibility involved?’—Bob Pierce

The young evangelist was faced with a moment of decision. He could not stay to take care of the child, and he certainly couldn’t take her home with him. He was not a wealthy man. In fact, he had come to China on faith, and his own family was living on the charity of others while he was away.

But God doesn’t ask us to do what we cannot do. However, he does expect us to do what we can do. Digging in his pocket — so the story goes — daddy pulled out his last few yuan (about US$5) and gave it to Tena, saying, “If you’ll take care of her, I’ll send more when I get home.”

The beginning of World Vision

Even though World Vision would not officially start until three years later in Korea, my father said that this simple act of obedience was the real beginning of World Vision.

Even though World Vision would not officially start until three years later in Korea, my father said that this simple act of obedience was the real beginning of World Vision.

I have told the story of White Jade countless times, and it never fails to move me. But the truth is I always assumed that my dad had his return ticket tucked safely away somewhere.

However, as is often the case with true stories, when you dig a little deeper, there is usually more to learn. About two years ago I had the chance to interview Elmer Kilbourne, an Oriental Mission Society missionary who traveled with my dad in China. When I asked Elmer if my version of the story was true, he laughed and shook his head.

“Your father emptied his pocket, but he didn’t have a ticket. I had to sell his camera equipment and all his personal items to get him the money to get home. But then,” he went on thoughtfully, “that’s what your father did all over the world. He gave what he had and believed God to do the rest. That’s why God used him.”

Dad returned to China in 1948 for another three months of evangelistic meetings. By the end of that summer, more than 30,000 people had come to Christ. He hoped to go back again, but shortly after he left the country, Mao Zedong’s revolution closed China to the gospel for decades.

The missionaries Dad met were forced to leave, scattering to other Asian countries. Many of them would become instrumental in World Vision’s early work in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore.

Elmer Kilbourne took his family to Korea, and in 1950 he invited his old friend, Bob Pierce, to hold evangelistic meetings in that war-threatened country. Dad had just finished and returned to the U.S. when the Korean War broke out. He returned to Korea as a war correspondent and once again he was confronted with the suffering of innocent children and refugees.

Overwhelmed by the need he saw he wrote this simple prayer in the flyleaf of his Bible: “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.”

Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.—Bob Pierce

And the rest, as they say, is history.

As for White Jade, we may never know the rest of her story. But we do know that her life was significant to God. And even though she may not know it until eternity, her faith and sacrifice planted a seed that launched a wave of compassion that continues to change the world for millions of children to this day.

I pray this story inspires you to be bold in your faith — as she was — and to offer God whatever resources or talents or dreams you have in your pocket. Who knows? Perhaps your $5 will change the world.


One of Marilee Pierce Dunker’s greatest joys is watching people come to a child sponsorship table to search for the little face that touches their heart.
©2013 World Vision/photo by Adam Arkin

Marilee Pierce Dunker travels the world as an ambassador for World Vision, the organization her father, Bob Pierce, founded in 1950. Like he did, she shares stories, pictures, and personal reflections, bearing witness to the extraordinary ways God is using his people to share the gospel and care for the poor.

Visit World Vision’s Speakers Bureau site to request Marilee or another World Vision speaker to present at your upcoming event.

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Jesus calls his followers to become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. But what does it look like to welcome children as Jesus commanded? How do we support children’s faith and not become stumbling blocks in our homes, churches, communities, and around the world?

… ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’—Matthew 18:3-5 (NIV)

World Vision’s nearly 70 years of experience working to reduce material poverty goes hand in hand with our work to overcome spiritual poverty. Children cannot truly experience fullness of life unless they have the opportunity to deepen their understanding of God’s love. But we also cannot expect children to experience God’s love if they are hungry, sick, or exploited.

World Vision’s Christian faith is woven into the fabric of all of our work. Through all we do — drilling wells, offering innovative agricultural training, providing microloans, preventing child labor, responding to disasters — we are following Jesus in showing unconditional love to the poor and oppressed. We serve every child we can, regardless of their faith, and are sensitive to the diverse contexts in which we work.

World Vision supports children’s faith and helps them experience the love of God through five main areas.

1. At home and school — We equip parents and caregivers to provide a safe and caring environment.

A family home should be a nurturing place, but typically it is where a child is first exposed to violence. At least 1.7 billion of the 2.2 billion children in the world experience violence every year in their homes, schools, or communities. It is hard to experience God’s love if the primary caregivers in your life do not show you love.

That’s why we equip parents, caregivers, and teachers to provide a safe and caring environment for children’s spiritual growth that reflects Christian values.

From 2016 to 2017, World Vision trained 134,387* parents in positive discipline and also engaged 263,379 community members in attitude change sessions to help transform cultural norms of violence against children. In addition, 212,205 children and youth participated in World Vision programs to end violence against children.

Children in Honduras no longer experience violence at school after teachers were trained in positive ways of interacting with students.
In Honduras, World Vision equipped 4,089 leaders to make homes and schools safer places for children. Teachers like Carla Isaula (center) learned to interact with children using kindness and empathy instead of harsh discipline. The teachers also learn to promote healthy interaction in families and empower students to make positive choices in relationships. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

2. At church — We empower and mobilize churches to help children grow in their faith.

We desire that every church in our project areas sees World Vision as an indispensable partner in fulfilling God’s purposes in their communities. World Vision has developed a global network of partnerships with more than 14,000 local churches, enabling us to reach deeply into communities and nurture children’s faith in Christ.

However, in the impoverished communities where World Vision works, most churches lack the knowledge or training to create ministry programs that engage children’s curiosity and interest with age-appropriate communications.

World Vision trains tens of thousands of faith leaders every year to equip them to minister to the spiritual and physical needs of children and their communities. We help to strengthen local leadership and equip them with practical programs and tools for ministry, including children’s ministry.

Churches are our indispensable partners in God’s mission. World Vision has developed a global network of partnerships with more than 13,000 local churches, giving us the ability to reach deeply into communities and nurture children’s faith in Christ.
Sunday school at Full Gospel Church in Ethiopia was not a fun place. Children from ages 3 to 14 were crammed into one large room, and the program was dull. Fetlework, now 26, remembers being bored. “Me and my friends never liked that,” she says. Today, as a partner with Full Gospel Church, World Vision has trained 10 Sunday school teachers, including Fetlework who serves full time in the children’s ministry. Sunday school is now engaging and fun for the children. They play games, listen to Bible stories, study verses, and perform dramas. “I can see the fruit of my lessons, and I get very happy,” says Fetlework. “I feel like I have contributed a lot in shaping the next generation.” (©2018 World Vision/photo by Mesrach Ayele)

3. In after-school programs — We enable children to grow in their awareness, knowledge, and experience of Jesus.

Nearly 3.5 million children and youth participate in World Vision discipleship and values education. After-school programs include vacation Bible schools, Bible clubs, church-based camps, and school-based biblical values formation. These programs keep children engaged in positive activities, equip them to make healthy choices, help improve their relationships, and nurture their faith in God.

After-school clubs, like this one in El Salvador, keep children off the streets and engaged in positive activities. Bible clubs and faith-based programs help nurture children’s faith and commitment to follow Christ. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Katia Maldonado)

4. In ministry — We equip youth to explore God’s purpose for their lives and live out their faith by mentoring children and peers.

World Vision provides leadership training for youth to learn and give back to their community and to other children. Globally, 304,471 adolescents attend regular groups for support and training. As children and youth grow in their faith convictions, they become ambassadors for Christ in their communities.

This training equips adolescents to help lead after-school activities including Bible clubs. Younger children benefit from the positive role models of older children, and older children grow in their confidence and their faith.

These youth develop important life skills that shape their decisions as they become adults. In places like Central America, training helps youth find their identity in Christ, rather than in gangs. And, as they teach others, they reinforce the firm foundation they’ve built in Christ.

In places like Central America, training helps youth find their identity in Christ, rather than in gangs.
For some children, gangs offer more than a way to make money. Gangs substitute for family. That’s why World Vision offers support through projects like youth workforce development in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. This project is not only preparing more than 200 youth for the job market, but it is also offering them community and a firm foundation in faith. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

5. In God’s Word — We make Bibles available to churches and families.

When struggling to make ends meet, buying a Bible is out of the question, so children and adults rely on teachings from local church leaders to guide their faith. They don’t have an opportunity to study God’s Word for themselves or deepen their understanding of how to live Christ-like lives. Many ministry leaders don’t even have their own Bible to use for study or preaching.

World Vision offices in 25 countries have requested more than 2 million Bibles to strengthen the faith of children and families. We have recently distributed more than 94,000 Bibles in nine countries that are being used in Sunday school classes, after-school Bible clubs, and personal devotion as well as to help improve children’s reading skills. But we need your help.

Help grow children’s faith and empower the local church.

At an after-school Bible club in Kenya, students sing and hold their treasured Bibles provided to them by World Vision. At another local school, 13-year-old Sila, says, “I am thankful to World Vision, for it has provided us with materials for Bible club, including my first children’s Bible and African study Bible.” (©2015 World Vision/photo by Chris Huber)

Mesrach Ayele, Kari Costanza, Chris Huber, and Katia Maldonado contributed to this story.

*Data gathered from World Vision’s Evidence & Learning team.

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Next to air, water is our most essential necessity. Here in the United States, most of us are blessed to have abundant, clean water to drink and use for cooking, growing food, washing clothes, and flushing toilets. We seldom worry that the water we drink could make us sick — or even kill us.

Around the world, hundreds of millions of people do not share this blessing. Every year we recognize this reality with World Water Day on March 22. This is a day to champion the right of people everywhere to have access to affordable, safe, convenient drinking water.

… I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.—Matthew 25:35 (NIV)

In West Pokot County, Kenya, 5-year-old Kamama never liked going to the river to gather water.

“It was too far,” Kamama says. “I wanted to stop.”

Thankfully she has. Kamama, now a sponsored child, lives in a community served by World Vision’s Mtelo water project, which opened in 2015. Today, they have a gravity-fed water system that supplies clean water to about 800 households as well as schools, churches, and a health center.

She now walks about 252 yards round-trip to the closest water point, and it takes her less than seven minutes. Because there is clean water nearby, she is seldom sick, she bathes every day, and her mother has the time and water she needs to grow fruits and vegetables.

While Kamama’s village has been transformed, the struggle to find clean water continues for countless children and families elsewhere. Join us in prayer for people around the world who lack this most basic necessity for health and life.

Pray for the thirsty.

An estimated 844 million people around the world don’t have access to clean water. Clean water helps free children from deadly, preventable diseases. It liberates women and children from long hours spent gathering dirty, contaminated water. Clean water restores health and opens the door to education, better livelihoods, a promising future, and the kind of life God intends for His children.

Loving God, we ask for Your blessings on children, mothers, fathers, and communities who are thirsty. Purify, protect, and multiply their water sources. Strengthen their resolve so they may fully enjoy the benefits of clean water — essentials like education, gardens of fresh produce, and good health.

“Come, all you who are thirsty. …” —Isaiah 55:1 (NIV)

844 million people around the world don't have access to clean water; that's more than 1 of every 10 people around the world. Join us in prayer for children and families who are thirsty and lack this most basic necessity.
Children watch as World Vision staff manually drill a well in Ethiopia. (©2013 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

Pray for the global will to ensure everyone has safe drinking water.

People in wealthier countries often are unaware of life-threatening issues surrounding water in developing nations. Through the efforts of organizations such as World Vision, more people are realizing that hundreds of millions of people face serious illness because they lack access to clean drinking water. Ask God to create compassion in hearts and connect people in developed nations with organizations that can help them get this life-giving resource.

Heavenly Father, remind us of Your command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Don’t let us rest until we know we have done everything we can to meet others’ need for water.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” —Mark 12:30-31 (NIV)

Pray for women and girls who daily carry water over long distances.

Women and girls have transported water from distant sources for millennia. In Genesis 24, Abraham’s servant first saw Rebekah, Isaac’s future wife, at a well. Jesus also met the Samaritan woman at a well. In most of the developing world, women and girls disproportionately bear the burden of collecting water for their families.

Transporting water from distant sources is no less difficult now than it was then. The process consumes precious time that could be used for more productive activities, such as farming or going to school. In sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 40 billion hours are lost every year due to time spent collecting and transporting water.

Dear God, You promise in Psalm 23 to be close beside us and protect us even as we walk through the darkest valley. We claim this promise for women and girls who trek to get water for their families. As You walk alongside, strengthen them, and protect them.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” —Psalm 23:4 (NIV)

Pray for improved health.

Diarrhea is the second leading cause of death among children younger than 5. About half of childhood malnutrition is related to water, sanitation, or hygiene issues, too. Ask God to protect children from the dangers of unsafe water and poor sanitation and hygiene.

Great Healer, You are good and merciful. Touch precious little ones endangered by poor water, sanitation, and hygiene. Give them Your strength to fight off the illnesses that wrack their bodies. Lead their communities to discover clean water sources close by so they can enjoy better health.

“… The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it.” —Psalm 65:9 (NIV)

844 million people around the world don't have access to clean water; that's more than 1 of every 10 people around the world. Join us in prayer for children and families who are thirsty and lack this most basic necessity.
Kamama picks oranges in her family’s orchard. With water close by, her mother, Julia, can water the orange, guava, mango, and lemon trees every day so her family can enjoy healthy, nutritious food. (©2016 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

Pray for people to discover the Source of living water.

“I was once a person of little faith,” says Memory Handenda, a mother in the Twachiyanda community in southern Zambia. “But after my prayers, and this water came out, then I became a person of a lot of faith. We believed that, indeed, God exists.” World Vision rejoices with Memory, but many people still live without faith and hope.

We are grateful to You, Lord, for being our Source of living water — the One who satisfies our soul’s deepest desire with the joy of salvation. Thank You for strengthening Memory’s faith by answering her prayers. Show all of us that faith doesn’t come from answered prayers, but rather from the “confidence in what we hope for” (Hebrews 11:1). Open people’s eyes to recognize You as the only Source of living water for their parched souls. Let them be refreshed in Your love when they enjoy clean water to drink.

“… My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” —Psalm 63:1 (NASB)

Pray for World Vision’s ongoing work that brings clean, accessible water to millions of people every year.

World Vision is the largest non-governmental provider of clean water in the developing world, reaching one new person every 10 seconds and three new schools every day with clean water.

We believe the global water and sanitation crisis can be solved within our lifetime. That’s why we’re focused on providing clean water and sanitation to every man, woman, and child in every community we work in, including the most vulnerable populations in some of the hardest-to-reach places.

Please pray for our ongoing efforts that are bringing clean, sustainable water — and renewed health — to children, families, and communities around the world.

Faithful God, give wisdom to Your followers at World Vision as they seek to bring clean water and other life-saving interventions to millions more families. Thank You for equipping people who love You as they bring new health and opportunities to the world’s most vulnerable. Like Isaiah’s vision of water in the desert, we hope to see no child die of diarrhea, no mother spend hours transporting water, no school without proper toilets and sanitation, and no one drinking unsafe water.

“… Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.” —Isaiah 35:6 (NIV)

Pray for World Vision’s donors and partners.

World Vision recognizes that the visionary achievements of ending the global water and sanitation crisis by 2030 cannot be accomplished alone. We are privileged to partner with individual donors, foundations, corporations, national and local governments, and other humanitarian organizations to accomplish this life-saving work.

We are grateful to You, God Almighty, for passionate donors who understand and care about the needs of people in developing rural communities worldwide. These gifts enable life-giving water projects that demonstrate Your steadfast love. We ask You to ignite passion in people’s hearts to help bring clean water to people who desperately need it. Remind those of us who have safe water to always give generously and freely to help make this blessing available to others.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven .” —Matthew 6:10 (NIV)

 

Chris Huber, Denise C. Koenig, Kathryn Reid, and Laura Reinhardt of World Vision’s staff in the U.S. contributed to this article.

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As Hurricane Florence approached, Randi Jo Rooks, her husband, Brandon, and their three children had evacuated to her parents’ house in New Jersey to wait out the storm. Now all they could do was watch reports on The Weather Channel about their North Carolina neighborhood where 228,000 gallons of sewage mixed with floodwater spilled into the 44 houses in their community.

Hurricane Florence hit eastern North Carolina hard in September 2018. Much of the destruction covered the same area recovering from 2016’s Hurricane Matthew. Many people found their lives under water again.

Randi Jo worried for her neighbors — some of whom didn’t have flood insurance. She kept up with happenings via a neighborhood Facebook page she’d set up years earlier. Using that, she began to coordinate relief efforts — continuing to do so over the next month.

Despite what they were seeing on the news and hearing from neighbors, Randi Jo and Brandon didn’t feel overwhelmed. Randi Jo says, “As soon as I saw the water hit the house on the news, my husband and I felt so prepared for that moment.”

Leaning on God

To find out what had prepared them for that moment, you have to go back to her children’s playroom on Aug. 18, 2013. She sat reading her girls a book about a Ugandan girl. She felt God telling her that he had plans for her to minister to others.

Within the week, Randi received a brochure in the mail asking her to become a World Vision Child Ambassador. She knew this is what God meant when he spoke to her in the playroom.

But almost immediately once she made the commitment to volunteer for World Vision, she was hit with a mystery illness that took two years to diagnosis as Lyme’s disease. (Read more about this time in Randi Jo’s story.)

During that dark time of sickness, when all of her own talents, strengths, and skills deserted her, she came to understand that her strength came from depending on God. She felt God telling her: “‘Even if I took away everything, you are still my beautiful daughter.’ It was really just about resting. He sunk that truth so deep in me.”

A couple of years later, as a Child Ambassador, she got 40 children sponsored in a year for World Vision, which earned her a trip to Uganda to see World Vision’s work and to meet two of her sponsored children — Mercy and Gidion.

Changed by child sponsorship

In March 2018, she and other Child Ambassadors made the journey. “I would never have gone to Uganda before getting sick. That is too uncontrolled of an environment,” says Randi Jo. “Going was such a step of faith for me. I did have fear. Lyme disease people are so susceptible to any bacteria and viruses.”

She hated to leave her children at home, too. But once she arrived in Uganda she says, “I felt like I was home the entire time. I felt his presence the whole time. … It felt like a glimpse of heaven; a glimpse of eternity.”

She loved the strong sense of community she saw in the villages. People shared information and resources. It was something she’d always yearned to find in her own life. “They’re so rich in relationship with God and in relationship with each other,” Randi Jo says.

Even though her husband, Brandon, didn’t go on the trip with her, Randi Jo felt like Uganda changed him as much as it did her. They both began to wrestle with the tremendous abundance they had in their lives and wanted to live simply. “The Lord was helping us to let go,” she says.

Two weekends before Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina’s coast, they both felt God telling them to put their house on the market. They began the process of sorting their things — figuring out what they wanted to keep and what they could do without.

(Not) Overwhelmed by floodwaters

The sewage water destroyed everything on their home’s first floor, including videotapes of her beloved grandmother, a piano from her grandmother, and their World Vision binder, which included letters and pictures from their sponsored children over the years. They’d all sat too long in that filthy water to be salvaged. But Randi Jo says that the memories will always live in their hearts.

Because of the trip to Uganda, Randi Jo and Brandon didn’t feel that loss as keenly as they might once have. “As soon as we started to flood, all I thought about was Gidion and Mercy. This stuff is so insignificant to eternal things. None of this is going to come with me to heaven,” she says. “I was so ready to let it all go. Take it. Take it all.”

Because they were not overwhelmed by their loss, they knew God was gifting them with the special privilege of serving their neighbors through their shared crisis. While Brandon painstakingly took inventory photos in their home, Randi Jo threw herself into organizing and streamlining all the volunteers for their neighbors without flood insurance.

Randi Jo Rooks prays following the destruction of their home during Hurricane Florence.
Randi Jo Rooks prays following the destruction of their home during Hurricane Florence. (Photo courtesy of Randi Jo Rooks)

Randi explains that she heard God’s voice so strongly during this cleanup time. Sometimes she’d be walking down the street and hear God tell her to stop, so she did. Then someone would emerge from their house crying, and she’d be there to console them. In the midst of the crisis, she found the sense of community she had sought.

She believes Hurricane Florence also helped teach her children valuable new lessons by breaking them out of their routine. Since they stayed with their grandparents, they weren’t going to the same school with their friends. They didn’t have their own toys. They began to understand the value of experiences over things. Randi Jo feels like they were being taken down the same path that she and Brandon were already on.

But her children already had begun to see the world differently as they went with their mom to every World Vision Child Ambassador event. Randi Jo also shared her stories about meeting their sponsored children in Uganda. Every day, the family chooses someone for whom they can pray. One day her son Raymond, 12, prayed: “I know Father. They’re just children like us, born in a different place without as many resources. Please send helpers to just lift them up.”

Obeying in the small things

After Brandon and Randi Jo stopped working round-the-clock on the neighborhood cleanup, they took the few possessions that survived Hurricane Florence and moved into her parents’ home. Each felt increasingly uneasy about buying a new house and filling it up with new things. Instead, they made the decision to store their few remaining possessions and buy an RV, which their family will live in for the next nine months or however long they feel called.

A rainbow shines in the sky following Hurricane Florence's destruction in Randi Jo Rooks' neighborhood.
A rainbow shines in the sky following Hurricane Florence’s destruction in Randi Jo Rooks’ neighborhood. (Photo courtesy of Randi Jo Rooks)

Randi Jo sees this as a sabbatical for the family, but says they’re not putting their ministry aside. “World Vision is such a part of our family. We’re always talking about what God is doing in the world,” she says. Raymond turns 13 this year. She feels like this is a great time for him to have a rite of passage of exploring the country. “Seeds [have been] planted in his heart,” she says.

And she believes seeds have been planted in the lives of child sponsors too. She sees the difference that $39 a month can make in the life of a child and the community because families choose to do the smallest act of obedience to God’s call and sponsor a child.

“So many of us want to make an impact in the world. We want justice. We want to be compassionate,” Randi Jo says. “Maybe it’s not about radically doing something, but maybe it is really just obeying in the small things.”

She encourages people who think they might want to join World Vision’s Child Ambassadors: “If the Lord is calling you, obey, obey, obey until he calls you elsewhere. He totally equips who he calls,” she says. “Be prepared to have your life changed.”

 

Stay updated about the latest adventures of Randi Jo and her family by checking out her blog.

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Alongside a pond in Rwanda once roamed the legendary “Big Five” — lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants, and Cape buffalo. But after the 1994 genocide, their home, Rwanda’s Akagera National Park, was sliced in half to make room for returning refugees. The animals were relocated east toward Tanzania to protect them from poaching. Creatures small but even more deadly — bloodsucking parasites, roundworms, and malaria-spreading mosquitoes — now have dominion.

Eight-year-old Esther Gisubizo hates the pond. And she’s reminded daily of her distaste for it — the dirty swamp is her family’s only source of water. Esther and her five sisters, ages 6 to 17, make the trek to the pond several times a day to collect water. They live with their parents, Augustin Hakizimana, 45, and Olive Nirere, 38, in Gatsibo district, a two-hour drive northeast from Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. After the genocide, Augustin and Olive moved back to the district — Olive from refuge in Tanzania and Augustin from the Democratic Republic of the Congo where, as a soldier, he’d lost a finger and suffered a serious bullet wound to the leg.

The family lives in a small, two-room house near the pond, and operate a little shop on the side of the road where they sell passers-by tea and mandazi — small, round doughnuts. At night, they crowd into the house to sleep. The doughnut shop becomes a bedroom.

It’s stagnant water. It doesn’t flow. Feces are in it. When you drink, you know what’s in it.—Augustin, Esther’s father

A crowded evening becomes a crowded morning at the pond, which swells and shrinks according to the season but never dries up because of a dam that now feeds it. “People come from far away on their bicycles,” says Augustin. “There’s no fighting, just a lot of traffic.”

Thousands of people from seven nearby villages trek down the path carrying yellow jerrycans to fill, competing with herds of drinking and defecating cattle. “It’s stagnant water,” says Augustin. “It doesn’t flow. Feces are in it. When you drink, you know what’s in it.”

The cattle lift their shiny black heads at the sound of the water bowsers that come to the pond to pump water they’ll use to mix cement for road and new construction. The advent of electricity in some parts of the district has brought opportunity, creating even more competition for water already in scarce supply.

A wave of fear

“Sometimes we go in the dark in the morning,” says Esther’s 11-year-old sister, Sandrine. The sisters hold hands when they do that — summoning courage to make the trek, each way the length of a football field. Esther and her sisters dread the multiple trips to collect enough water — often six per day.

World Vision is working to bring clean water to communities like this one in Rwanda.
Children wait for cattle to leave the pond before they are able to fetch water. The pond attracts those desperate for water, including animals who defecate there. (©2018 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

The pond is brown and swampy. “We are scared to drink the water,” says Irene, 9. “We know there are worms in it.” The snakes scare her, too. “You can see them swimming in the water,” she says.

Esther has suffered the most physical discomfort due to the pond. She was bitten by a bloodsucking parasite that attached itself to her ankle as she collected water one day. “It was very painful,” she says. “She’s usually the funniest and most vigorous of my daughters,” says her father.

But Esther is quiet. Lifeless.

She has malaria, and her skin itches. The pond is so dirty that the girls get scabies from washing in it, and they can never truly be clean. They won’t change clothes after collecting water either if there are no clean clothes to wear. “Sometimes I stay wet,” says Sandrine. “Sometimes I shiver.” Olive shakes her head at the wretchedness of the situation. She too has malaria, her face shiny and countenance weary. “Do we have any choice?” she asks. “What we do is out of desperation.”

World Vision is working in Rwanda to bring clean water to all Rwandans by 2022.
Eight-year-old Esther is weary from malaria. The child, who is often ill, makes a trek to a dirty pond several times a day to collect water. Her family is among the 6 million Rwandans who lack access to safe water. (©2018 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

The pond attracts those desperate for water, drawing in those who gather the vital element. Two boys wade out to fetch water, believing that the farther out one wades, the cleaner the water will be. “Please come back,” yells an older woman from the bank. “You may drown.”

Everyone knows she’s thinking of Julius.

A spark extinguished

Julius Tugume was a star. “He was handsome and energetic,” says his aunt, Francisca Mukandamutsa. Francisca, a seamstress, adopted Julius when he was 6. “I took him in to give him a chance,” she says. Julius’ father had died of HIV, and his mother, Francisca’s sister, was unable to care for him. Francisca brought him home after his father’s funeral, and the little boy thrived.

World Vision is working to bring safe, clean water to Francisca's community,
Francisca Mukandamutsa’s nephew, Julius Tugume, a rising star at school, drowned in the pond. Francisca, a seamstress, adopted Julius when he was 6. She was devastated by his death. (©2018 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

“His marks were above distinction,” says Edward Sakure Ndahiro, the headmaster of Bihinga School, where Julius attended. “He was a genius.” The 17-year-old had just taken the national exams, scoring 82 percent, a mark so high that when the headmaster reveals the score, one can hear the sharp, surprised intake of his listeners’ breath.

Julius never knew his score. The test results came back after he drowned in the pond. His best friend,

Desire Zigirinshuti, 17, was there on that day in November 2017. The two had been inseparable. “If you ever wanted to know where I was — just find Julius,” says Desire. That day, the boys went to the pond to collect water, Julius went out too far. The pond has a muddy bottom with deep holes. “We didn’t swim, so we couldn’t save him,” he says.

The family lost a good boy, the school lost, the country lost.—Edward, Bihinga School headmaster

“We were very close,” says Julius’ friend, Justin, 15. “He always encouraged me to read. He had a lot of ideas. If he had lived, he would be a dignified person who loves people.” His friend Elise, also 15, adds,

“He used to study hard. He was brighter than all of us. He used to coach us.”

Francisca learned late on that terrible afternoon that Julius had drowned. She was devastated. His friends were devastated. “On his burial date,” she says, “those kids cried until their last breath.” His headmaster, Edward, still grieves. “The family lost a good boy, the school lost, the country lost,” he says.

Julius left behind three best friends when he drowned, Desire, Elise, and Justin (seated left to right). “He died in our sight,” says Elise. “We could not even help.”(©2018 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

A deluge of maladies

Families, schools, and countries suffer when people don’t have access to clean water. At the nearby Bihinga Health Center, Patient Munezero, 33, supervises a center with a packed waiting room — mostly women and children wrapped in scarves and clothes to keep warm on a rainy day. The center serves 42,000 people, and Patient says it is always busy. Dirty water is to blame. Seventy percent of the patients have water-related illnesses.

“First of all,” says Patient, “lack of water affects the physical condition of the body. When people don’t have enough water for drinking, they can become dehydrated. That can even cause death.” And when they do drink the water, it’s just as bad. “People get sick with diarrhea, digestive disorders, typhoid, [and] intestinal worms,” he says.

Patient says the snail that bit Esther’s ankle usually bites between the toes or the sole of the foot. “It’s painful,” he says. “If you don’t pull it off, it keeps burrowing to find blood.” Then surgery is required.

From June through September, the health center’s tanks run dry so staff must collect water from the pond — the very source Patient warns people about. “What else can we do?” he asks. “Where else can we go? You can’t have a maternity ward without water.”

A surge of hope

You can’t have a thriving nation without water either. Right now, nearly 6 million of Rwanda’s 11 million people lack access to safe water. That’s why World Vision is thinking big and working with the government to bring clean water to all of Rwanda’s people by 2022 — people like Esther.

It’s an ambitious goal, but it’s attainable for three reasons. First: size. Rwanda is densely populated, but small. One can drive around the country in just a day. Second: scale, as World Vision is the leading nongovernmental provider of clean water in the developing world. And third, there is sustainability.

World Vision organizes communities to advocate for water issues and handle operation and maintenance of the water system so the water keeps flowing after World Vision leaves.

We lost Julius, but if World Vision would do something so that another child like Julius would not die, I will praise God for that.—Francisca, Julius’ aunt

Progress has moved quickly since 2012 when World Vision started its water, sanitation, and hygiene program in Rwanda, installing pipelines to serve thousands of people at a time. Already, more than 300,000 Rwandans have clean water and access to improved sanitation. Another 130,000 have installed hand-washing facilities and improved latrines as a result of World Vision’s behavior change campaigns.

World Vision has the full support of the government to meet its big goals that will serve children like Esther. “Your goals are our goals,” says Prime Minister Edouard Ngirento. “We are working together in a good manner.”

“We lost Julius, but if World Vision would do something so that another child like Julius would not die, I will praise God for that,” says Francisca.

It’s not too late for Esther and her sisters. But their need for clean water is now even more of a priority. In August 2018, Augustin and Olive separated after 18 years of marriage, leaving Olive a single mother. She says their marriage disintegrated after years of strife caused by his drinking. An already challenging life just became even more difficult for the shopkeeper and her six daughters, who are fighting for survival in a small, two-room house alongside a pond in Rwanda.

 

Ange Gusenga of World Vision’s staff in Rwanda and Jane Sutton-Redner of World Vision’s staff in the United States contributed to this article.

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