That Smile

His name is Mukanga.

He’s nine years old, almost exactly three months older than my second-born child.

When we first sponsored Mukanga through Compassion they sent us a remarkably thorough packet of information about him.  He lives with his grandmother in the northeastern part of Uganda.  He is responsible for gathering the firewood and carrying water for the two of them.  He loves to play marbles, and he loves to draw.  He goes to school, where he is an average student, and he goes to church regularly.

Thanks to subsequent communication with him, we know a little more.  Mukanga’s aunt also lives with them, and he loves to play soccer.  His favorite subject is math, and he longs to come to America someday ("because of the adventure," he says).

As interesting as these facts are, it’s his photograph that stays in my head.  We have it stuck to our fridge, along with all the photos of our own kids–it fights for space with the grocery list and spelling words.  He looks very healthy and robust–in the picture he stands with fine posture, his stained shirt buttoned neatly to the top.  His left hand appears to be nervously (bashfully?) fidgeting with them hem of his shirt.  He’s barefoot.

I love knowing about this boy–I’ve turned the details over and over in my head, trying to paint a mental picture of his life.  So have my kids. 

"What does his school look like?"

"Does he have enough to eat?"

"Do you think his parents died?  Is that why he lives with his grandmother?"

I wish I knew.  I read the facts about Mukanga and my mind races, hoping and praying life is healthy and safe for him, and profoundly thankful our family has had a chance to get involved with him.  Though I know we may be impacting his life through our sponsorship, he’s profoundly impacting our lives as well.  Not a day goes by that at least one person in our family mentions his name when we need a little perspective about how easy our life is.

Amazingly, I’m going to get to meet Mukanga.  Face-to-face!  Of all the aspects of my upcoming trip, this is the one that brings tears to my eyes the quickest.  The kids have helped us pack a backpack full of gifts for him:  there’s some clothing, many art supplies, a few toys, a soccer ball, even a crank-up flashlight.  Mostly, I just want to look directly into the eyes that have peering at me from the photo on the fridge.  I want to know he’s okay.  I want to show him pictures of my kids.  I want to hear the laugh behind the smile. 

Have you ever thought of sponsoring a child?  You should.  It’s only $32 a month (it costs more than that for my family of six to go to McDonald’s), and it builds a priceless relationship with a child who desperately needs you.  Compassion squeezes every bit of value out of that $32 and turns into an education, food and medical care.

The stories of the heartache in Africa come pouring out constantly–I’ll be telling you a few myself in the coming weeks.  But you have a chance to make a difference in the life of one child

It’s not every day you get to change the world. 

36 thoughts on “That Smile

  1. Crazy Daisy says:

    It is such a wonderful thing you are doing. I have often thought about sponsoring a child, but never really know “how it worked”, or “if it worked”. To read your story is touching. Thank you.

  2. Holly says:

    Oh my goodness…I’ve never commented before- even though I’m a faithful reader. But I can’t stop the tears. How awesome that you get to meet this sweet little guy! My husband and I are in the thick of an international adoption (that is taking a sweet forever might I add) so I guess it just hits a little close to home! I will certainly be in prayer for you guys as you travel.
    In Him,
    Holly

  3. Bethany says:

    I simply want to encourage Crazy Daisy to go for it! It’s so simple, and yes, it really works. If you see my Compassion child in Uganda, a little girl named Leya, Shannon, please give her a hug from me. : ) I know the odds of that are slim to none, but it couldn’t hurt to mention it. God bless.

  4. LeeAnn says:

    Shannon- make sure you take a pump to go with your soccer ball… That ball will become his most treasured possesion!
    We also sponsor a child in Africa (Dodoma, Tanzania) and even tho’ I’ve been to TZ several times recently- I’ve never been to that part of the country. It is something I hope to do on a future trip… I am so jealous of your opportunity!

  5. Fresh Girl says:

    Oh Shannon, I’m so thrilled you’re going to get to meet your sponsored child. I can’t even imagine how you’re going to feel when you finally see him and get to hug him, but I know it’s going to be wonderful!

  6. kelli says:

    We sponsored two girls from China when I was growing up. We “grew up together”. At 18 they both left the orphanage, and I wonder about them still.
    What a blessing that you get to meet your sponsored child ๐Ÿ™‚ God is good!

  7. Nancy says:

    How wonderful!
    Oh please, carry a real picture of HIS picture on your fridge, maybe with your children in it, to show him where he “lives” in your house. What a treasure that would be for him!
    Blessings!

  8. Gego says:

    I have traveled to other countries, prayed for the children in the streets, bought trinkets to help support their families, grieved that they don’t have what my children had.
    My prayers are that by the Grace of God, you see the needs of others without trying to rescue them. May this trip provide you with the opportunity to teach those you meet how to do for themselves and those for whom they are responsible.
    Godspeed, my special Mother of the Grandest Four.
    I love you and those you choose to love. Please give Mukanga a big hug from his Gego

  9. mimi2six says:

    I can’t imagine all the emotions you will feel when you meet and hug Mukanga in person. What an incredible blessing that will be for you, and especially for him.

  10. Jenn says:

    Oh my gosh, that is so amazing. I think the stories of those who get to meet the children they sponsor are the most touching. I can’t imagine what it would be like to meet a child who you only know through pictures and letters but know you are making a difference for. And the other side of that, him being able to meet you. To get those presents from your children. To hug the one who has made all the difference in the world to him. Wow. My eyes are filled with tears and I wish I was a better writer to explain how amazing I think that is ๐Ÿ™‚ But, you are a better writer and that is why you get to go and I can’t wait to read what metting him is like. wow.

  11. Britni says:

    I know it’s great to volunteer and help people out anonymously, but it will be an amazing experience to get to really meet him. The faces and emotions you don’t get to see through letters will come through. I’m very excited for you!

  12. hoigphan says:

    As excited as you are to see Mukanga, just put yourself in his place these days. He knows the mom of 4 children who have come to love him is coming to see him! He knows your name, and the names of your four children. All those things you wonder about him, he’s wondering about you! He knows someone who has made his life better is coming and he’ll get to meet her. It’s going to be a high time in your (and his) life. “When you do it unto the least of these, you do it unto ME”!

  13. michelle says:

    How cool that you get to meet him. We’ve sponsored a boy from Kenya for over 2 years through Compassion! It’s so neat to see them grow and change and learn to love the Lord. Enjoy your visit.

  14. Jenni says:

    We sponsor three kids through Compassion and I think they are a fantastic organization. I couldn’t say enough positive things about what I think of their integrity and vision, so I’m just gonna leave it at that!
    I would LOVE to meet any one of my Compassion kids!! You are so very blessed, Shannon!

  15. Anna says:

    Compassion sponsorship is a wonderful experience. The children bless you in return so much more than you could ever ask for, just for a measly $32 a month.

  16. Karen - Little Fun; Little Learning says:

    Oh my goodness! How exciting! My husband just returned from Haiti. I wrote about it at Thrifty Mommy. I’ll leave the link below. We have such a hard time deciding who to sponsor. We look at all of the children. We look at the ones that need help the most and I just can’t bring myself to pick one. Only one! How can I bring myself to do it? I struggle so much with the decision so much. I think we may just send in the money and let Compassion choose one for us.
    http://www.thriftymommy.com/my-not-so-wordless-wednesday/

  17. Kelly @ Love Well says:

    There’s a trip I dream of taking.
    We sponsor two children — one via Compassion, one via World Vision. My husband and I fully intend to visit them someday, maybe when the kids are older and can accompany us.
    I’ve said it before, but I’m so glad you get to make this trip, Shannon. May God shine on your meeting with Mukanga and make that memory live in your heart forever.

  18. Stephanie says:

    So, exciting! I just found your blog and what a post to come in on! I have sponsored a little girl, Mary Isaura, from the Dominican Republic for 6 years now. Oh, what I would give to be able to meet that little girl I have watched growing up miles away!
    Enjoy every moment with your sponsored son!

  19. Julie says:

    I’m so glad you get to meet your Compassion child. Maybe you’ll meet our Compassion child, too. He’s from Uganda, but I don’t know exactly where in Uganda. I would love to sponsor a second child. It is fun to get their letters and find out things about them.

  20. Beth says:

    My Compassion child is little girl, the same age as my middle son, and she lives in Mexico. Nearly every day I hope to find a new letter from her (or written by someone FOR her, she’s only 6), but mostly I hope for a new picture. She’s been “ours” for over a year now, and the only photo we have is the one from the sponsorship packet.
    I’m with you, Shannon. I want to see that she’s growing, that she looks healthy. I want to see her smile.
    Maybe one day I can meet her! I know how meaningful your meeting will be. Savor every minute you get wit him…

  21. Carisa says:

    Hi, I read your blog a lot, never have commented before but feel called to today! I am SO excited for you and your trip! I too am hoping to visit our sponsored children in Rwanda someday! We sponsor through both Compassion and World Vision.
    I recently did a lapbook with my son focusing on his sponsored child and wanted to share it here in case you or any of your readers might be interested. It was a wonderful thing to learn more and more about our precious Albert! Here is the link to the site that has all of the info for it…
    http://lapbooksbycarisa.homestead.com/Rwanda.html
    God Bless, Carisa

  22. Jack's Mommy says:

    I sponsored a “child” from Equador from when I was 14 (from the moment I had my first job) until he was too old to sponsor! I put quotations on child because in reality, he was only a few years younger than I was (2 or 3? I dont remember now) – and it really affected my teen mind to receive his letters and learn that my little bit of money helped him and his family each month. He always sent the nicest letters with pictures he’d color. I remember his favorite subject was mathematics and my birthday money to him once bought him a pair of new jeans and a bookbag.
    I never got to meet him…actually, I never even corresponded back to him, although I sponsored him for years. I believe they (children’s international) stopped sponsorship when he turned 18 (or 20? i can’t remember that either). I just remember being sad about the loss of my little friend I’d watch grow up in all of those photos for nearly a decade!! I’m 25 years old now and often wonder what has become of him.
    Children in poor situations like that break my heart completely…

  23. Mommy Cracked says:

    Wow. As excited about your trip as I am (and I’m not the one even going!!) THIS by far thrills me…that you will get to meet this precious child in the flesh. This is definitely a post I look forward to reading about, assuming you share with us. Amazing!

  24. Linda Sue says:

    Please give your big eyed mystery in a way boy a hug from Texas too! We have been allowed to be sponsors for boys in Bangladesh – Elius and Bipul have given us such a blessing. I never had children so these children are ours in a way I can’t explain. It is absolutely the best thing we can do for God’s Kingdom. We always thank God for lighting the very dark part of the world Compassion enters by His work in those kiddos. Looking forward to some pictures with Mukanga!

  25. Kareah says:

    Your last sentence struck a chord in me. I think it IS everyday that you get to change the world. You have no idea (at least not yet) of the magnitude of your involvement with this child. I spent last summer in Nigeria working in a free AIDS clinic and someone there told me, “Once you have drunk from the waters of Africa, you are sure to return.” Just wait. Life as you know it is about to change.

  26. Debi says:

    Will you be in Kenya on your Compassion tour? My hubby and I sponsor Belinda from Nairobi. She is 17 years old now. I hope someday we get to meet her, but it may have to be in Heaven.

  27. Jen says:

    Hi! I’m so excited about your trip! I only recently came to know about your blog, but I already wish I could meet you.
    Can I just share that I was called to South Africa on a short-term mission last fall? Like you, I have young children (ages 1 and 3 at the time). Although everyone around me (even my husband – sounds like your husband – encouraged me to go!). I dragged my feet for two weeks before accepting that God would care for my young boys and that I was just called to “Go.” I am a SAHM and was so concerned about having my sons feel neglected or confused about where I was for nine days. God so took care of that even though I cried like a baby the day I left. He was so faithful to comfort me and allow me to focus on His work while I was gone.
    Our missions pastor told us that a piece of our soul would stay in Africa. That was so true. My heart was touched in such incredible ways. It began with just the adventure of it, developed as I first heard a church group sing (the most heavenly singing I’d EVER heard!) and grew exponentially as I met children and played with them/conducted VBS with them over the week. In fact, it took me a couple months before I could even begin to answer friends asking, “So, what was it like?” There was no way to sum it up. You’ll know what I mean when you return.
    If God provides the finances, I’ll go again. It was such an incredible thing to be where God is so visibly at work.
    I’m so excited for you!!!!

  28. Jen says:

    Hi! I’m so excited about your trip! I only recently came to know about your blog, but I already wish I could meet you.
    Can I just share that I was called to South Africa on a short-term mission last fall? Like you, I have young children (ages 1 and 3 at the time). Although everyone around me (even my husband – sounds like your husband – encouraged me to go!). I dragged my feet for two weeks before accepting that God would care for my young boys and that I was just called to “Go.” I am a SAHM and was so concerned about having my sons feel neglected or confused about where I was for nine days. God so took care of that even though I cried like a baby the day I left. He was so faithful to comfort me and allow me to focus on His work while I was gone.
    Our missions pastor told us that a piece of our soul would stay in Africa. That was so true. My heart was touched in such incredible ways. It began with just the adventure of it, developed as I first heard a church group sing (the most heavenly singing I’d EVER heard!) and grew exponentially as I met children and played with them/conducted VBS with them over the week. In fact, it took me a couple months before I could even begin to answer friends asking, “So, what was it like?” There was no way to sum it up. You’ll know what I mean when you return.
    If God provides the finances, I’ll go again. It was such an incredible thing to be where God is so visibly at work.
    I’m so excited for you!!!!

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