From Alabama with Love to India
No one is too young or too poor to give. What matters is the size of your heart and the depth of your love. Just ask the kids from the Brown House ministry near Tuscaloosa, Ala., whose creative enthusiasm is changing the lives of children on the other side of the world.
Andrea Zahler wound her way along a narrow pathway in a small farming village near Sitapur, India, past oxen laying in the sun and mud-walled homes where chai is brewed atop small, open wood-fired stoves.
Andrea was a World Vision Child Ambassador in the truest sense that day. She was going to meet a sponsored child named Laxmi Ramhit, a 12-year-old Indian girl with a shy smile and deep doe eyes.
As Laxmi’s home came into view, Andrea saw a large group of women and children sitting on the floor, waiting patiently in a small courtyard outside the home. They pulled out a patio chair for her, the oldest girl brought her chai, and other children touched her feet as a sign of respect and welcome.
“I was very nervous about visiting [Laxmi] because I knew that it wasn’t just me, but I was representing an entire neighborhood of people.”—Andrea
“I was very nervous about visiting [Laxmi] because I knew that it wasn’t just me, but I was representing an entire neighborhood of people,” Andrea says.
Across the world, in the tiny Alabama town of Northport, a group of young kids from the West Circle public housing development had worked together to sell handmade Christmas cards, raising enough money to sponsor not just Laxmi, but also two other children not much older than they are.
The children in Northport are part of the Brown House, a ministry led by Amy and Adam Pierce among the people of West Circle and the surrounding community.
“There is so much love and so many prayers and blessings that were sent with me to give [Laxmi],” Andrea said. “I knew that there was no way that I could help her understand, especially since I don’t speak her language, just how much she is loved and prayed for.”
Presence of Christ
It’s called the Brown House ministry because Amy and Adam live in a brown house next to West Circle, a low-income housing development of about 200 duplexes and apartments.
When Adam and Amy Pierce decided to move to Northport, it wasn’t with a five-point plan for change and a clearly stated missions goal. Instead, they simply wanted to be “Christ’s presence—present to all” in the community. Although Amy had enough on her plate with raising two young children, “I just kind of felt itchy, like I needed to be doing something,” she says. “Once I let go of what I thought the neighborhood needed, I was able to see what was going on, and that took awhile. I just had to watch and learn.”
Over the last decade, the Brown House ministry has grown to include an after-school tutoring program, youth groups, weekly gatherings, a lot of parties, a half-acre community garden, another house (the Blue House), and eight other families who have followed Adam and Amy’s example and bought or built homes in the neighborhood.
Two Christmases ago, Andrea, a former University of Alabama campus minister who volunteers at the Brown House, asked if the children there wanted to buy a goat through World Vision’s Gift Catalog.
“I just kind of felt itchy, like I needed to be doing something…"—Amy Pierce
Andrea’s idea was that they would sell handmade Christmas cards to purchase the goat.
“I was thinking, ‘OK, they’ll make the cards and I’ll end up buying like $75 worth of cards and then we’ll get a goat,’” Andrea says.
That Christmas, they had a huge party at the Brown House and sold the cards for $5 a pack. They raised $400.
So the kids ended up buying two goats. They also talked about children all around the world—what their lives were like, what they go through, and how hard it is for them to go to school and get health care, clean water, and good food.
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“The children were really affected by that in West Circle,” Andrea says. “And they said, ‘Well, we have all this money.’ ” So they sponsored their first child, a young Rwandan boy named Placide Manizabayo.
In the Brown House hallway, they hung a huge world map, then tacked one end of a string in Northport, stretched it across to Rwanda, and added a picture of 10-year-old Placide. When the kids came over after school, they talked about Placide, prayed for him, and learned about Rwanda.
“They were so surprised that something as simple as a sacrifice of a little time could change Placide’s life,” Amy says.
Last Christmas, they held another Christmas card sale. There’s not much to the cards: “Felt, buttons, glue—the end,” Amy says. But the children created a lot more cards than the year before, so they promoted the sale on their Facebook page. They earned enough to not only continue to sponsor Placide, but Laxmi, now 10, in India and Seada Mohammed, 11, in Ethiopia as well.
Some Brown House kids feel a special closeness to the sponsored children.
“I think if she were here, she’d be a good friend,” 10-year-old Zion Thomas says about Laxmi. “It’s a complicated relationship. She’s halfway across the world, but we still know each other.”
“I feel happy and sad about Laxmi, sometimes,” says Timya Bostic, 15. “It’s like she’s here with us, but at the same time, she doesn’t have clean water or anything else we have. It makes me happy that she’s here on earth and we get to help her.”
Andrea is a World Vision Child Ambassador, among a group of volunteers who recruit dozens—sometimes even hundreds—of new child sponsors. Earlier this year she went with other Child Ambassadors to India, where she was able to meet Laxmi.
As a World Vision sponsored child, Laxmi has access to basics like medical care and extra food when her family needs it. Before sponsorship, Laxmi wasn’t in school; now she is, Andrea says. Besides the tangible impact of sponsorship, Laxmi received much more: a realization that other children like her across the world care.
On the patio at Laxmi’s home, women beautifully dressed in long, colorful saris greeted Andrea. A translator made introductions.
When Andrea met with Laxmi, along with her mother and siblings, she brought gifts from the children of West Circle: balloons, pens and drawing paper, little stuffed animals, stickers, pretty boxes, and artwork from the Brown House group.
“I think a lot of people underestimate the impact that these children can have.”—Andrea
When she pulled out a scrapbook filled with the pictures of the West Circle kids and Adam and Amy, Laxmi began to smile. They sat together and wrote their names and drew pictures to exchange.
“The first time we met, I felt this kind of divine heaviness that this is a kingdom encounter,” Andrea said. “This is this neighborhood in Northport, Alabama, meeting this child and her family in Sitapur, India. Just two of God’s families meeting together.”
Pray that more children’s lives here in the U.S. are transformed as they reach out to children in developing countries, learn to help those in need, and join hearts in mutual love and respect.
Amy Pierce says they’ll probably have another Christmas card sale this year because sponsorship has opened the children to the larger world beyond West Circle. Their lives have not only been informed, but enriched by the children they sponsor.
“I think a lot of people underestimate the impact that these children can have,” Andrea says. “They underestimate how much love they have to give, what they can give their neighbors and the world.”
Andrea, who sponsors children on her own, felt privileged to be the one linking Laxmi’s village to West Circle through sponsorship. “I do not have children,” she says. “But I have five sponsored kids. And I carry their pictures around with me, and I am so proud of them. And I feel connected not only to my neighborhood, but to the world, to God’s children everywhere.”