Olivia's story, part 4: As for me and my household
Like most World Vision sponsors, my husband, Bob, and I have pictures of our sponsored children on our refrigerator. Over the years we have sponsored seven different children, and even after they leave the program, we keep their pictures up to remind us to pray for these special young men and women.
We believe that God “set” these children in our family quite intentionally and I pray for my sponsored children the same way I pray for my own — that they will grow up to have an intimate and powerful faith in Jesus Christ and that their lives will make a difference in the world around them.
Two pictures in particular make me smile. One is of a 13-year-old girl looking seriously into the camera as though she is impatient to get on with life. The other is of a little boy holding a bottle of juice. His mother probably gave it to him to get him to stand still long enough to have his picture taken.
What is extraordinary about these two pictures is that they are mother and son.
When I first heard that Olivia was dropping out of sponsorship to get married, I will admit I was disappointed. She was only 16, and I wanted her to finish school and become a teacher as she dreamed. But life and love have a way of redirecting our dreams, and when Olivia wrote to tell me she was expecting her first child, I knew God had given her a new dream.
Arriving in Sinazongwe, Zambia, I could hardly wait to meet her son, Talent. Bob and I had sponsored him since he was 2, and from his pictures I knew he was a beautiful child. But I was not prepared for the wave of emotion I would feel when I finally looked into those big brown eyes — bright with joy and bursting with curiosity. And I knew immediately that this was a child who, unlike his mother when we first met, had no reason to be guarded or defensive.
Over the next few days I became Talent’s new best friend. He called me “bene bae” —grandma — and everywhere we went, he took my hand as naturally as my granddaughter, Addison, does at home.
I waited to hand out gifts until Olivia came home from the hospital on Monday. When the moment came, Talent dropped at my feet, his eyes glued to the bulging book bag. I pulled out a shirt and sunglasses for Olivia and a hat and flashlight for her husband, Clever. Then it was Talent’s turn. The little boy “oohed” and awed” over every little gift — a safari hat, crayons, a water bottle — and even the toothbrush got a smile.
Although he had not started school yet, Talent grabbed a pencil and paper to show me how he could write his ABC’s. His letters were perfect! When I handed him a new picture book, he eagerly pointed out several words, and it blessed me to see that Olivia had already passed her love for learning on to her child.
Of course, the biggest hit was the soccer ball I saved for last. I think Clever’s eyes lit up as much as his son’s at the sight of the new ball, and the two immediately began breaking it in.
Watching Clever play with his son, I praised God for bringing such a good man into Olivia’s life. At church on Sunday, he had been the first to get out of his seat to dance before the Lord. His son had followed, raising his hands and praising the Lord, just like his daddy.
After church Clever introduced me to his mother, an elder in the church, and other relatives who make up the small community where he and Olivia live. Then he showed me the two-room house he built for Olivia with his own hands. Unlike the crumbling structure they had first lived in, this house has a cement foundation and was built with fired bricks and real grout.
“This house will last until my son is a man,” he told me proudly.
Finally, we sat and I asked Clever to tell me how he met Olivia. The story he shared was one of the most profound blessings of my trip.
“My parents were Christians, and I grew up in the church. But I was a rebellious youth,” Clever began. “I did not go to church when I got older. Instead, I ran with a bad crowd and got a reputation for being a tough guy. I took pictures for a living and when people didn’t pay me, I would threaten to beat them up.
“Olivia owed me money, and one day I went to collect. But Olivia wasn’t scared. After I threatened her, she looked at me and said, ‘What is wrong with you? You need to get right with God. Why don’t you come back to church?’”
“Something inside of me moved when she said that, and when a friend invited me to church camp the next week, I went. I gave my heart to Christ. Then I asked my friend to go with me to church. Olivia was there.”
Clever’s smile said it all.
“If it were not for my wife, I would not be the man I am today,” he finished simply. “And now I am raising my son to be a man of God.”
The tears were streaming down my face by the time Clever finished. I had never heard this story. I did not know that God had used our daughter, Olivia, to lead this amazing young man back to Jesus. And now they had a son who was being trained up by his parents in the ways of the Lord. “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
And so the miracle of God’s redeeming love and transforming power goes on, passed from father to son, mother to daughter, generation to generation. Some by birth. Some by sponsorship. All by God’s grace.