I have always been a fan of the underdog.
I imagine you’d say the same, after all, it is the American Way.
As a junior in high school, I watched my dad coach (and my older brother quarterback) my high school football team to the WPIAL championship game (pronounced whippial for those not well-versed in western Pennsylvania football), a first for our school whose graduating class barely cleared 100. We won three straight playoff games that no one thought we’d even survive.
The excitement was palpable. The town was electric. The community rallied as one. Winning had never been so much fun. But even at 16, as I watched the championship from the sidelines of Three Rivers Stadium, I knew I was taking in something more esoteric than an athletic feat. The true awesomeness lied in the fact that this team—this ragtag group of white farm boys—had accomplished more than anyone dreamed possible, most significantly because someone reached inside of their souls and told them they could.
I. Love. Underdogs. They have a way of coursing through our veins.
Strange as it may sound, this is what I’ve been thinking about as I’ve been reflecting on wrapping up these posts on my time with Hanna and the girls at Children’s Heaven. They are the quintessential underdogs.
In 2004, Hanna began Children’s Heaven with five girls. Today she provides basic necessities, after-school tutoring, mentoring, career training, medical services and biblical training to more than 81 girls who have lost one or both of their parents to HIV/AIDS. Two hundred more are on the waiting list, hoping for their shot at a better life. A shot that costs you and me 25 bucks a month. (In case you didn’t hear me, I said FIVE. Then I said TWO HUNDRED.)
Sponsorship is not a new concept for most of us. Organizations like Compassion International and World Vision have made it common language for a lot of us. But Hanna doesn’t have the benefit of a marketing budget, name recognition or an army of volunteers. She has a partner in Ethiopian Orphan Relief and small pockets of people, like me, who have caught the vision of what she is doing and want to help.
They need some land. Currently, Children’s Heaven rents property (see photos) that is expensive and unsafe. They have an opportunity to purchase a piece of land, passed down through Hanna’s family, that will allow them to own their property (saving them valuable rent dollars) and provide a more secure environment for the girls (read part 2). Their lease is up in December and they need to raise about $70,000 before they are forced to evacuate with nowhere to go.
So far, they have raised $800.
I only spent a few hours with the girls of Children’s Heaven. My conversations with Hanna were genuine, but brief. My main contact with them in the year since I’ve been there has included a handful of emails, the Children’s Heaven newsletter and a few letters from Bethlehem, the 13-year-old we support each month.
But standing in that room last February, I recognized something that has reminded me, twenty years later, of all things, my high school football team. I recognized the spirit of people who have had someone reach inside their hearts and say “I believe in you.” Someone who teaches and equips them with what they need to be successful and then dares them to dream — in the name of Jesus — of all they could become (I want to be a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, a pilot. . .) even when everything around them — poverty, death, brokenness — is bigger, faster and stronger.
I know that none of us have a shortage of envelopes and emails and invitations asking us to help with the overwhelming needs that surround us. Sometimes it’s so overwhelming we choose to do nothing at all. Compassion fatigue they call it. But I can’t NOT do something and I’m asking you to do something too.
So here’s how we can help:
- Send a one time donation through their website. (I’d suggest sending a follow-up email with your confirmation to earmark for the land. Send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d prefer the physical address).
- Sponsor a child who is on the waiting list for $25/month.
- Share this post to get Hanna’s story out. Tell others they should consider doing one of the above.
- Have any experience with fundraising or grants? Or just some good ideas? Tell me what else I can and should do!
One final note: Mintesnot
Bereket Mintesnot. He is the child that began this whole journey, the one my friend Ruthanne and I went to bring home. His name, Mintesnot, means “What can’t God do?” It’s a question whose answer has been rattling in my mind for the last sixteen months, one whose truth transcends pain and joy, brokenness and healing, poverty and affluence. Its power makes evil spirits cower, it brings grown men and women to their knees, it makes young orphaned girls overflow with hope. And it makes a suburban mom believe that making a difference is possible even when she doesn’t really believe.