I had heard that cry only twice in my life, but the sound is burned into my memory. This cry … this lament … pierced my soul. Instinctively, I understood an emotion so great, I knew no words existed to express it.
It was 2009. Atlanta. I was attending a very hip conference held in a ginormous arena with a bijillion other people. It was one of those gatherings you attend to get inspired and hear lots of interesting lectures from a variety of people.
Some speakers hawk their books; some, with all the cunning of a very successful salesman, give you advice on managing finances; many speakers offer instructions on how to live a better life. It is an energetic time with all the creative, special effects of a music concert. Sometimes they even use a smoke machine and have jugglers.
This segment was wedged between a couple of things that I cannot remember now, which is crazy because this particular moment is chiseled into my brain.
The stage lights came up and there was well-dressed young man with a mic in his hand standing at the edge of the stage with the emcee. He was introduced to the crowd as Jimmy from Kenya. Jimmy was a now grown-up, sponsored child of Compassion International and was going to share his story.
I was very familiar with Compassion. Many of the churches and groups I had been associated with displayed Compassion brochures. I had met several people over the years who had sponsored children.
One of my favorite musicians and poets, Rich Mullins, was an advocate for Compassion during his life. Many times, at conferences like this one, I had walked past booths with rows of info cards bearing photographs of children in other countries waiting to be sponsored.
I would glance at them, smile at the person behind the table of photo faces and continue walking by.
When Jimmy began to speak, I was intrigued. He had a beautiful accent, a gentle and very intelligent delivery, and I liked his sweater vest.
Jimmy told of growing up in extreme poverty in Kenya. He was a street child, a garbage picker at age four. He watched his infant sister die of starvation in his mother’s arms. He wasn’t being dramatic, he wasn’t overly emotional, he was just speaking his truth.
I don’t remember all of his story, but I do recall his desperate mother went on a quest to find help while Jimmy stayed with relatives who already had a crowded table and a crowded home.
Eventually, his mother returned with hope. She had found a Compassion child development center in a distant village. She gathered up Jimmy, who was 8 years old by then, and they traveled on a long train ride through the night to Compassion.
While he recalled the beginnings of his story, Jimmy had been holding a piece of paper in his hand. He explained it was a letter he received a few months after he had arrived at the Compassion development center. This letter, he expressed with his beautiful accent, defined the rest of his life.
I cannot recall all the words of the letter, but I remember he started reading it aloud:
“Hello Jimmy, my name is Mark ….”
It was from Jimmy’s sponsor, a young man from Canada. I knew these words had been reread many times throughout the 19 years since they had been written.
The course of Jimmy’s life had been changed. Jimmy finished his story by sharing with the crowd that he was now a Compassion sponsor himself, was attending college and hoped to be a pastor in his own community in Kenya one day.
People clapped. It was a beautiful story.
The emcee said a few things and then asked Jimmy if he had ever talked to his sponsor. No, Jimmy had not.
Would he like to one day?
Yes, yes, he would, he nodded.
From the other side of the stage, a man began to walk toward Jimmy. This man was Jimmy’s long ago letter writer and sponsor.
And then I heard it.
The one that comes deep from your soul when emotion is so great there are no words. When this child/man saw his sponsor face to face, he embraced him. I remember he lay his head on his sponsor’s chest like a child would do to a father.
The microphone was still on and that cry, not a sobbing cry but a soul-piercing wail, from Jimmy was being echoed all across the arena. I wished the sound man would turn off the mic.
My mind was silently screaming for someone to turn off the stage lights. I had to look away.
This raw emotion, this intensely personal moment between the two of them made me feel like an intruder. I looked down at my hands in my lap and cried.
That was the day I signed up to be a Compassion sponsor.
When the photo cards of the children needing sponsors were passed down my aisle, I didn’t pray to get just the right child, didn’t pray for a boy or a girl, didn’t pray for a child to be from a specific country or to be a certain age.
My silent prayer was that there would be enough cards for me to get a child, any child, anywhere.
If sponsoring a child could have this kind of impact, hold this much emotion, become this personal…then I wanted in.
How could I not?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kim Ramey is a mixed media artist, blogger and Compassion sponsor. You can read more from Kim at www.frontdoorstudios.com