Six years ago I "met" Li, a boy from Jingyuan County in China. We've never seen each other face to face or spoken on the phone, but we exchanged letters and cards from time to time. My little pen pal was a sponsored child through World Vision
About two months ago I received a letter from World Vision explaining that Li wasn't my sponsored child anymore because he now has a job and no longer qualifies for the sponsor program.
15 years old. (see update
I called World Vision (which, by the way, has the absolute best customer service and nicest phone reps I've ever encountered) to ask if there was any way to send Li one last letter to say goodbye. The kindly phone rep said that he'd moved to "the city" (I didn't ask which one) and gotten a job. She said that the local World Vision workers in China will get my letter to him if they know where he is. There's a 50-50 chance that Li will get the letter, she said.
boy left his village home to work in the city. Did his parents go with him? Did he go alone? With relatives? What kind of work is he doing? Is it dangerous? Is he scared? Does he still have dreams for the future? Does he miss his friends? Will he ever go back to school?
I feel like I failed him. Maybe my sponsorship made his life better for awhile, but now he's a
kid working in a city. I regret not writing to him more often. But what difference would that have made? My love and letters alone would not have changed his dire situation. Would more money have kept him in school? I thought I was doing enough. If I'd known that his family was contemplating sending him to work, I would have sent more than my standard monthly donation. World Vision allows you to make an extra donation to cover a special financial need, such as buying a bike for transportation or a new roof for the family's house. Could I have given enough to keep Li from being pulled out of school and sent to work? Maybe if I had written more letters he would have written to me more, and I might have known what he needed.
World Vision sent me a progress report and a new photo of Li every year. Until this year, each picture featured a tiny boy in worn, dusty clothes standing on a dirt road with large mountains in the background. He never smiled, but his eyes were squinted shut. Maybe the sun was in them.
The latest photo featured a noticeably taller boy, still in worn clothing, standing in front a painted wall mural. He's not exactly smiling, but his lips are parted slightly and the corners of his mouth seem to point up just a little bit. His eyes are wide open. It doesn't look like the same kid. I compared it to previous photos and seriously wondered if they sent me the wrong picture. According to the latest update, Li was in Grade 3 of Secondary School. His favorite subject was language and he wanted to be a doctor when he grows up. Does he still want to be a doctor?
I sent him one last letter and am praying that it finds him. What can I do now but pray for him and wonder if I'll ever know the rest of the story? It's not a rhetorical question. I'm really wondering if there's something more that I can do. I hardly know where to start, though.
We hear so much about China being the new economic superpower. But mothers and fathers are sending their children off to work because they are that poor
. I try to fully comprehend this, but I can't. My intellect grasps the socioeconomic factors of it. My heart swells with compassion. But I have no real understanding of such a reality.
World Vision gave me the option to choose a new sponsor child by certain criteria, such as gender and location. Alternately, I could let them send me the next child in line with the greatest need. I thought about my preferences and realized that I couldn't narrow the field that way. So I let the powers that be choose my new child.
Romy is a six-year-old girl from Lebanon. She has shoulder-length, dark brown hair, thick, perfectly arched eyebrows, and the brown eyes of a world-weary adult. She is not smiling in her picture. Still, she's a beautiful little girl. She wears a periwinkle sweatshirt with a small picture of a clown on it. Her hair is held back by a colorful headband. She's dressed like a child, but she looks so much older. Maybe she was nervous the day the picture was taken. Or maybe she was instructed not to smile. I hope she smiles in real life.
Her father is a shopkeeper and her mother is a housewife. They have trouble making ends meet. They live about 1.5 hours by car from Beirut, and Romy goes to school in her village. We just exchanged our first letters. I sent her some Disney stickers.
I'm determined to write more often and be more involved this time around. I know that my letters and trinkets won’t erase her family's financial struggle. But maybe if I establish a closer relationship with Romy, I'll find out if she needs something else. And perhaps I simply need to ask, "How can I help you?" now and then.
We hear that question, or some variation, in retail stores all the time. My husband says, "Is there something that I can help you with today?" hundreds of times a week. The words roll off of his tongue like a lilting song lyric. But how often do we ask each other that? How often do we ask strangers, co-workers, friends, and family: "How can I help you?"
Wouldn't you love to have someone ask you that question and know that they really wanted to know the answer?