I have been staring at this photo for weeks. It was taken last month when I traveled to Tanzania, Africa – before we were all asked to social distance and stay at home. I have it as wallpaper on my laptop. It serves as a visual reminder to me of why we do what we do at Courage Worldwide – even in the midst of this virus and the unknowns it brings. This photo, rather this child, embodies our mission to “change the world one individual at a time.”
Her name is Jennifer. The same as mine. Her birthday is November 7th. The same as mine. I heard her story about a year ago when she was first brought to Courage House. In my world, “her story” means one that includes rape, abuse, trafficking, neglect, suicide attempt, hunger and abandonment. We at Courage Worldwide think of that as her “before” story. This picture you see here is her “after” story… after she came home to Courage House.
I finally got to meet Jennifer last month when I was at the Courage House in Tanzania. Not only did I have the privilege of meeting her, but I also got to meet her son. Yes, she was a mom at 12 years of age – pregnant at 11. It was not her choice. As a human trafficking victim she did not have that luxury. Though she chose to keep her baby, she didn’t have many options with regard to her body, her life or her future. In her desperation, she tried to take her and her baby’s life. Thank God she did not succeed! Instead, she chose to come to Courage House. She chose to name her son Emmanuel, which means God is with us. I have to believe those two choices meant that somewhere deep inside of her she also chose hope.
Meeting Jennifer was incredibly emotional for me. She not only shares my name and birthday but also the birthday of my great-grandmother who rescued and adopted my grandmother from an orphanage in Tennessee when she was just a baby. That intervention, by a woman and her husband who were not my blood relatives, not only affected my grandmother’s life in a profound way but has also affected many generations of our family afterwards, including mine. It seems we have a calling to rescue and restore. To call people family who were not born into ours.
When I met Jennifer, I told her all this. I also shared with her the story of “Courage” and how God called me to build homes around the world for girls who shared a similar “before” story as hers; how he asked me to call them family – to call her family. I explained to Jennifer that God had “created her on purpose for a purpose” and that she was a part of my spiritual heritage and family. I also told her I was so happy that she choose hope, her son and Courage House.
Later that same day, knowing intimate details of her “before” story that I cannot share with you, I watched her dance (captured in the above photo). I watched her smile. I watched her perform in a drama where she portrayed me! I watched her son being held and cared for by another young girl who called Courage House home and I sobbed. I sobbed because in that moment I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it had all been worth it. Every challenge, every crisis, every betrayal, every battle… it was all for Jennifer; for her and for so many more like her. It had been worth it. She chose hope and gave it back to me.
While I was in Tanzania, I also had the opportunity to meet and talk with this amazing woman, Eunie. She is 90 years young! She, along with her husband, David, built 1000 schools for Maasai girls while living in Tanzania!
When I heard that number, 1000 schools, I felt like the heavens parted and God said “See, with me nothing is impossible. I’ve already done ‘it’ and I can do ‘it’ again.” I asked Eunie a million questions every time I saw her over the three days we were together. I listened as she told me story after story of how God put enormous dreams on their hearts and then listened to all the challenges and crises they encountered to see the fulfillment of that dream. To sit in her presence was like hooking up to an IV drip of pure encouragement. I realized as I talked with Eunie, that it was so easy for me in the beginning when God called me out of the comfort of my boat to walk on water (I’m referring to the story in the Bible when Peter walks on water). Like Peter, getting out of the boat was the easy part for me. Walking on water is a blast! Until the storms come. Like Peter, I took my eyes off Jesus and began to look at the waves and I started sinking – sinking into despair and disappointment – wondering if what we were doing even mattered.
That is how I arrived in Tanzania this year; with a heart wondering if we had done all we could do – wondering if we should continue, wondering if “it” was worth it.
When I left – thanks to Jennifer and Eunie – I had my answers! No longer was I looking at the storm and the waves it produced, but I was looking at the lives that have been and are being transformed. We have more work to do – more lives to impact. This virus that is bringing such fear and anxiety to our world is a storm – a very real storm. However, the trick is NOT to focus on the storm but to focus on what we can do in the midst of the storm to bring hope and peace and love. To focus on our faith; in each other and in God.
We cannot create the vaccine that is so desperately needed to fight this virus but we can continue to do what God has called us to do at Courage Worldwide – which is to “build them homes and call them family.” We are asking for your continued prayers and financial support during this difficult time. Our girls and staff are also quarantined in Tanzania. All schools in Tanzania have been closed, but our girls can continue to study as they live on campus and have a teacher present with them. We have around 50 individuals total on both of our campuses in Tanzania.
We also continue to support our girls here in the US that have called Courage House home, as they too have been affected by this virus. We are 100% dependent upon people like you – individual donors – to raise our funding each month. To operate all our programs and care for all our residents is $30,000 monthly. Today is April 2nd and we do not have those funds in the bank. So we will continue stepping out in faith – changing the world one individual at a time. Would you prayerfully consider joining us?