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by Erin Holcomb

Dan and Erin Holcomb cherish lifelong ties to people across East Africa, so they eagerly embraced the chance to personally introduce their own three kids to this beautiful expanded family.

Our kids, Talia (11), Celeste (8), and Pascal (5) have heard about Lahash partners and kids their whole lives. But these stories of real-life heroes were told alongside others that began with “once upon a time,” so it was always a challenge for them to grasp the true connections and authentic relationships that exist in a faraway land. We hoped and prayed for an opportunity to travel and serve together – a chance for our kids to see for themselves why our work with Lahash is so central to our family life.

We finally made our long-awaited visit to Tanzania in June, which included time in Arusha with Albino Peacemakers, one of the Lahash partner ministries. Our family sponsors a child there, so we could hardly wait to meet her and learn more about her daily life.

When we began sponsoring Lucy two years ago, we spent time learning about albinism. Tanzania has the highest rate of albinism in the world, yet harsh stigma still hangs over every child born with this genetic condition. Many children are abandoned or abused by their birth families. Some are locked away and never socialized or educated due to family shock and shame over giving birth to a child who is whispered to be a curse. Those that survive into adulthood often suffer from severe cancers and near blindness due to lack of medical care, and they also carry the deeper wounds of societal and family rejection. 

Lucy, our sponsored child, is a part of a program that is changing this reality for kids with albinism in northern Tanzania. Sister Martha Mganga is the founder of Albino Peacemakers, and because of their partnership with Lahash, all of Lucy’s basic needs are covered through sponsorship. The essentials for albinism are provided as well – sunscreen, long-sleeved cotton shirts and pants, sun hats, and regular medical care to monitor skin and eyesight issues. She has mentors, teachers, and pastors who know her name and are invested in her future! They know that God created her with purpose as a blessing to the world.

After many days of travel, we finally met Lucy face to face on a Sunday morning after church. As we stood outside after the service with cups of chai in hand, a parade of smiling children in floppy hats came out from their Sunday School class to greet us – the kids from Albino Peacemakers.

Among those precious faces was one that was more than familiar. My kids excitedly pointed her out to me first. They had memorized her signature huge smile from photos, and she was definitely wearing it that day! We introduced ourselves, hugged, and joined the gathering with the other kids.

Our kids were ushered in by Lucy to sit among the children from the program and were immediately surrounded by friends. Children are not intimidated by language barriers! There was immediate giggling, linked arms, and heads on shoulders. We were surprised and so proud to see Lucy stand up to lead the group in praise songs and motions. We joined in, tripping over our feet and picking out a few words, while Lucy led the chorus praising Jesus.

Shortly after singing, Lucy was formally introduced to share a short sermon with the kids. She held the Bible only an inch from her face as she read, a necessary accommodation due to the vision degradation associated with albinism. She shared the story of the Good Samaritan with conviction and confidence, and invited the other kids to care for their neighbors as Jesus had invited his followers to do in scripture. A disciple making disciples.

As we got to know Lucy better over the course of three visits, we noticed the other children looking to her as a big sister and a trusted leader. She headed up games and songs. She resolved conflicts and answered questions. She translated between English and Swahili as needed. It was clear that she is considered kind and trustworthy by the other children. Lucy was given a balloon as a rare gift, and it made a big impression on my kids to see her quickly give it away to a younger child who arrived late to the gathering. She shone with compassion, gentleness, humility, and patience. 

Talia felt a special connection to Lucy due to their similar age. “I only knew her for a day or two, and she was already my friend,” she reflected, “Lucy knows how to talk about God in front of other people, and she isn’t afraid to lead singing or dancing. I would like to be more confident like her. She really shows God’s love.” Talia was experiencing the true gift of the global church – relationships that edify and encourage each other in faith.

The blessing of relationship in God’s family never flows in just one direction. Our kids got a glimpse of what it looks like to give and receive through their relationship with Lucy, and it has changed them. As we pray together for our sponsored kids, they pray tenderly for Lucy because they know her. She is their friend. 

Like many Christian parents, we pray that our kids’ hearts will be drawn toward serving God’s people in our own neighborhood and across the globe, and that their faith will grow by bearing witness to the vibrant life of the global church. For any of you that have similar prayers for the children or grandchildren in your life, let me encourage you toward child sponsorship. Lucy is just one child among hundreds in the Lahash Sponsorship Program, and each child is worth knowing and loving. Because we sponsor children in East Africa, our kids are forming relationships with kids who are just like them yet lead completely different lives. It has expanded their hearts to love the vulnerable and to celebrate the radiance of God’s love as it is reflected around the world.