July 15, 2016 — I admit to being a little dazed and disoriented as I emerged from the little airport building into the sunny heat of the early afternoon in Dumaguete, Philippines. Only two of our group from the Presbyterian Church in Sudbury (Massachusetts) had been there before, so we were all milling around with our luggage, looking for something recognizable amid the small crowd of people, pedicabs and palm trees. Waving hands beckoned to us from the parking lot. It was there I met Marla in person for the first time, 25 years after I first sponsored her. (I can still hardly believe it’s been that long.)
I found myself “love bombed” by Marla and her family – hugged and praised and thanked again and again for my sponsorship. This caught me off guard then and remains amazing to me yet; someone I’d known only through letters and photos loved me so much. It was quite humbling. As our visit continued through the week, the depth of that love, and of the effect of my sponsorship was demonstrated repeatedly.
Marla’s mother hugged and thanked me every single time I saw her at LCP. The phrase she used again and again was “thank you for changing our lives.” When I finally got to Bloomington Farm and was welcomed into Marla’s home, it became tangibly evident how true that was. Rarely do you get acknowledgement of the impact you make on another person, as I received there.
A moment to brag on Marla: she is remarkable. When I began sponsoring her, she was a schoolgirl who wrote me letters in an unsteady hand, decorated with drawings of flowers and full of the love of Christ. My wife Kay and I followed her steady school progress, and continued to sponsor her when she qualified for college. After her graduation from college correspondence was less frequent, and we started sponsoring other children. Still we kept hearing about Marla’s life; her marriage, the store she founded in her home, her son. I was very touched to learn that she’d named her store, and her son, after me! I met her son Mark too, and found that he reminded me a bit of myself at that age; just about to go to college, a little shy, VERY interested in science (in his case, geology).
But what I learned about Marla while visiting topped everything. Remember I said she’s remarkable? Her little store has expanded to become a sort of local version of a mini-mart, with refrigerated items, notions, snacks and even animal feed. Plus, she started an “internet café” with 10 computers, printers and two wireless feeds for rent to her neighbors. She also owns a couple of pedicabs and a mini truck which she rents. She’s even opened a branch of her store in a neighboring village. Her money management skills are quite amazing! To top it off, she’s considering going back to college for an advanced degree.
It is very clear that Marla has made excellent use of the talents God gave her! The thing that meeting her in person has brought home so clearly to me is that I had a big part in that. I helped to change her life, and the lives of those around her, by the simple act of sponsorship. Writing a check a few times a year, reading and writing letters – such simple things, easily obscured by the busy-ness of life – had this incredible impact on this incredible young lady.
All this made my meeting with my current sponsored child, Mildred, the more meaningful. Mildred is just a little older than Marla was when I first sponsored her, and lives in one of the poorest areas of Dumaguete City. Yet she is as proud, happy and loving as Marla, and doing well in school too. Seeing her at home and at play (she’s WAY better at badminton than me!) makes me realize that I’ve already begun making a difference in her life and that of her family, and that she has the potential to be, like Marla, a shining example of what is possible. It is humbling and encouraging for me to be part of that progress. I’ll be following and encouraging her with renewed interest and dedication.
Written by Mark Nelson