Tour Staff posts


There is the rest of the country and then there is Texas.

Being from “the rest of the country” I really didn’t understand what that meant. Then I spent a week in Dallas, Texas with the World Vision Experience: AIDS.

First Baptist church of McKinney in McKinney, Texas, is a mission and community oriented church. In fact, they were hosting a Community Garage Give-away during the same weekend The World Vision Experience: AIDS was at their church. They collected and gave stuff away, in order to assist poor and underprivileged families in their community with donations of clothing, food and household items. Abroad, this church, sponsors several missionaries in Africa already and is starting outreaches in Dominican Republic and Mexico. Members from the church had recently visited, Tijuana, Mexico, and explored an Urban Development Project (UDP) and make some connections there. So, alongside the African children we usually provide for sponsorship we also had HopeChild sponsorship from these two countries.

My job, as the technical director, is to create an environment in which other people’s hearts are touched by the World Vision Experience: AIDS; but the Experience stopped truly affecting me a long time ago. Sure, the World Vision Experience: AIDS is powerful and beautiful. It certainly causes strong emotional responses in those who walk through it, but I had become numb to it. It is a case where quantity trumps quality. I had been overexposed and I had built walls to protect myself from the daily emotional onslaught.

Coming back to the Experience after four months away was both nerve-wracking and exciting. But after it was set up, I really didn’t feel any different. I fell into the same old routine: train volunteers, repair something, hand out headphones, clean up something, recharge batteries, restock the picture folder baskets, clean another thing and repeat. I repeated this routine for five days. Granted the fun was that was I repeating this routine with friends; being able to work with Nikki and Ange this week was incredible. Nikki and had toured together in 2008 and Ange and I had toured together in 2009. So, it became a fun reunion for us.

On the sixth day something changed. Granted the routine was the same: train, clean, find, stamp, recharge, and repair. And since I only sponsor kids in Africa, I wasn’t very interested or affected by the children from Mexico. But somewhere between recharge and repair, I had to restock the picture folder baskets and that is where I discovered Vanessa. Vanessa lives with her mother and has no siblings. Her mother works in a factory to make enough money for them to live. As I read her biography, I remembered another woman I had met in Tijuana when the tour staff visited the same UDP’s in 2008. This woman had recently joined an Micro Enterprise Development group and used her small loan to run a diaper stand, which provided for her and her three children. Prior to being introduced to World Vision’s Micro Enterprise Loan Program she had worked in a factory, 14 hours a day, 6 days a week. She told us that she never knew where her children would be at the end of the day, as they were passed from neighbor to neighbor. She never knew if they had something to eat that day.

Another thing struck me about Vanessa. She looks almost identical to me as a child with the same round cheeks and reddish brown stick straight unruly hair. I am also an only child and I spent a lot of time alone as an only child with two hard working parents. The wall that I had built around my heart tumbled. Because of my personal experience and our trip to Tijuana I knew that this little girl was probably alone, a lot, while her mom worked. I had seen what the houses and schools in Tijuana were like during that same trip And I couldn’t help imagining what life is like for Vanessa. I broke and the pain I felt, and still feel is as large as the state Texas. I could not put her back in the baskets to be shuffled around. This little girl’s struggle was now my own. It was personal and the World Vision Experience: AIDS suddenly had meaning again.

— Jen

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DSC00320-polaAs a staff member of the World Vision Experience: AIDS tour I talk with volunteers and visitors every day about how sponsorship improves children’s lives by providing them with food, clothing, shelter and access to education, improved health care and in general a pathway to hope. This being said it has been an awkward situation for me, as a tour staff member since the Fall of 2007, to promote World Vision’s child sponsorship program yet not sponsors a child myself.

 The financial commitment was not the issue. I could afford the $35 a month it takes to sponsor a child. The thing that made me uneasy was the relational aspect of the program. I was uneasy about writing letters and investing myself into a child’s life.

 In Spring 2009 I picked up Rich Stearns’ new book, “The Hole in Our Gospel.” It was then that the Lord tugged hard on my heart about the sponsorship issue. In this book, Mr. Stearns, president of World Vision, gives an insightful look into his life and the work that World Vision does around the world.

 There were a few quotes that sat heavy on my heart:

“…sadly, in our world today, being female often means being sentenced to a life of poverty, abuse, exploitation, and deprivation”

 “…the single most significant thing that can be done to cure extreme poverty is this: protect, educate, and nurture girls and women and provide them with equal rights and opportunities – educationally, economically, and socially.

 “No tool for development is more effective than the empowerment of women.”

Finally this excerpt struck me to the core:

“There is a saying in many parts of Africa: ‘If you educate a man, you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.’ When a girl is educated, her income potential increases, maternal and infant mortality are reduced, children are more likely to be immunized, the birth rate decreases, and the percentage of HIV infections (especially in Africa) is lowered. An educated girl is more likely to acquire skills to improve the economic stability of her family, and she is also more apt to ensure that her daughters receive education too”

After reading this the Lord convicted me and I was broken. I knew two things: first, I had to sponsor a child and, second, it had to be a little girl. I spent hours searching World Vision’s web site and was led to a seven year old girl in Chile. I sponsored her then and there. My welcome kit from World Vision provided the details necessary to communicate with her and the next day I sent her a letter and some small gifts that she could use for school.

So, I now have a connection to a little person that I may never get to meet, but I know that my obedience to the Lord will be a blessing in this child’s life. I look forward to exchanging letters as she grows and learning about her progress in school and life. My reticence about write letters has vanished and I can now talk about the World Vision sponsorship program with the first-hand joy of being a sponsor!

Chris Hennig AT

I am a nobody.

This isn’t a statement of self-esteem or purpose. However, it’s to say there is nothing special about me that makes this trip easy, expected, or possible. You too could daydream about, plan, and prepare for a similar journey. My new journey post tour- hiking the 2200 mile Appalachian Trail.

I think I’m too young to be having my mid-life crisis; however, I feel like I “need” the trail for many personal reasons. Thoughts like “renewal,” “adventure,” “exercise,” and “meditate” come to mind. And it feels like a “now or never” time of life. Secondly, after working over a year with the World Vision Experience AIDS tour as a traveling Tour Staff member, I felt incredibly challenged with how I use my money, my time and ultimately my life. When you’re paid to tell the American people about the poorest people in the world—well, that’s the definition of irony. So I wanted to use the opportunity presented by the trail to put myself in a position to understand just a fraction of how the rest of the world lives. When you consider that nearly half the world lives on less than $2 dollars a day you suddenly realize the extent of your own wealth. 

Recently, on one of my days of hiking I decided to count out 26,000 steps, each step representing a child that dies every single day from a preventable disease. As it turns out, I average over 26,000 steps everyday on the trail; it’s about 12-13 miles. While hiking, I marked 260 hash marks on my hands, each representing 100 more steps taken; 100 more lives lost. It’s unimaginable to think of that much death, numbing even. Imagine 100 airplanes around the world, filled with 260 children each, sitting on the runway, waiting to take off for the last time, piloted by the world’s diseases. Stand with your back to the cockpit door and look at the buckled-in faces staring back at you. There isn’t an empty seat. By the end of today, all 100 planes will take off and crash.  All of these children who die are under 5 years old; 40% of them haven’t even lived out their first month. 100 “poverty planes” will crash today. Those crashes will happen again tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.

Just like you I have had times of uncertainty and hardship in life, but I never lost hope that I’d survive. World Vision works to give children a clear vision and pathway to hope. Their goal is to provide kids, their families, and their communities with an opportunity to thrive. It starts with basic needs (clean water, good food, medical care) but then moves on to community development through micro loans and other forms of economic development. Can you imagine what it means to a person when they realize that not only are they going to survive, but now they get to use their talents and skills to provide for themselves and others? That’s life in all its fullness.

I sponsor two children with World Vision; Fabricio, lives in Honduras and James in Kenya. Because of where Fabricio and James live, they may be completely comfortable with not showering daily or having a nice, plush bed to sleep on, something we take for granted everyday. What happens when their stomachs hurt from lack of food or after drinking bad water? Can kids like them hike 10 miles to a road and hitch a ride into the nearest hospital? It is hard to imagine what their world really looks like; but, what I do know about my isponsor kids is that because World Vision is working in their communities, Fabricio and James now have more of something that I’ve never lacked: a pathway to hope.

My journey on the trail has been hard, it’s been tiring. But it has been a reminder of how much I have been given and thus, how much more is expected from me as a result.

Follow Chris’ trail on 2200miles.com

Ange St. Hilaire

Ange St. Hilaire

 

Everyday I step into Africa.  Working with the World Vision Experience: AIDS tour I look at pictures of Africa all day long — mostly Uganda, Lesotho, and Kenya. I see beautiful sunsets, stark acacia trees, the thatch huts; I see unpaved roads and the primitive way Africans prepare meals.  I also see sadness and desperation in the beautiful faces. There is so much poverty, sadness, and hopelessness in the countries residing on this continent, yet there is such a clear vision and pathway to hope.

Everyday I recite statistics that are shocking and terrifying: 33 million people are infected with HIV or AIDS around the globe, 2/3rd’s of them live in sub-Saharan Africa, every 6 seconds a child is infected with the virus — these type of statistics used to frighten me. Now I seem to be numb to them. …I know what you’re thinking: “Ange — how can you be so insensitive? These stats are heartbreaking, how could you not care?” Normally, when we hear these type of facts our gut reaction is shock — I’m not shocked anymore.  I still care for Africa, I will always love Africa, but at one point we have to start asking the question: how do these statistics apply to my life? 

The worst thing we could do after hearing numbers, statistics, and stories is become so overwhelmed that we feel paralyzed from taking action!

When I went to Africa I met many people who I think about and pray for on a daily basis. I care about what happens to Africa, because I love and care for the people who live there.  I’ve heard hundreds of people say the same thing after visiting the continent, “the people are amazing!” and whenever the question “What was your favorite part about Africa?” is asked, the answer is (usually) “the people.”  It’s these people who I have a connection with.  It’s these people who keep me from remaining paralyzed.

I have another connection with Africa; their names are Lonah from Kenya and Eric from Rwanda.  These are the kids I sponsor through World Vision.  I’ve never met them…I’ve never heard their voice…I’ve never seen where they live or where they go to school…but they own a piece of my heart.  It’s hard to describe the joy I feel when I see the blue air mail envelope in the mailbox – a letter from them!  Lonah and Eric know my name, they know I care for them, and that’s my reminder to step back into Africa (pun intended!)

What moves you back into the heart of Africa?  What reminds you to keep moving forward?  One person cannot help the entire continent – but together, through the simple act of sponsorship, we can change one life and one community at a time.  Sponsorship is the pathway to hope for children.  It’s something I can do.  It’s something you can do.  It’s something we all can do to keep us moving forward and reminding us to Step back into Africa.

– Ange St. Hilaire