"I NEED HELP. PLEASE SPONSOR ME."
These crushing words on a crumpled up lined paper hurt my heart as soon as I read them. I looked down at precious little brown eyes just longing for someone to care for her, someone to love her and someone to support her. As she handed me this note, my heart shattered.
Surrounded by the beautiful Ugandan sunset, all I could think about was any possible way I could sponsor this child. Ideas were rushing through my head, but sadly the conclusion was that there was no possible way.
This little girl didn't attend a school to which I was connected, she appeared to have no family members or guardians that could assist in setting up a way to supply her with funds, nor did she even have a set address that would allow me to ship her basic necessities. Yet in that moment all, I wanted to do was say yes.
I wanted to be that one person that she knew she could trust and rely on, but I couldn't. I could barely form the words to explain to her how sorry I was. With tears running down both of our faces, I had to get back into our van. As I looked out the window, barely able to breathe, a shattering sense of failure and disappointment in myself began to overwhelm me.
While this was only my 2nd trip to Uganda, it already felt like a second home to me. The pain of this experience ran deep. I could have just handed over the few shillings I had in my bag but her request was much more than that to me. To sponsor a child meant to be someone they could count on, someone that they knew believed in investing in their future. After being left broken hearted time and time again, this 10 year old was still full of hope and was asking me not just for money, but to be the one person she could count on. In my eyes, I had failed. As we drove away in our van, she chased after us with her eyes full of tears, yelling, "Please just help me." I sobbed. I never thought I would get rid of this aching feeling of failure that tugged at my heart.
As months passed on, I continued to think about that moment, wondering if the pain would ever subside. It wasn't until I returned to Uganda on another trip, where the wisdom of our trip leader, local pastor, and dear friends, helped me to finally overcome the deep feeling of failure. I learned to look at the situation with a new lens. I learned that while I can't sponsor every kid, fund every child's schooling, or even make sure they always have a pair of shoes, I can spend the time to get to know them. I can listen when they have no one to talk to and kiss their wounded knees when they trip and fall. I have learned a relationship with someone will always mean more than a monthly check. It took me a while to see that all these children really wanted to know was that I loved them.
This moment of failure, or so I thought at the time, will forever shape the way I view relationships. Those around us just want to feel loved and supported. As I continue on, hoping one day to spend many years in my second home, Uganda, I will view the trials I face in a way that always puts loving others first. I hope one day to hug that little girl again, to tell her I believe in her, and to see her huge smile shine across her face. I can't wait for that day.