“You must be the boss now” he says. His fork lift encases him like a transformer, but I catch a look of surprise on his face. I chuckle as I lower the lift gate of the 15 foot box truck I drove here. That isn’t necessarily the case, but I guess I am the boss of driving this monstrosity and moving around supplies. One way or another, people are always surprised to see me behind the wheel.
Thirty minutes later, my voice echoes in the cavernous steel of the shipping container’s narrow stretch. Light streaks in from the front, where the shadow of a man waits for me to give him directions. The pallet of 33 boxes moves easily on the pallet jack. I maneuver it with little difficulty, knowing how each slight twist or turn will affect the direction of the load. Once it is at the front of the container, I ask him to move it out using the fork lift and put it on the truck. My hands are raw from rearranging the cardboard boxes, and my biceps throb after I heave each 50 pound bag of lentils to the front.
This is not what I pictured when I signed up for a job at a nonprofit. Yet, it is satisfying to surprise myself with the extent of what I can do. It is one of my favorite things, because it reminds me that the unexpected can be positive.
Heavy labor is only a small part of my job at Children of the Nations (COTN), a nonprofit that provides care for orphaned and destitute children in some of the poorest countries in the world. The staff is full of wonderfully kind and generous people who want to do their part to make a difference. My part is to coordinate with group partners in Seattle and organize fundraising events to support the COTN partnerships in Malawi, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. They also let me move around a lot of supplies, everything from bags of lentils to mattresses.
Besides the surprise of heavy lifting and instructing men on forklifts what to do, I never even pictured myself working for a nonprofit that helps poor children. It is such a cliché right? Having a “heart for Africa” is common among mission-oriented Christians, and I never really saw myself as one of those people. I told myself I wanted to work locally and make an impact at home before trying to change the world abroad.
Then I learned about Innocent, a boy from Malawi who was found abandoned under an ox cart nearly starved to death. He is now attending medical school and wants to be a doctor in Malawi, where there is only an average of 0.02 physicians per 1,000 people (source).
I also learned about Precious, and Danilo, and Ema, and countless other kids whose lives were drastically different from my comfortable childhood. Almost every story contained the loss of a parent or family member, desperate hunger, and the inability to attend primary school because of the need to work.
So compassion kicked in.
Yet, even after that I was skeptical. My logical side interrupted my heart to raise some important questions. After all, nonprofits and others trying to “develop” third world countries can often do a lot more harm than good.
So I did my research. And again, I surprised myself.
“Sustainability” isn’t just a buzz word for COTN. It is part of their programming, part of their vision, and critical to the life of the organization. They remain in fewer countries for more time, operating out of the commitment to empower the people who are already there and not abandon projects based on arbitrary timelines.
When a child is brought into the COTN program, they promise to support them whether they are sponsored or not. Hopefully she will be, but what matters is that a child is never kicked out because of the decisions someone on the other side of the globe makes. That child also won’t be left on their own as soon as they turn 18. She will continue to receive training and support, is encouraged to go to university and pursue work that will make a difference in her community.
I filled out my application and told God I was ready to keep being surprised. Two weeks later, the job was mine. Now, two months later, I did another surprising thing for a twenty-something: I committed to dedicating $32 every month to sponsor a child. Based on my meager salary and the price of Seattle rent, that is a big sacrifice. For you, it could only be the difference between another dinner out and eating at home instead. It could also be the difference between serving yourself with your money, or serving others with it.
If you want to learn more about supporting a child’s health, education, and well being check out the COTN sponsorship page (also comment below if you have any questions or if you do decide to sponsor a child). Even if you aren’t ready to make that kind of commitment, take the time to read some of their stories and remind yourself how surprisingly different life can be. Consider the long-term difference one child can make in their country and the world, as long as they are given the support and resources they need.
The best surprises happen when you remove your assumptions or skepticism and allow your heart to be changed.
It is proof that we have the potential for growth and change. It is also the only way that transformation happens to make our world a better place.
What are your assumptions about nonprofits like COTN?
you can tell me honestly :)
How have you surprised yourself before?