Sandwiched between my top bunk and the ceiling at Tumaini Miles of Smiles, with my phone antenna pointed out the window in the direction of a distant cell tower, I frantically scribble these words on a scrap piece of paper: Go. Speak. Invest. Empower. Equal parts hope and strategy kept the typically unreliable phone line between rural Kenya and the US connected just long enough for Sara Beth Fentress to pitch the idea of 127 to me. That two bar connection in 2011 was a modern day miracle and the beginning of my journey with 127 Worldwide.
A decade later, in place of an unreliable network connection, that same spot in rural Kenya now boasts WiFi strong enough to FaceTime with 127’s first official partner, Rose Bugusu. And in place of the original four pillars scribbled on a scrap piece of paper stands a 501c3 ministry that believes vulnerable communities can flourish through the unified engagement of the global church. Both give evidence that change is good and necessary for growth.
I visited Tumaini for the first time in 2008 and then again in 2009. It was the fulfillment of a childhood dream inspired by the 80’s social justice anthem “We are the World”. Then in 2010, I moved to Tumaini, not just to help orphans but to be a better advocate on behalf of local leaders like Rose Bugusu. How unfortunate the 1985 song targeting western advocates never mentioned the Roses of the world. I spent time sitting at her feet and learning from her great faith as she cared for the most vulnerable in her community. God continues to show me my place in the global church as an advocate for Rose and those God has entrusted into her care.
While the local leader’s role in caring for the vulnerable is more direct, my role is to PRAY for local leaders, GIVE to the efforts of 127, GO and practice ministry of presence, and GROW in my understanding of healthy engagement with vulnerable communities outside my own cultural context. This indirect approach to advocacy preserves human dignity and shines the spotlight onto the true rescuer, Jesus Christ.
I no longer consider myself an “orphan advocate.” Ten years ago you would have found me advocating by offering my close networks a one-to-one connection with the orphans and widows at Tumaini through sponsorship and letter writing. Now I advocate on behalf of trusted local leaders like Rose and find great joy in connecting western advocates to the work of our partners’ hands. I am more inclined today to advocate directly for Rose by telling others her story and encouraging them to trust that she understands her community’s needs better than I ever will. My perspective is different today than it was 10 years ago, and I believe this change in perspective has led to growth in my own life and in the life of 127.
While I’ve grown and changed significantly alongside 127 in the last ten years, many core convictions have remained the same. At the age of six, I used my allowance to buy a cassette tape to benefit famine relief efforts in Africa. At that moment God instilled in me a heart that longed to see vulnerable communities flourish. Twenty-five years later, God graciously allowed me to see his activity first hand through the work at Tumaini and eventually through other 127 partners in Guatemala, Kenya, and Uganda. You really can’t miss the gospel when you stand beside 127 partners, listen to their stories, and see God at work in their communities. The gospel has always been central to the mission of 127, our local leaders, and my justice-seeking heart. The very heartbeat of 127 is to connect and equip the global body of Christ to restore hope to orphans, widows, and vulnerable communities. I’m thankful God began to align my heart to this mission many decades ago, long before 127 Worldwide’s official founding on December 7, 2011.
Today I’m blessed beyond measure by my 10 year journey with 127. It’s a decade saturated with wonderful memories and faithful stories associated with our advocates and local leaders. As an Advocate Relations Coordinator, I look forward to hearing other advocate stories of how they scribble down words like Connect. Equip. Empower. as they hear about 127 for the first time. What I now know to be true is this: We are the global church. We are tangibly living out James 1:27. We stand on gospel-centrality, education and discipleship, healthy engagement, and mutual edification. We believe vulnerable communities can flourish, and it is my prayer that we work to this end and for his glory for decades to come.