How a Single Email Shaped an Entire Decade

Sara Beth Fentress

Sara Beth Fentress

Have you ever stopped to consider how one decision can have a domino effect on so many other life outcomes that may have never unfolded otherwise? The last decade of my life and of 127 Worldwide has been shaped by an email I decided to respond to on a normal day in 2006.

That year, my job at International Sports Federation crossed my path with a small yet feisty Kenyan woman named Rose who had just started a children’s home and school. Rose had recently been introduced to the internet and her new best friend Mr. Google, and she was searching online for sports equipment to provide her students with some sort of physical education. The children loved to play soccer, so she searched for Christian organizations who might provide soccer balls, pumps, and needles. One of her google hits was International Sports Federation.

Amidst an onslaught of requests from all over the world, I decided to reach back out to Rose. She would tell you that I was slow to respond at first and she would be correct. ISF was overwhelmed with inquiries requesting assistance and sports equipment. But once the conversation started, Rose and I quickly became email pen pals.

Our messages back and forth were full of questions and stories from two completely different perspectives on almost every subject. A beautiful friendship was forming on AOL instant messenger. Eventually, I felt compelled to go meet her and see what was happening with Tumaini Miles of Smiles School and Children’s Home. Tumaini is the Swahili word for hope and has quite literally become a beacon of hope to thousands of people and an entire community. Like a moth to a flame, I had to go see what was happening.

In July of 2007 our team of nine ladies and one brave man set off on a journey to meet Rose and the beautiful people of Tumaini. Once we landed in Nairobi after a day of travel, we boarded a night bus for the 8 hour drive to Rose’s village. Sidenote: The night bus experience is worse than whatever your mind conjured up as you read the words “night bus.” To say that Tumaini was located off the beaten path is the understatement of the decade. We have found a few better modes of transportation in the last fourteen years., but that night bus left its mark in my long term memory.

Despite the long journey, upon arrival, we hit the ground running. My favorite moments were when a few of our team would sit with Rose and a few of her staff under the shade of an avocado tree. We picked avocados, whipped up the most delicious guacamole you have ever tasted, and asked Rose questions about her life and ministry. This idea of working with local leaders directly was a new one for me. I’d heard horror stories of corruption, conflict, and communication breakdowns as people attempted to work cross culturally.

But the beginning of a new ministry plan was starting to form. It just made sense to me that God had already placed people in the community who knew the language and culture, who could relate to the struggles of growing up with the effects of material poverty, and who were equipped to care for the vulnerable among them. If the global church is God’s means to restore hope to brokenness, then surely he’s prompted Christians even in rural Kenya to live out James 1:27. As those ideas began to form, I recognized the value of local leadership displayed in Rose. Rose didn’t need new ideas or intervention from people living half-way around the world. She needed other believers to walk alongside her and help her accomplish what God was already calling her to do. She needed people to encourage, pray with, and advocate for her.

Rose had a God-given desire to see vulnerable families thrive and to give children an opportunity to go to school. I was inspired by Rose’s vision for Tumaini Miles of Smiles, and God began to use that inspiration to clarify a long term vision for my life, as well. I didn’t know it at the time, but the roots of 127 Worldwide sprouted underneath that avocado tree on my first trip to Kenya.

Five years later, in 2011, I started my own nonprofit named after James 1:27, 127 Worldwide. 127 exists to connect and equip the global body of Christ to restore hope to orphans, widows, and vulnerable communities. Rose remains the first 127 partner, but her example also inaugurated a decade’s worth of partnerships with three other ministries in Kenya, Uganda, and Guatemala. As we look back on ten years of ministry, I celebrate that God used an unexpected email encounter to cast a vision for his global church united together restoring hope to orphans, widows, and vulnerable communities. What an unexpected, beautiful blessing playing our part of his mission has been.

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