Connecting Across the Miles
Two American families travel to Kenya to meet the students they sponsor through the Synod’s Christ’s Care for Children: Kenya program.
This past April, the Rev. Don and Karen Little of Morganton, N.C., traveled more than 7,800 miles to Kenya to meet four young people. The Littles sponsor three of the four — Brian, Milton and Salome — through Christ’s Care for Children: Kenya (CCCK), a child sponsorship program of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). They also met the fourth, Immanuel, who is sponsored by their congregation, St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, Marion, N.C.
The young people are all residents — past or present — of Project 24, a series of eight boarding facilities operated by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK) in partnership with the LCMS. The sites care for children who are vulnerable and may not have the opportunity to continue with their higher-level education. This program assists families who need extra support to send their children to school as well as to provide spiritual care.
During the school year, the children in the program live at one of the Project 24 sites, where they attend a nearby primary school and ELCK church and learn important life skills, such as farming, caring for livestock and cooking. The children continue to be part of Project 24 throughout their education. When they later move on to one of Kenya’s residential secondary schools, they also move into the next phase of the program, called Beyond 24.
‘Singing and Dancing and Praising Jesus’
The Littles, along with the Rev. Aaron and Mandy Roggow of Ypsilanti, Mich., were the first CCCK sponsors to travel to Kenya to meet the students and see the program firsthand. CCCK program staff originally began organizing the trip in 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic put those plans on hold for a while.
The Littles and Roggows visited the Rongo, Othoro and Tumaini Project 24 sites, where they met the children, ate with them and played soccer with them. They also attended the all-site Catechetical Club Competition, which was held at the Lurambi site. During the competition, the children recited parts of the Small Catechism, performed skits and songs, held a talent show, and spent time with their peers from the other sites.
“When we went to the competition, the children were marching along the road singing and dancing and praising Jesus and carrying the cross,” said Karen Little. “That really impressed us.”
A highlight for the Roggows was attending church with Lorine, the young woman they sponsor. Although the service was in Swahili, Lorine helped them follow along in the hymnal. She also served as song leader and drum player when her peers at the Project 24 Tumaini site sang for them during their visit.
“You could tell which kids had been in the program longer because they were much more confident and outgoing,” said Mandy Roggow. “You can see the confidence that the centers build in the students. Their English skills grow and also their appreciation for what Project 24 has done for them.”
CCCK sponsors and students are encouraged to exchange letters several times each year, and in these letters they discuss where they live, what the weather is like and what the students like to study in school. Meeting in person was another way for all involved to continue to build those important relationships.
“In Kenya, it’s common for students to be sponsored without ever meeting their sponsors, making this encounter even more meaningful,” said LCMS missionary Britt Odemba, who serves as an educational consultant and helps oversee the CCCK program. “The personal meeting and exchange of smiles makes a significant impact on the children’s lives. It bridges the gap between the sponsors and the sponsored, creating a deeper connection.”
Mandy Roggow hopes their visit was a blessing not only to Lorine, but to all the children who got to see a sponsor in the flesh — even if it wasn’t their own. “We want to help create more momentum and to encourage others to be a part of the program also,” she said, noting that there is “opportunity for growth” since only 180 out of 430 students currently have sponsors.
The Littles and Roggows have both committed to sponsoring their students throughout their educational careers. But more than that, they pray for the students, encourage them through letters, and hope that these seeds of faith planted through Project 24 will continue to grow and flourish throughout the students’ lives.
“We were able to encourage them to keep loving Jesus,” said Karen Little. “It made us feel good because our purpose is not just to get them through school, but we want them to grow up to be Christian men and women.”
Sponsor a Child
A matching opportunity is currently available for new sponsors who make a two-year commitment to a child through Christ’s Care for Children: Kenya. For more information, contact Program Coordinator Jennifer Hummel at Jennifer.Hummel@lcms.org or 800-248-1930, Ext. 1326.
Pray with Us
Father in heaven who provides for all our needs of body and soul, we pray that You would continue to provide for these Your children, that they may both grow in faith toward You and in fervent love and knowledge to serve their neighbors in need, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Megan K. Mertz
Managing editor of Lutherans Engage the World and chief copy editor for LCMS Communications.