Mission trip takes La. workers to Swaziland
Kevin Sharp, a plant manager at the Nalco Plant in Port Allen, found meeting the African child he aids through a sponsorship a bit awkward at first.
Lwazi, 9, was shy and his English was still limited, but after about an hour the boy began to smile and loosen up, “especially when we started playing with the Frisbee,” Sharp said.
During a mission trip this spring, Sharp was able to spend an afternoon with his sponsored child. They colored together, and Lwazi was excited to learn to throw the Frisbee that Sharp brought.
“By the time we parted, it was hard to tell him goodbye,” Sharp said. “When he asked when he could see me again, it made me sad, because I didn’t know the answer to that as I wasn’t certain that I would be back again to see him. But I told him we would stay in touch with letters.”
In April, Sharp joined a group of students and teachers from Bethany Christian School in Baker on a mission trip to Swaziland with Children’s Cup, a Prairieville organization that has ministries in Swaziland, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Before the trip, the participants were given the opportunity to begin sponsoring a child they would have a chance to meet during the trip to Swaziland, where Children’s Cup partners with Mission of Mercy’s child sponsorship program.
Sharp said he has been sponsoring children for the past 10 years through another organization, and his last sponsorship ended a few months ago.
“When I found out we were going to be able to sponsor a child through Mission of Mercy and possibly meet that child on this trip, I thought it would be a good opportunity to redirect those funds,” Sharp said.
Sharp never met any of the children he sponsored throughout the years. When he decided to sponsor a child in Swaziland, Sharp said he knew there would be a chance he would be able to meet his sponsored child on his trip, but decided he was going to sponsor a child in Swaziland regardless if he got the chance to meet him or not.
“Meeting Lwazi was secondary to just knowing that my sponsorship was going to make a difference in his life,” Sharp said.
Children’s Cup operates 20 missions, which it calls “care points,” in Swaziland. At each location, one meal a day is served to the children in the community.
“I think sponsoring a child is important because it helps you connect with the children at the care points that Mission of Mercy and Children’s Cup are helping,” Sharp said. “It makes it real to you.”
Erin Mullen, a retired nurse, went on her first trip to Swaziland with Children’s Cup just more than a year ago. Mullen had never sponsored a child before and said it was hard to pick a child when she was going through the pictures of the children who were available to sponsor.
When she saw in the description by one child’s picture that the girl liked to knit, Mullen knew that was the child she needed to sponsor because Mullen loves to do crafts and had just been given a lot of yarn.
“The true highlight of my trip was getting to see her,” Mullen said. Mullen said her sponsored child’s name is Sebenzile and when they met in Swaziland, they had a picnic at the park and ate Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Mullen said she looks forward to writing to her sponsored child every month and is always looking for little things she can send as gifts.
Mullen said that sponsoring a child makes her feel like a part of her is in Swaziland.
“We may be miles and miles away, but our hearts are close together,” Mullen said.
Not all people who sponsor children in foreign countries get to meet them and not all of the children get to meet their sponsors.
While in Swaziland, members of the mission trip team with Sharp met 11-year-old Nothando who is a sponsored child, but has never met her sponsor. Nothando is outgoing and spent a long time talking to the team when they visited the care point near her home where she was spending the afternoon after school. Nothando said that whenever she has a bad day she likes to go back and read the letters that her sponsor has sent her and it makes her feel better.
Kristy Robert, who also sponsors a child in Swaziland, has not had a chance to meet her child.
She said that in the early fall of 2011 a representative from Mission of Mercy came to her church to talk about the children in Swaziland and Mozambique. During the service, Robert said, everyone was handed an envelope with a child’s picture and their information in it.
“The statement that really drew me out was how she wants to be a Sunday school teacher when she is older. I’m a teacher myself, so maybe that was a confirmation from God that I should sponsor this girl,” Robert said.
Robert said she loves writing to 8-year-old Cebi and values the connection she has with her.
“I’m thankful God put the impression on my heart to help someone else even though we haven’t met, and she’s on a different continent,” Robert said.
Robert said she would like to meet her sponsored child and although she has not been able to schedule a trip to Swaziland this year, hopes that next year she can take a trip and possibly meet Cebi.
During Sharp’s trip to Swaziland the group traveled to several of the mission locations and spent time doing landscaping and visiting with the hundreds of kids who spend their afternoons after school playing before their meals.
Sharp said the lasting impression he received from the trip was that each time he arrived at a care point he was mobbed by children who ran up to him and wanted to hold his hand and just be near him.
“You feel them just drawing the love out of you as they grab hold of you,” Sharp said. “They seem so starved for real love and attention from adults. Most don’t have parents, so it is understandable as to why. You just wish that you could bring them all home with you.”
Sharp said it is important for him to be able to connect with at least one life and make a difference over a longer period of time than a typical mission trip allows. “For the cost of one modest dinner out at a restaurant a month you can change a life forever,” Sharp said.
On the Internet: http://www.childrenscup.org/