Joining My Sponsored Child's Family, Two Socks at a Time

02/25/14

“Aunty, let me launder your socks.”

“Oh Titus, don’t worry, they are fine. See! I did not wet them.”

A serious, earnest look from the boy in front of me, then we quietly go back to rinsing dishes in front of his wood and mud house. I steal a glance at the head bent over our plastic bowl of murky, sudsy water.

 
“Titus, do you really want to launder my socks?”
 
He glances up sharply, then gives me a very strong nod. “Yes.”
 
“It will make you feel better?”
 
Another strong nod. “Yes.”
 
“OK, here they are.”
 
And so the young man I sponsor (he’s 15 now, so “child” doesn’t quite fit) ended up washing my socks for me, for reasons to be explained later. I didn’t expect that on this return trip to Sierra Leone
 
Me with my sponsored child, Titus
                    Me with my sponsored child, Titus. My second meeting with him was full of surprises and joy.
 
I began sponsoring Titus after I met him in his village of Mokpangumba on a Venture Trip in 2011. Titus walked up to me with a bundle of cassava under his arm, holding his little sister Fatmata by the hand, and introduced himself. He guided me to his house where I met his father, Victor, and left carrying a coconut as a gift. Once I got home, I began to sponsor him and write letters. 
 
When I first met Titus, in June 2011
When I first met Titus, in June 2011. He is in the back holding the cassava, and Fatmata is in the pink dress, wedged in front of him.
 
Returning more than two years later with a team that would stay through Christmas, I was anxious about nothing except picking up the relationships I had formed on my last visit. It is a hard thing to trust that when you show up in a country halfway around the world two-and-a-half years later, your first trip laid a foundation of friendship that will continue to grow. It almost seems ridiculously optimistic. But with Children of the Nations (COTN), it is a beautiful reality.
 
So when our team walked into Mokpangumba to celebrate the Christmas party, I was excitedly and nervously scanning the crowd for Titus. As the children welcomed us by reciting memory verses and dancing traditional dances, I kept looking at the crowd and kept drawing a blank. Maybe I couldn’t recognize him. Then I spotted him, standing in the back with some of the older kids. Of course. He’s not 12 anymore. He’s 15. He looks different.
 
As the party leader called him over to tell him his sponsor was here and that she would be spending the next few hours with his family, I saw puzzlement cross his face. He began to silently scan our team’s faces, then stopped on mine. I smiled back, and recognition brought a shy but delighted smile to his face. I got up and walked over to him and hugged him. He hugged back, then took my hand to lead me to his house, just like the first time we met. 
 
Over the next few hours, I was part of Titus’ family. He insisted on carrying my backpack through the village. When I asked after his parents and sisters by name, his eyebrows shot up and he exclaimed “ayah!” in pleasure that I remembered their names. His father welcomed me warmly. Titus bustled around, going into their mud and thatch house to lock my bag in the one room where they kept all the family possessions and food. He emerged, changed out of his nice party clothes into an old T-shirt and very tattered shorts. I had to swallow and not tear up when I saw how shredded those shorts were. Poverty reminds you of its presence in very stark and unexpected ways. 
 
But there was an overflow of joy during those hours. I got to meet Hawa, his mother, who is only a few years older than me. I spent time cooking with her under their kitchen shelter. We exchanged quiet sentences, trying to get a feel for each other’s worlds. As she deftly sliced sweet potatoes into the pot of oil I was stirring, she told me she did not know how to read or write, but could do some business at the market nearby. I asked her how she felt about the chance her daughter and son had to go COTN’s school. She looked me in the eye and there shone the happiness of a very proud mother.
 
Titus and his mother, Hawa, under their kitchen shelter
                                               Titus and his mother, Hawa, under their kitchen shelter.
 
Titus’ younger sister Fatmata clung to me, and the youngest, Massah, tottered around and eventually climbed into my lap. We sang “We Weesh You an Appy Chreesmas” together, and rejoiced over the Christmas presents I had brought in my bag. From the locked room in his house, Titus brought the family portrait I had taken in 2011 and mailed to him. I took a new family portrait after we finished cooking. Titus and I did chores together, washing dishes and drawing water. The sock incident happened at the river when I took off my shoes and socks to wade in and draw water from deeper out. Though I didn’t get them wet, he insisted on laundering them. 
 
Family portrait of Fatmata, Victor, and Titus
                  Family portrait of Fatmata, Victor, and Titus (with a friend in the background) from my 2011 trip.
 
December 2013 family portrait!
  December 2013 family portrait! From left to right: Titus, sister Fatmata, father Victor, sister Massah, mother Hawa
 
I was completely in his attentive care those few hours. I was humbled by his love and protection of me. I witnessed how much this boy of twelve had grown into a young man who managed so much for his family. He works on the farm and walks to school, cares for his younger sisters, and does daily chores around the house.
 
This smart and industrious boy is growing up in a remote village that cooks its meals over fire, but is attending a school with science labs and opportunities to advance to university. In those few hours, the ministry of COTN became a very real and astonishingly beautiful, hope-filled thing, given a face and a story through the boy who welcomed me.
 
Toward the end of our time, as we finished the dishes and I walked over to visit with Hawa, I noticed my white athletic socks, stretched smooth so as not to wrinkle, hanging from the laundry line alongside colorful skirts and a few shirts. An act of love and service, spread to dry as two of the family’s garments. 
 
I’m glad I let him launder them. 
 
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