Being a Spiritual Parent to Children All Over the World

06/18/15

Having children was a struggle for my wife and me. When we were finally able to conceive, it was a huge answer to prayer. I think because of this—and I don’t want to say this wrong—but in a way, we have viewed having children with a greater sense of gratefulness than maybe someone who didn’t struggle through the same things as we did. 



 

God blessed us with two boys. They were direct answers to prayer and to this day fill our lives with unspeakable joy. But in my heart, I always had a desire to be a daddy to a little girl. My heart was still in that place when I started working for Children of the Nations. Ben and Nate were 5 and 1, and there was a sense of hope in my heart that we still might be able to conceive a little girl. 
 
That desire remained so strong, that we began to go down the adoption road. After a long process, God clearly closed that door, though. It was right around that time when I first met Santa.


                                                  Jeff and Santa when they first met in 2009.
 
It was 2009, and I was on a trip with COTN. The communications department had asked me to do some interviews with the kids, and I was interviewing Santa. She was so quiet and shy—she wouldn’t even look me in the eye. As she told her traumatic, sad story of living through the death of her parents and horrors no little girl should ever have to go through, I began to feel a father’s heart of compassion toward her, and a sense of sadness for her loss. That’s when my family decided to sponsor her.
 
In the years following that trip, COTN’s founder Chris Clark began praying over me for that desire to have a little girl. When I returned to Uganda in 2012, I was coming out of a two-year struggle with this issue, almost to the point of grieving for the daughter I never had. 
 
When I stepped off the flight at our ministry site in Uganda that year, there was Santa, standing and waiting for me. A staff member beamed and presented her to me, “Here is your daughter,” he said. 
 
I don’t know what he was thinking or why he phrased it that way, but I was not prepared for those words. In that moment, I knew this was God’s way of revealing that He had been listening to my desire to have a little girl. He just had answered in a different way.
 
I know that I’m not an actual father to her—our amazing in-country staff fill that role for children who have lost their parents. But sponsorship can be so much more than just giving $32 a month to a child. As sponsors, we have the opportunity to become spiritual parents to a child across the world. They say it takes a village to raise a child—part of that village is spiritual investment. As mature Christians, we have that responsibility toward children.


It has been so amazing to watch Santa grow up and become a leader at school and church. I can hardly recognize the shy, quiet girl she was when we first met.
 
When I returned home after that trip, I began writing letters to Santa that had more value and meaning. I began asking deeper questions. When I went back to Uganda this past year, I really saw the change in her. The staff told me she was the number one leader for all the girls. She’s bold, and a spiritual leader in church and school. 
 
This last trip was full of proud moments for me. One of the most amazing moments was visiting a local hospital with Santa. There she was, standing by the bedside of sick patients, and I was standing there next to her like she was my little girl. She was praying over people, reading scripture, and sharing her testimony. How did this shy little girl become so bold?
 
I asked her, and she replied. “I’ve grown up listening to COTN staff and my aunties and uncles here. They have taught me to care for people in need, as they cared for me.” I let the gravity of this statement soak in for a second. “These are my people,” she went on. “I love them. And they need Jesus.”
 
It was a moment of pure joy, the kind that a dad feels when his child demonstrates that they have caught the values they have been taught.  


                          Santa (center) at the Uganda Children's Homes with her COTN sisters, Sarah and Mercy.
 
Whether or not you are a father, may God open your eyes this Father's Day to see the children he has placed in your life to invest in spiritually, and give you wisdom to do so faithfully. 
 
Or maybe God is calling you to sponsor a child in need this Father’s Day.