a hard life. I do not have one. Of course we all have hardships and the past 6 months have not been easy but perspective is needed and perspective is what we gained during a visit with the child we sponsor through Compassion International. About 9 or 10 years ago I was at an All Campus Worship (one of my favorite events at U of I where everyone was invited to crowd together in Folleinger Hall to praise God and hear speakers) and one women encouraged us to sponsor a child. Being a complete sucker for the 1 minute video showing the kids faces who would benefit from my tiny amount of money per month accompanied by swelling music I went to the booth outside to look at the dozens of little faces needing sponsorship. I was attracted to one little girl who at the time was 5 years old from Tanzania because our birthdays were close. I picked up the card and ever since we have been writing letters, exchanging pictures (and drawings), and praying for each other’s families. I have been privileged to, in a way, see her grow up. To go from letters with just her name and a drawing in colored pencils to long letters telling me about what she is learning in school, her favorite things to do (always singing), and news about her family. She saw me graduate college, get married, struggle through teaching, visit Africa for the first time, and have a baby. All the while we have shared verses of encouragement and stories from our lives; sometimes just surface “How are you?” stuff and sometimes more.

Jason and I visited her family when we were here with Habitat 5 years ago and when I wrote her that we were moving to her country every letter after that was asking when I would come again because she wanted to meet Annikah. It is a far drive even after getting off our island but since we were so near her home we had to arrange a visit while Bibi and Babu were off on safari. Our last few letters have been both in Kiswahili, needing no translation which has been pretty cool (although her writing is much better than mine but hey, this Mzungu is trying!) This visit was very different than the last time. We felt more at home because we did not need a translator, knew more of what to expect, and are more familiar with Tanzania but it was also the first time Ruth met the infamous curly haired little girl from the pictures I sent so that made it very special. Ruth is so grown up, beautiful, nearly 16. We first met her at the project site since she had gotten permission to bring a friend on the dala dala from her school to meet us. She ran as soon as she saw us and gave each one of us a long hug. We then drove over to her home to visit her family.

I was not prepared for the catching up we did. It was amazing to be able to speak in Kiswahili since last time we managed like 5 things through a translator. But in her letters she had only mentioned that her mother was sick. I did not know the extent. When her mother came out to meet us she only vaguely resembled the young woman we had met 5 years ago. Stress, poor health, and a difficult life read across her face and frail body. She hugged me so tight for the longest time and just repeated asante over and over along with some other things I could not make out. She insisted I wear her house shoes since the cement floor was cold and I had removed mine outside. They offered us roasted peanuts they cooked over the small stove inside and some nice hot chai (it was COLD for us island dwellers). Their kindness was such a blessing. Upon entering their one room that serves as a kitchen and bedroom I saw that our worn and ragged family photo from last visit was still on the wall. Annikah loved our entire visit and with all the attention she got (everybody LOVES a Mzungu kid who understands Kiswahili) I think she would have been happy to stay.

We were moved by the maisha magumu. The difficult things this family has survived. Ruth’s biological father died many years ago and her step father is in jail (we are not sure why).
Her mother; we are told, is dying of AIDS and just recently was diagnosed with stomach cancer as well but because the treatment is so expensive and the clinic so far away she is only able to go a few times. Because her mother is unable to really care for her children they are all living with “Mama mdogo” (small mother) who we think is an aunt. Her mother even asks us to adopt Ruth and take her to live with us. At first Jason is unsure he understands this correctly but after clarifying that is exactly what they want. Shocking since they know little about us but also heartbreaking because I see that this young mother who knows she is dying wants the best life she can try to give her kids. The child worker from Compassion quickly tells her why this breaks every policy they have and we try to explain that we will continue to support the family in whatever ways we can. It was hard. I am just not used to suffering. To hardship like this. We also got to see her neighbor who played songs for us on his guitar 5 years ago. He and his wife stop over to greet us and we tell him how much we loved the music last time. He tells us the horrible story of being attacked with a machete about a year ago and how he spent months in the hospital recovering. It was just a senseless robbery but it has left him with no job and taken from him his ability to play the guitar.

Yet through all this junk that surrounds Ruth, all this hardship she smiles brighter than most people I know. We visit her school and hear that she is doing well and she tells us she is very grateful to attend and have the opportunities she does. She also takes Anni and I on a walk and to a local church because she wants to sing us a song she taught herself in English and is too shy to share it with everyone. It is a song of gratitude. It is about Jesus. We prayed together and took group photos which I will later send to the family before we left. She reminded me of many things that day but the most important one is that joy is not dependant on circumstance.

5 years ago

last week
first meeting with Anni after many letters, pictures, & prayers!
eating roasted peanuts & chai at their home….Anni was a fan!
kisses all around
playing outside

just us & Ruth’s Mom and sisters

the whole clan


  1. Anonymous says:

    rox, it is so amazing that you got to see ruth again! i remember the first time you met her when we were in TZ and how much that meant to you. i feel like i'm living a little vicariously through your returns to arusha and to the habitat houses and to the places we went together. what a blessing to get to see ruth and share your life with her, and hers with you, over these years. love you!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Just got home. How great you got to visit Ruth. I wondered what you did while they were on safari. Looks like you had a great time with Rhoda and Jim. It was fun seeing pics of the same places we went to. More later…

  3. Anonymous says:

    Your compassion and caring for others is amazing. Your story of Ruth and her family, really touched my heart. I so look forward to your posts, and the previous one especially!!! A beautiful Girl! I always wanted one of those! Anni will be such a good big sister to her, with all of the love she has in her heart. Every girl should have a sister, and I am so glad Anni will have that!Love, Aunt Karen