Sponsor Jen Haberling is surprised to discover that her new sponsored child lives in Mongolia, where her sister is in the Peace Corps! This story originally appeared in Holt’s spring 2018 sponsorship magazine.
My sister Andrea’s mind was racing in a million different directions as she spent months preparing for a big life change. After much thought and deliberation, in 2015, she decided to leave a safe government job of 16 years and join the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps recruiter gave her four country choices, and when she asked where the greatest need was, the recruiter quickly answered, “Mongolia.” Andrea knew nothing about this part of the world and immediately began researching the culture and studying the language, while her family and friends came together to support her and help make this dream happen.
One day, amidst a flutter of activity to prepare for Andrea to leave the U.S. and begin a 27-month stint in Mongolia, I mentioned to her that the child from Africa that my husband, Tim, and I were sponsoring had all of his needs met, so he was transitioning out of the program. Holt would be sending us a new and randomly chosen child for us to sponsor.
“You won’t believe this,” I said, “but of all places, they connected us with a little boy from Mongolia!”
Andrea kept this information in the back of her mind as she departed the U.S. Meanwhile, God was up to something, weaving together the stories of many people across the globe.
Tim and I first decided to sponsor a child four years ago at a Winter Jam concert in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The pauses in the music gave way to stories about children all over the globe who needed sponsors. Eagerly awaiting Toby Mac, Tim and our then-teenage daughter, Ali, made their way to the crowded floor of the arena to find a child to sponsor from the rows and rows of pictures. Never did we imagine that this child would lead to another, and another, and finally to a sweet boy in the very country where my only sister was stationed.
A few months after arriving in Mongolia, where Andrea would teach English in a small village, she received one of my many letters — this one with an enclosed picture of our sponsored child, Javkhaa, including information about his background, personality and family situation. In between teaching duties, Andrea began reaching out to people at Holt, trying to find a way to meet little Javkhaa. After several months of back and forth emails, she was finally able to meet with Holt Mongolia staff member May Gombo in the capital of Ulaanbaatar.
May was super accommodating about meeting and driving together to Javkhaa’s school and orphanage, all in the same small building. Andrea received a tour of his care center, met the staff, and was able to observe a very clean, warm, cheery and comfortable environment. She spent the afternoon playing with him and the other children, sharing a snack of two hard boiled eggs, and bringing Javkhaa a couple of toy trucks, a Lego set and books, which he shared with the others. He was such a sweet, reserved little guy, and it was unclear whether he understood exactly who Andrea was, but it didn’t matter.
After this experience, she vowed to return and see him again before she departed Mongolia.
Across the globe, in Michigan, I eagerly awaited every piece of mail and rare phone call or email from Andrea. One day very near Christmas of 2016, Andrea surprised me by sending the pictures she took with Javkhaa. This boy really existed! And he was thriving with the support we provided through sponsorship.
The next time Andrea planned to visit Javkhaa, a year later, she gave me a heads up. “What does he need?” I asked. “Clothes? School supplies? Buy him some things from us!”
May quickly provided a list of Javkhaa’s needs, and when Andrea came to Ulaanbaatar for a Close of Service Peace Corps conference, she squeezed in a day to meet with May and do some shopping for Javkhaa. May took such care and time to pick out the appropriate clothing and fun Spiderman school bag for Javkhaa. After the shopping trip, May and Andrea went to deliver Javkhaa’s gifts. He put on the outfit and backpack right away, smiling shyly, and humbly enjoying this extra attention. Andrea was able to receive an update about his health and his family situation. Both of Javkhaa’s parents have disabilities, and struggled to care for their son, but his father still visits him when he can.
During their visit, Andrea and Javkhaa had lunch together, played with the other children, and again took many pictures and selfies!
She told him, “Javkhaa, you have sponsors on the other side of the world who love you and care about you very much.” Again, he smiled shyly, politely looked down, and then reached over to give her a hug.
Andrea’s heart melted for him, his situation and his future, so grateful that with the help of our sponsorship and Holt International’s work in Mongolia, he will have a chance despite the hardships of poverty. If all goes as planned, Andrea will return to Mongolia in four years, and just maybe, she will spend another day with little Javkhaa.
Jen Haberling and Andrea Tiller | Grand Rapids, Michigan
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