The Shortest Distance Between Friends (A Dispatch from Haiti)

January 20, 2013 | 11 comments

She marched through the rickety gate, down the stony path, past the grunting pig that was tied to a crooked tree, and up a litter-strewn walkway to find the little girl she had traveled hundreds of miles to wrap her arms around.

I walked a few feet behind our second-born daughter, and she never once looked back to see if her mama was coming. For she knew where she was headed, and she knew why she had come, and no one needed to show her how to love somebody today – not even her mother. She hefted that hope-filled canvas bag over her shoulder and marched forward, led by a singular purpose.

Months ago, Anna and I had sat one night in the glow of the computer screen on our Iowa farm. We studied dozens of photographs of children needing sponsors at the Touch of Hope school in Simonette.

We scrolled the mouse. And scrolled.

And scrolled.

How does a person make such a decision: In whom do we invest, in a sea of real faces, every single one of them in need? How do we make our drop in the ocean count? Sure, we had prayed beforehand, that God would lead Anna to find the girl who was the right match for her.

But she and I both knew every single child deserved a sponsor. Yet on this night, Anna could only pick one? It felt like the most important click of a mouse that we might ever make.

“Mom, why can’t we sponsor them all?”

In the end, Anna picked Germina, age four, who we knew for months only by her shy smile. But now, we found ourselves walking through her neighborhood – mother behind daughter — toward that rare and beautiful moment when pixels would become a person.

Not everyone gets this opportunity. This truth was not lost on me as we spent our Saturday morning visiting children that we and some of our friends in Iowa sponsor. We had come with gifts: dresses and underwear and crayons and Bibles translated in Haitian Creole. Every year, thousands upon thousands of generous people sponsor children around the world — in Haiti and Ethiopia and Kenya and Brazil. But only a small few get the chance to do what we were doing, to cross the threshold into their sponsored child’s homes.

We didn’t take it for granted. I want you to know that. I thought of you when we walked that path, and how you love someone far, far away with your monthly contribution, knowing that there’s scant chance of you meeting face-to-face.

And here we were, seconds away from every sponsor’s dream come true.

Anna peeked around the corner of a blue-tarped shack on a scrubby yard to find Germina, one of the countless millions of children around the world who need to know that they matter to God, and they matter to people. Simply because they exist – as a remarkable, beloved creation of God.

“Germina?” Anna called out, stretching her arms to embrace the child. I thought it then, how the shortest distance between two friends is a simple hug.

Our host, Webert, told Germina and her mother that Anna was Germina’s sponsor for school. The mother and I looked over the heads of our little girls, who were embracing. We spoke a language that only mamas know, and we didn’t have to use a single word. We locked eyes again and again, as Anna put a purple sequined hat on Germina’s head, showed her how to use the PlayDoh, held up the dress to a young girl’s shoulders.

And her mother beamed when Anna handed Germina a Bible storybook.

They posed for photos, and we said goodbye, moving on toward more children, more smiles, more hugs, more knowing glances between mothers. And on our way, we passed by dozens of others, all of them, waving and smiling … and waiting. Still waiting. And how long they’ve been waiting …

And could we sponsor them all?

We really could. And if not all, just one more? Every drop counts.

Here are some photographs of our day, delivering gifts and hugs to our sponsored children, as well as to the children sponsored by others:


We were delighted to happen upon Vedline, the child sponsored by Lydia, when we least expected. They became fast friends and plan to play together at the school playground tomorrow during recess.

My dear friend and neighbor Michelle greets ClaudeBensky, the boy sponsored by her mother.

Meet our sweet little friend, Dalene.

We’re sponsoring our children through Touch of Hope, founded by the Grooters family of Iowa along with Webert Raymond of Simonette village in Haiti. In 2006, Webert determined that he would stay in his village of Simonette to open a school in the village where he grew up, despite his potential for “upward mobility.” A Port-au-Prince businessman had, in fact, strongly encouraged Webert to find professional work in the city. But Webert knew what God had laid on his heart: to educate children in his home community. That year, at age 22, he opened a school with wood-pallet walls and tarps. In 2010, the Grooters family met Webert, and with the help of others, they came up with the resources to build the Simonette school. (This is the school where Lydia’s playground has now been installed.)

The school has grown rapidly, and Webert says it has begun to transform his home village. At the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, more than 700 students were enrolled at the school. But more than 500 of those students still need sponsors. Touch of Hope needs us.

The school has made a tremendous impact on the local community, educating and feeding hundreds of children every day, while also employing Haitian teachers, cooks, and staff. The Touch of Hope ministry is committed to supporting the local community – buying and supporting local people and businesses – right here where Webert grew up, and where Webert chose to stay, at Christ’s calling.

If you are feeling led to be a part of this amazing ministry, please visit the Touch of Hope Facebook page here or the blog of Kayla Grooters here. For $35 a month, you can sponsor a child. Kayla and Webert are committed to making personal connections between sponsors and students.


by | January 20, 2013 | 11 comments


  1. S. Etole

    This does a number on my heart! Such beautiful children … both here and there.

  2. Brandee Shafer

    It really does feel like a miracle, reading it, like you found more than one needle in a haystack. I’ve never left our country, and the world seems so big to me. I just can’t imagine making my way to a teeny tiny someone all the way across it. God bless.

  3. Gramma T

    What a blessing to see the faces that are behind the names. Or rather in front of the names. It makes me want to come there even more and hold them and tell them like Job did yesterday”I LOVE YOU<<<< I LOVE YOU<<<< I LOVE YOU!!

  4. Lori Poppinga

    Wonderful! You have a way with pictures and words dear friend~one helping one; two are better than one.
    Keep up the God work.

  5. Angie Vik

    So fun to see this trip through your family’s eyes. The pictures of your daughters meeting their sponsored children are precious. I love their sweet smiles. Thanks for a vicarious glimpse into Touch of Hope.

  6. Bert Meyer

    OH MY – I am stiill looking back and forth at the pictures of your wonderful daughters and their NEw friends. I met my sponsor child last July when I was staying with Kayla. Yes it is awesome. I am excited for Lydia to play with Vedline at recess! Have a great trip and God bless you and your girls for all you do for Kayla, Webert and the Simonette Moutaintop School. Bert Meyer (Renae’s sister)

  7. Sylvia R

    What beautiful pictures, in words and pixels, of more than aesthetic beauty! Of them all, the one that somehow warms me most, among all the warm and lovely, is the fifth one, with Anna’s sweet smile and a mother’s joy-filled eyes. Thank you for sharing all this.

  8. Diana Trautwein

    Ah, that sweet, shy smile on Anna’s face just makes me absolutely swoon. These girls of yours? Magnificent reflections of their parents and their Savior. Thanks so much for these wonderful, picture-filled posts, Jennifer. Re-entry blessings to you all over this next week.

  9. emily wierenga

    oh friend. i love, love, love that you took your daughters, that you helped to open their eyes and hearts. beautiful.

  10. Betty Schott

    Such a beautiful story and pictures. You make the article come alive and a person feels they are there enjoying the reunions in person. Renae and family have been so instrumental in the school and sponsorship. As her parents we are so proud of their accomplishments in Haiti. Thank you for the blog it was most enjoyable.

  11. Megan Willome

    It is a blessing that you are getting to meet your sponsored children. Mine are in Ethiopia. I don’t know if I’m up for a trip of that nature. We’ve been doing this since 1991.


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