It seems almost as strange to say that now as it was to declare “Oh my gosh, we’re going to Africa!” during the weeks and months leading up to our trip in February this year.
Traveling to Africa has been on our wish lists for as long as either of us can remember. We didn’t know how we were going to do it, but both of us were hoping we would make the trip one day. And we promised that neither of us would go without the other, which sounds really sweet but actually has more to do with our ongoing competition about who has visited the most countries in their life. Karen’s ahead by two countries so my opinion is that she shouldn’t get to go anywhere that I haven’t been until I catch up.
As it turned out our opportunity came as a result of our sponsoring two kids from Africa through Compassion International. There is a girl, Foasia, living in Burkina Faso, and a boy, Freeman, living in neighboring Ghana. When we began sponsoring them we didn’t have any particular plans to visit them, but I’m sure the idea was lurking somewhere in the backs of our minds. For years we just wrote letters back and forth and tried to get to know them as best we could through pictures and questions.
Then one day while looking at the website, I noticed that Compassion was putting together a sponsors trip to Burkina Faso. Since we were recent empty nesters we felt like a celebration trip was in order, plus Compassion was handling all of the details and that seemed like a good way to experience our first trip to the continent. So over the next several months we shipped our passports off to get the required visas, started gathering everything we thought we’d need, and as the day approached, started taking our malaria meds.
The trip was everything we could have hoped for! Looking back on it now it’s a blur of first impressions, from the heat and dust of rural Burkina Faso to the humidity and clamor of urban Accra in Ghana. The food, the traffic, and the faces of people carving out a life under conditions I can’t imagine. The quality, integrity, and obvious impact of the Compassion work. So many memories, but the ones that stick out most in my mind are the first meetings with each of our kids. It sounds weird, but my initial response to seeing them for the first time was, “Oh my gosh, they’re real people!” Of course I knew that in my head but on some level it was such a revelation! It was like bumping into a real Hollywood celebrity in line at Home Depot (this actually happened to us once with Tom Selleck). Suddenly this person you’ve only seen in pictures and exchanged letters with for years is actually standing there. It’s weirdly awkward at first. On some levels you have developed a relationship with this person, but it’s suddenly clear that in so many ways you don’t really know them at all.
Our time together with each of them was too short, but it did help fill in some of those blanks. For the first time we actually heard what their voices sounded like and enjoyed the sound of their laughter. We talked with them first-hand about their hopes and dreams, and learned some of their struggles. More than anything we just tried to show them that they matter. One of the most devastating impacts of poverty is the way it labels and eventually convinces people that they are worthless. We wanted our kids to know that they are continually on our hearts and in our prayers. We wanted them to see that they can hope for a brighter future. We wanted them to understand that we are willing to go to great lengths to demonstrate our love for them.
So, we went to Africa.
Dave and Karen Burke live in Huntsville, Alabama. They have three grown children of their own, a grandchild on the way, and currently sponsor four children through Compassion.