It was 1995 when 20-year-old Bonnie picked up a child sponsorship packet from a table at church. She looked down at the photo of a girl in Uganda who was waiting for a sponsor.
“For some reason I was drawn to her,” Bonnie remembers.
After reading that Norah’s birthday was almost exactly 10 years after her own and that the two of them shared a love of singing, Bonnie decided right then to sponsor Norah.
“The Spirit moved and said that I was able to actually do this even though at that time I didn’t have a steady job or anything,” Bonnie says. “But I think it was just something I felt called to do.”
It would be 26 years before she realized the magnitude of her decision to become part of Norah’s amazing story. But Bonnie began building their relationship right away through letter writing.
READ: Part 1 of Norah’s story
“The Front-Row Seat”
Four years later, Bonnie met and married her husband, Jeff. Vaguely familiar with Compassion, Jeff began to learn more about child sponsorship. While Bonnie’s motivation to sponsor Norah was largely emotional, Jeff joined the cause for pragmatic reasons.
“It was just a matter of going, ‘Holy cow, check out this need. If I can help do something about that, why wouldn’t I?’ It just made sense,” Jeff remembers.
Together he and Bonnie exchanged letters with Norah, even though — like many other sponsors — they felt they didn’t write often enough.
Still, letter by letter, the Colorado couple got a glimpse into Norah’s life — what she was learning at her Compassion center and how her family was doing.
“I felt like I got the front-row seat of watching her grow,” Bonnie says.
They learned that Norah’s father had died in the 1994 genocide across the border in Rwanda. But Norah didn’t share many details about it, and Bonnie didn’t know if or how she should bring it up in letters. So she and Jeff focused on what they had in common with Norah: their faith. In one letter, Norah shared that she had memorized her favorite Bible verse:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”Jeremiah 29:11, NIV
“And I remember that letter so specifically,” Bonnie says, “because that was my first memorized verse as well. And of course she wouldn’t have known that.”
Over time Norah’s letters revealed how she was maturing in communication skills and faith. “As she was growing and starting to share things, the excitement came through in the letters,” Bonnie says. “And it was just fun because at that same time, I was in a big growth time in my life — to just have more and more understanding myself about God and what he was doing.”
The day they learned that Norah was completing the Child Sponsorship Program and preparing for university, Bonnie and Jeff believed that their chapter in her story was ending. Crying bittersweet tears, Bonnie trusted that God would continue to prosper Norah. But neither she nor Jeff could imagine just what that would look like.
26 Years Later …
This summer, Bonnie and Jeff received an update from Compassion while they were on a trip celebrating their anniversary. They learned that Norah now lives in the U.S. with her husband and their children.
Norah, now a social worker, recently began sharing her remarkable story more widely as a speaker at Compassion events. She has also spoken on several podcasts, including the “Real Mom Podcast.” In a recent episode, host Jamie Finn interviewed Norah about her childhood growing up in poverty, losing her father in the genocide and how she got to where she is today. During the interview, Norah effused about her sponsors:
“My sponsors were the most amazing people in my life — the most precious asset that God ever gave me in my life. Because every word they said to me felt like an asset to me. My sponsors wrote to me letters, and if anybody out there doesn’t know how important a letter is to a child, this is the time for you to understand this: I was so hopeless and my sponsors wrote to me letters and they said to me, ‘Norah. We love you.” … And they always said, ‘We believe in you.’”
Norah tells the podcast host that because Jeff and Bonnie believed in her, she never wanted to disappoint them.
“It’s very important to have someone who speaks positivity into your life. Someone who prays for you. My sponsors always told me they were praying for me. Those letters were the most precious things in my life.”
Connecting the Dots
On their anniversary trip, Bonnie and Jeff tuned in to hear Norah’s podcast interview. For the first time they heard the voice of the person they wrote to, prayed for and supported for so many years. And she was talking about THEM. She compared Jeff and Bonnie to her “other parents.” Jeff and Bonnie were in awe.
“I was sitting there hearing about the impact of the letters, and I thought, ‘I’m such a horrible letter writer. How did she get all of that out of it?’” says Bonnie, laughing. “So then again you see what God was doing behind the scenes that really had nothing to do with you. He takes it anyway and makes it his.”
Jeff marveled at how God took what seemed so minor — a relatively small monthly cost of sponsorship and a few letters with basic messages shared — and changed lives in a major way.
“God’s able to magnify the impact of some dollars. So he can do that with anything,” Jeff says. “He can do that with words that are translated across a page, going across international seas. And it means something. It connected. That’s, I think, supernatural intervention at some point.”
Bonnie points out that although they were playing the role of sponsors in Norah’s life, Norah blessed them just as much as, if not more than, they blessed her. “I think one of the most precious things to us is: We never had children, by God’s design. And it was like, ‘OK, well that wasn’t the plan,’” she says. “So you can imagine for us, hearing her in a podcast saying that she calls us her other parents? Talk about blowing us out of the water to just see another little gift God has given us, that we have been completely blessed.”
“And again it just reminds me how God is the hero of this. He’s the author of this. Really we just played this much part in it,” Bonnie says, using her fingers to show how little she sees the part she and Jeff played in Norah’s life as her sponsors. “And it’s incredible to see what that little part does.”
The Story Isn’t Over …
Norah said one more thing in the “Real Mom Podcast” that stood out to Jeff and Bonnie — and to Compassion staff in the U.S. The host asks Norah if there’s anything she wants to say to her sponsors, and she replies:
“Oh my goodness. Let me say this now, I hope they hear this: I’m looking for them! I’m looking for Jeff and Bonnie … who sponsored me. Those people changed my life. And I am what I am today because of their sacrifice.”
Here’s a sneak peek at the next exciting chapter in this story … coming to the blog in December!