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She’s 5, I imagine her sitting at their kitchen table with a braid in her dark hair, eating beans and eggs for breakfast – her mom praying over her before she sends her off to kindergarten.  Her deep brown eyes are filled with hope and anticipation as she thinks about what it will be like to start school.  I suppose her dad has already left the house to go work at his job on the coffee plantation or possibly the brussel sprout farm.  He’s up before the sun, doing all he can to provide for his little family and ailing, aging parents, who also share a home with them.  The anticipation of finally starting school is really amazing because a few months ago, they weren’t sure how they were going to be able to send her – with no money for required uniforms and school supplies, but Students International let them know that her school expenses had been covered indefinitely and her education would be provided for.  

2000 miles away… she’s 4, sitting at the kitchen barstool, with two french braids in her sun bleached hair from a summer of outdoor fun, eating her waffles, eggs and fruit – her mom praying over her as she starts pre-k, the longest days they’ve ever been apart.  Her light brown eyes are filled with excitement as she has been looking forward to having this teacher and testing out her independe

nce at the little preschool she’s attended the last few years.  Her dad is leaving for work soon and kisses all his girls on the forehead and tells them he’ll pray for their day and that he can’t wait to see them that night.  Her education options are many and her parents continue to pray for wisdom for where to send her to school, something they take for granted. 

“Mom, when can we go meet her?  I really think we would be friends.”  My 10 year old and I sit in the kitchen with her sister after breakfast reading a letter that just came in the mail.  We read about a little sister and how science 

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is her favorite subject in school.  She asks for prayers for her grandpa who is sick and talks about how her parents are her biggest supporters.  

I wonder at how these are the same things my daughter would write back a few days later – that she

 too loves animals and science, that she has a little sister and that her parents are her biggest fans.  She’s been praying for grandpa who had a surgery and says she knows what it feels like to worry about him when he’s not feeling good.  

Since my oldest daughter was 4 – that little girl with french braids eating waffles – we have been sending $36 a month to Guatemala to help a girl named Sheni with her education.  For six years, we’ve been talking about and praying for a girl in Guatemala, just one year older than my daughter.  For six years, we’ve been getting consistent letters and updated pictures of her.  In our house, our conversation has started to shift from things like, “She lives so far away, I wonder what her life is like,” to things like, “I would really love to meet her and see where she lives.  I want to be her friend in real life.”  These are conversations we always knew were coming and meeting her is somet

hing we’ve had planned all along.  This is one of the reasons we chose to sponsor a child with Students International where we knew we could build a real relationship with her that would eventually make it possible to meet her.  We weren’t sure when our kids would start asking, nor when we’d have the time and means to take them to G

uatemala, but we’ve known since the day we started sponsoring her that this was our desire.  

We took a step of faith last month and put a trip on the calendar for next summer.  At that point, our kids will be 11 and almost 9 and Sheni will be 12.  After 7 years, the girls will finally get to meet.  We’ve cleared the calendar and started brainstorming fundraising ideas.  Last summer, we went to the DR to serve as a family and while that experience was so great for all of us, there’s bound to be something special about the 7-year anticipation of a meeting.  The small donation we make each month seems the tiniest sacrifice

for the benefit of knowing we can help lift the burden for Sheni’s family, but also knowing the benefit our kids will get from a cross-cultural friendship and making a true connection with a girl I’m confident they’ll find is not so different from them.

Isn’t that how it works when we decide to engage in relationships out of our comfort zone?  When we are uncomfortable, we grow.  There’s always a risk and the discomfort that comes with the unknown, but in our experience, cross-cultural relationships and the richness they bring to our lives are worth the sacrifice.  I truly better understand the heart of God, his design in creation and his desire for unity because of the friendship I have with my cross-cultural colleagues through SI.  It continually helps me fight against my biases and cultural norms. It gives me perspective on someone else’s life and gives us the language of, “it’s not wrong, it’

s just different.” It’s enriched my life to have friends who speak different languages and live in different countries.  Personally, growing up in a cross-cultural community had many benefits on my understanding of the world, second language learners and 

a whole other way of life.  Unfortunately for my kids, they aren’t growing up with that same experience, so I see it as our job to give our kids that gift – the gift of seeing more clearly a God who speaks all languages and crosses all borders.  He’s a God whose love for us is the same as his love for our brothers and sisters in other cultures and if we claim to believe in the beautiful, sacrificial, powerful life of Jesus, then it’s our job to live as people who break down language barriers and seek to understand one another.

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Our prayer is that through our continued “yes”, God would give our kids compassionate, humble hearts on fire for HIS kingdom and his big world, not just their limited world.  I will always be grateful for the opportunities provided by Students International to help fortify cross-cultural relationships.  Be on the lookout for some happy girls next summer when they finally get to meet their Guatemalan friend.  Until then – keep finding ways to seek growth over comfort and seek Jesus above all else.

– Breanne Minefee