My thanks to Cory Trenda of St. John's Church and World Vision for permission to republish his reflection on my late Plan International sponsoree, Meta Balde. To help fight malaria, go here (Episcopal Relief and Development) or here (World Vision).
I'm sitting on a screen porch at a lake in Wisconsin. We are taking a few days away from our visit to Chicago where we are visiting our dearest family friend, who is in the late stages of terminal lymphoma. This is a chance to renew and refresh and write before our final days together.
The evening cool is gathering here, crickets are in full throat (or whatever they use to make themselves known), the evening light has now emptied from the sky, an occasional still-energetic human voice wafts in, the dark outline of a tiny gnat crawls across my backlit laptop screen. We watched the burning orange sun set over the lake an hour ago.
This is now the magic hour for which the screen porch was built. It just sits here most of the time, but now I get to sit enclosed in it and read, or write, enjoy the sounds outside without becoming dinner for the sinister bugs that lurk on the other side. You see, with all this flat land and standing water, I'm in Mosquito Heaven.
I was enjoying the cacophony outside my cocoon a few minutes ago when I received an unusual email from my friend John: "I'd appreciate you and Janet saying a prayer for this little one. Thank you for all the healing work you have done around this suffering world. Bless you!" Below that was a link to his blog page with a short entry. Through another child sponsorship agency he has supported for some 30 years, he was now sponsoring Meta, a little girl in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa. He was stunned to receive a letter today that she has died of malaria, two months before her eighth birthday. He went on to lament, "...I have Meta's picture but had never gotten around to writing. It was something I planned to do tomorrow. Today's letter from [the organization's] always efficient and gracious staff left me feeling desolate and ashamed. I've written back offering to sponsor another child in the same community. But no one can replace Meta. For her, I'm forever a day late. Sometimes all we can do is give thanks for the opportunity to do better."
Needless to say, my serenity on the screen porch was immediately pierced through by the story...just the simple tragedy of a singular little girl whom few people would ever know. But for that sponsorship connection and John's willingness to send in $30 each month, he would never have encountered her.
Sponsorship can seem so happy and simple. How nice that as a sponsor I can give a few dollars each month through automatic credit card deduction and have this relationship that the organization mostly handles for me, almost like having a spouse or assistant who makes me look good by sending flowers on my behalf when it's a loved one's birthday. They make it so easy for me, and as long as I send in my check I can feel that my life and the life of my sponsored child are interconnected, and to some degree they are connected.
But then a tragedy like this happens, a one-page letter becomes ice water in the face, and we realize we are still oceans apart in our experience of the world, our rights, our opportunities. It's absurd that a million little kids die every year of malaria on the same planet where I live. I'm writing from Mosquito Headquarters here in Wisconsin, and NOBODY here will die of malaria. Why? Malaria was a major killer in America 150 years ago, but we eliminated it. That happened mainly through widespread spraying of DDT, which for several reasons—many of them relating to global economics of the choices you and I make as consumers—is not an option today.
It's tragic. It's complicated, and I'm no expert. But in the meantime, the unevenness -- the unfairness -- of the world in which I live in and in which Meta lived for a few years leads to numbing letters like the one my friend received today, giving us a piercing glimpse behind the curtain, to the world outside the screen.
Screens, like the new mosquito nets we use in malarial regions, help a lot. But the truth is, there are no malaria-infected mosquitoes on the other side of this patio screen. I might get plenty of bites, but none of them would kill me. Decades ago, we broke the larva's life-cycle once for all here, and every year the dividend in human lives saved grows by leaps and bounds.
That this was not a viable option for Meta and her community is just a small part of the tragedy and unevenness of our lives on this earth. And there is nothing at all in this inequality that pleases the heart of God.
So yes, John; I’ll pray for this little one. I'm sorry for little Meta, sorry for you, sorry for Meta's family...sorry for the Kingdom that is not yet come.