by Nancy Nelson, Development Director
"Please don't send me to Africa!" belted out a group of children as they sang a song many years ago in the auditorium at the close of a family camp. Fast forward to 2007, and one of those "kids," Matt Lambert, now a Guest Services Representative for the Camp, along with five other staff members, can't wait to board a plane in late August to head for Burundi, a little country in the heart of Africa, to help put on a day camp for nearly 300 children in Mweya.
Under the leadership of Laurie Fertello, Youth Program Director, Pat Patterson, Director of Administration, and myself, this team of seasoned staff will work with Sister Connection, a newly formed agency that is helping to restore hope and dignity to the widows and their children left behind after the civil war which has racked Burundi and the neighboring countries for the last nine years.
When Pat told Laurie about this unique opportunity, she gathered Stephanie Harris, Program Intern, along with Matt and his wife, Emily Lambert, to pray. With tears welling up in her eyes, Stephanie said, "Send me!"
Stephanie, a graduate of Central Washington University, had been checking out opportunities to serve in Africa. Little did she realize that her internship would end up on the very continent God had already been placing on her heart. Matt and Emily responded in union, "We'll go!" And the rest is history.
While over 150 widows are receiving three days of training through Sister Connection, their children will be in a day camp program led by the team from WBC.
Matt, Emily, and Stephanie all grew up coming to Warm Beach as campers. During their college years, Matt and Emily met at camp while working in the youth camp programs. After graduating from Skagit Valley College, Matt's surprise marriage proposal was worked into a camp skit! Emily, who obviously said, "yes" to "tying the knot," graduated from Trinity Western University and now serves as the Outdoor Education Director.
We will join WBC's Board Chair, David Goodnight, and his family along with the Executive Director of Sister Connection, Denise Patch, and her family, to participate in the second annual training of these widows and their children. Afterwards we will be continuing the ministry for a week in different villages where the widows live.
"We've been given a chance to love the children in Jesus' name!" Laurie passionately exclaims. "This is more about being people with the children, loving them and exchanging stories. We hope they will trust us enough to do that."
According to Pat, "None of us six staff members have ever been to Africa. We will be stepping into this arena together and will trust the Lord for what to do as we share this amazing experience together ... and this is part of a much bigger picture."
Pat and Laurie had been praying for a way that the program interns would be able to have an international experience. The team will be connecting with students from Hope Africa University to work together to support Sister Connection. "This is not a program, it's the beginning of a relationship," declared Laurie.
The team can identify with Paul in Romans 1:8-12 when he stated, "Your faith is being reported all over the world ... and I pray that now, at last, by God's will the way may be opened for me to come to you ... so that I might impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong - that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith."
The team can hardly wait to tell the widows in person, "The word of your faithfulness has reached us and we are proud of you, standing in the face of such adversity."