The Journey

Personal Essay: The Power of One
By Erica Schrader

It was the summer before I entered eighth grade. I was as much committed to listening to Christian music then as I am now. But one 95 degree afternoon at the Gorge Amphitheatre near Vantage, on the Columbia River, listening to the group Switchfoot, I made another commitment: to Machureti Bukirwa.

Machureti, then aged 5, was one of several hundred Compassion International children whose photos were available for prospective sponsors. Like me. Here I was, not yet in high school, wrestling with whether I could pay the $28 a month to support her. Not easy, I thought, with an allowance of $5 a week and the irregular income baby-sitting provided.

But hearing the pitch by Jon Foreman, Switchfoot's lead singer, for taking on a Compassion child, was hard to resist. My remaining resistance fell as I leafed through one child's file after another. Then, with the impulsiveness of a 14-year-old, I was hooked: Machureti and I were now, in a sense, partners.

We've been together now coming up nine years. In that time, I've learned much – about her, but also myself. For example, Machureti lives in Uganda, where 85 percent of its 30.2 million citizens live on less than a dollar a day, according to Compassion's website. Yet, somehow I can justify spending nearly $4 on a cup of coffee before the clock even reaches 9 a.m. Here in the United States, if you have a bed to sleep in and a change of clothes, you would be among Uganda's wealthiest of citizens.

I've also learned more about Compassion International, a Christian organization. Foreman talked about Compassion's mission to save children from a life of poverty. He explained that Compassion is a child advocacy ministry that provides children with food, shelter, education, health care and Christian training. In return, these children can become well-balanced Christian adults.

As Foreman continued to speak, he shared his experiences about the child he sponsors. As he spoke I thought, "I'd like to do this." So, I started running calculations in my head trying to figure out how I could possibly pay for this.

"For just $28 a month, less than a dollar a day, you have the capacity to bring Jesus into the heart of a child," he said. My heart softened as he shared the rest of his story. The video screen flashed dozens of pictures of unsponsored children.

Immediately, I started walking across the amphitheatre towards the Compassion booth. I could hear Switchfoot playing their last song in the background singing one of my favorites: "Dare You to Move." My heart was racing as I finally made it to the booth. I was determined to find one child, among thousands, with whom I could share a personal connection. I quickly came to a jacket that read: "Machureti Bukirwa – Born: June 14, 1994 – Location: Uganda." I thought, "This is it." I have no explanation as to why she stood out to me. It was just one of those God moments.

I grabbed a blue pen nearby and filled out the appropriate forms. As I wrote, a volunteer came over and asked whether I wanted to pay my $28 now or later. In my mind, I quickly scanned through a list of CDs that I was determined to buy this weekend but responded, "Now," and handed her most of what was left in my wallet. I walked away proudly with my packet in hand, realizing that I will be making a difference for one. I also remember thinking, "If Switchfoot cared enough about Compassion, then I could too."

Ever since that day, I am constantly reminded of Mark 10:45: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve." Each person finds his or her own way to serve. After I received my first letter from Machureti I knew this, undoubtedly, would be one of my opportunities to give back.

Her opening sentence, written by a translator, read, "Thank you God; please bless Erica and her family…" and at the end, "I pray for you every day." My first thought was, "I'm supposed to be blessing and praying for you." As the letters continued to be written back and forth I soon realized that my $28 meant so much more than I could have ever imagined. Machureti had been opened up to a whole realm of opportunities that I, as a U.S. citizen, take for granted every day, such as having a car to drive.

June 2000 was the first year I sent Machureti some money for her birthday. I was expecting her to have received a toy or a doll of some kind. One month later, she responded to my letter to thank me for her birthday gift. I was curious to find out what she had bought. She said: "Thank you for my birthday gift. I couldn't wait to buy a new pair of socks and a dress for church."

As my experience with Compassion has grown over the years I decided that I wanted to do something for the organization, expressing gratitude for all their continued hard work. In April 2004, during my senior year of high school, I informed the church leaders that I wanted to take part in Compassion Sunday. I remember this opportunity falling into my lap at the perfect moment. I happened to be well connected with my church back home so I asked our senior pastor if he would allow me to do a presentation on this organization.

One month later, I found myself standing in front of First Presbyterian Church of Wenatchee congregation sharing my joy about Machureti and the difference this organization has made in her life and mine. At the end of my presentation several members of the congregation opened their hearts to unsponsored children who were located all over the world. I will never forget the feeling of having the opportunity to be a part of something worthy of the world's attention.

As I look back, I realize that Switchfoot had a major influence on my decision to sponsor Machureti. But that's not the point. At a young age, I was able to recognize that I was fortunate enough to be standing in a crowded amphitheatre after paying nearly $100 to camp and watch concerts all weekend. Currently, Compassion has helped more than 1.5 million children in 24 countries. I can proudly say that I had and still have the power and, more importantly, the privilege, to change the life of one of those children: Machureti Bukirwa.