Forever Changed

The beautiful and the broken intersect in a sponsor’s life as she pushes herself to keep going after devastating news.

She captured my heart with her smile, and I am forever changed. Those are the first words you read on Laura “Lola” Zinger’s blog. Above that sentence floats a picture of Ruth, Lola’s sponsored child. The bearer of that life-changing smile. But to understand the story of Ruth and Lola, we must start at the beginning.

Lola says she can’t quite remember what first drew her to Compassion. Maybe it was a concert, or an event at church? Lola just remembers sitting with her husband and three sons at their computer and choosing an Ethiopian boy, Gosaye, who was the same age as her middle son.

“I don’t know that I really ‘bought into it’ at first,” says Lola. “It was really just making a card for his birthday, for Christmas, looking at his picture on the refrigerator. Initially I did it for my boys, but gradually I could feel God tapping me on the shoulder. Planting a desire to connect with him deeper. Accepting him as a fourth son into our family.”


One of those “promptings” Lola felt was to host a Compassion Sunday event at her church. That “yes” began a journey that Lola could never have imagined.


When Lola received the box of child packets for her event, she prayed over each child. But one of the packets made her stop. A young woman named Ruth, the oldest child in the group.

She seemed to radiate off the page and I wanted to know her, wrote Lola on her blog. But she shook her head and put Ruth’s packet back in the stack, focusing on getting the children sponsored – not sponsoring them herself!

At the end of her event, Lola was thrilled that 11 of the children had been sponsored. But she was even more thrilled that Ruth’s packet was still there.

I was secretly relieved. And excited. I just KNEW she was supposed to be ours, Lola wrote.

Lola started sponsoring Ruth, and they immediately struck up a relationship through their letters. But when Ruth’s new photo came, Lola was shocked to see that one of the girl’s legs had been amputated. She called Compassion and learned devastating news.

Ruth had been diagnosed with bone cancer.

 

Ruth's picture for her sponsor, Lola, before her cancer diagnosis.
Lola with her boys, Charlie, Zachary and Sam (tallest to shortest).
Ruth's picture for her sponsor, Lola, after her leg was amputated due to bone cancer.

We felt grateful for Compassion International’s intervention, care and support for Ruth, wrote Lola, but we also felt hopeless.

Lola felt restless, thousands of miles away, wanting to DO something. And then came the email from Compassion, about a sponsor trip to Kenya. To meet Ruth.

I am so in! wrote Lola. I’m going to Kenya to hug Ruth!

Lola wrote Ruth and told her of her upcoming trip. Ruth wrote back, “I am so happy to hear that you are planning to visit me … you are highly welcomed!”

But even as Ruth’s letter was crossing the ocean to land in Lola’s hands, their story was changing. And by the time Lola got the call from Compassion, the unimaginable had happened.

Ruth had passed away.

Lola was shocked by the intensity of the grief she felt for this girl she had never met. She carried it alone for a while, but finally shared it with family and her prayer group.

“They circled me,” says Lola, “and they encouraged me not to just cancel my trip. I was so confused, but I felt God telling me to just get quiet. Be still. I was surprised by Ruth’s death. But He was not. He was in the midst of it. Doing miracles.”

When Lola boarded a plane bound for Kenya a few months later, she had no idea what God had in store. But everywhere she turned, she saw His plan unfold. And with each encounter, she felt more deeply connected to this beautiful girl whom God had placed in her life.

Lola and Ruth’s mother, Justine.

She saw it the day she met Ruth’s mother, Justine. It was a difficult day – this should have been the day she met Ruth, gave her that longed for hug, but instead she found herself hugging a grieving mother. Justine struggled to communicate about her daughter, and Lola found herself just trying to navigate the mother’s pain.

At one point Justine handed Lola a phone, and on the other end was one of Ruth’s older sisters.

“She spoke English,” says Lola, “and she just kept saying how Ruth had been so excited to meet me, how much she loved me.”

For the first time, Lola got a glimpse of how her sponsorship had not only brought joy to Ruth, but that Lola had been known by the entire family. And she could only hope that they knew that the love she felt for Ruth had been extended to each of them.

 

The day Lola went to the Compassion Kenya office God revealed to her how deep His love for both Lola and Ruth went.

As the group explored the office, Lola began chatting with Leah, Compassion Kenya’s Director of Child Health Services.

“Tell me about the child you sponsor,” said Leah.

Lola began sharing the story of Ruth, but Leah stopped her.

“I knew Ruth!” she said, grabbing Lola’s arm. And in that holy moment, Leah shared how she had sat next to Ruth at the hospital. How she had prayed and researched and written medical proposals and done everything she could for Ruth.

Leah told Lola that Ruth had spoken of her often. And that in those last days, she passed away with dignity. Knowing she was loved and cared for by so many people.

Lola with Leah, Compassion Kenya’s Director of Child Health Services.

“This was the woman who had helped take care of Ruth, made sure she was being cared for in the best ways possible,” says Lola. “When I prayed for Ruth, Leah was the answer to those prayers. God arranged that meeting.”

And so it was there, in the country of Ruth’s birth, clinging to the hand of someone who had loved Ruth in real and tangible ways, Lola’s heart began to heal. And grow.

Her heart just kept expanding when she returned home. Since coming back to North Carolina, Lola’s family has sponsored six more children, and she’s already planning trips to visit them.

“It’s sort of transformed our family,” says Lola. “When I got back, we had a letter waiting from Gosaye, and he called us ‘my dear family.’ And those words were so true. More true than they ever had been before.”

Lola is about to host her second Compassion Sunday. This time, she will speak to 2,500 people about her experience. “The pastor gave me five minutes,” she says laughing, “but I think I’m going to have to ask for more.” Her story is one of hope, death, life and miracles.

But she sums it up in one sentence.

“It’s real, it works and it makes a difference.”

More from this Issue

June 2018

Children who live near a landfill in Guatemala City can now go to a safe school, thanks to an alliance between a church in Guatemala, an U.S. church, and Compassion. 

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Children who live near a landfill in Guatemala City can now go to a safe school, thanks to an alliance between a church in Guatemala, a U.S. church and Compassion.

Forever Changed

The beautiful and the broken intersect in a sponsor’s life as she pushes herself to keep going after devastating news.

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Your kids will enjoy making this simple Colombian drink.