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Stepping Towards Gratitude

Each season, NATS partners with a local non-profit organization and donates $1 for every acre that our detasseling crew covers. For years, we have been sponsoring students in Kenya through a local non-profit called Hope Venture. In June 2023, Dawn had the opportunity to travel to Kenya and view first-hand some of the projects that NATS has donated to over the years. A great highlight for her was getting to meet some of the sponsored students, including Jackson. Below is his story.

“No way,” I thought as I looked down at his shoes again. Covered with a healthy layer of red Kenyan dust, I could not see a single rip or hole on the non-descript, Walmart-type tennis shoes he was wearing. As someone who tends to buy a new pair of quality running shoes every year, I was amazed at how his shoes had held up.

“I take very good care of them,” Jackson eagerly explained. “You see, these are the shoes you gave to me five years ago.” He smiled with pride. “Do you see these pants?” He touched his knee, almost reverently. “These are also the pants you gave to me. I wash them very carefully and always hang them up.” After pausing for a moment, and fumbling for a bit, Jackson looked me in the eye and subsequently turned my world upside down: “And . . . .I want you to know . . . I pray for you every day. You saved my life.”

I had no words to say. It was too much to process, too much to wrap my mind around. When I sponsored Jackson back in 2013, I had no idea that a small act would lead to such great dividends. Not the kind of dividends you can measure in a stock portfolio, but far greater dividends—coming face to face with the truth that this person’s life trajectory had been dramatically impacted by one decision: to sponsor a Hope Venture student.

Jackson grew up near Narok, Kenya, with his mother and seven siblings. In 2006, his father was killed tragically by a wild elephant, leaving his mom struggling to meet their daily needs. Lack of basic food, let alone trying to buy school uniforms, was a daily struggle. But Jackson was a hardworking young boy. Disciplined, they told me. And he had dreams and aspirations of becoming a teacher. His biggest obstacle? Not being able to afford the school fees to go to high school. His new reality was sitting at home, watching over their three cows wasting away, right along with his dreams and aspirations.

And that’s where Hope Venture entered the story. I saw Jackson’s picture on their website in 2013, sponsored him all through high school, and then heard that he had even gone on to the university to become a teacher. My singular choice to sponsor Jackson resulted in him being able to make further choices: The choice to work hard and get good grades, the choice to carefully steward the things he had been given, the choice to ultimately become a first-grade teacher and give back to his community, and the choice to honor and care for his own family well.

This summer, things came full circle. He had heard that I had come to Kenya to help serve at the annual camp that Hope Venture holds for the current crop of sponsored students. When the staff there informed Jackson that I had come to Narok, he walked 18 miles to deliver a single message to me: “Thank you. You saved my life. I shudder to think where I would be right now if you had not sponsored me.” The former sponsored student was blessing his sponsor, far more than I could ever have imagined.

Even though life is still extremely hard for Jackson—most of his money goes for paying medical bills for his ill mother—he is so thankful for the gift of student sponsorship that gave him hope when he and his mother had none left.

I looked down at his shoes again, still amazed at their excellent condition. I was reminded how God preserved the Israelites’ clothing as they wandered through the wilderness for forty years. “For forty years I led you through the wilderness, yet your clothes and sandals did not wear out” (Deuteronomy 29:5).

While Jackson’s nondescript tennis shoes did not bear a Converse star, Adidas’ stripes, or the Nike “goddess of victory” swoosh, inside those shoes are the feet of a victorious servant.

There are no words to express my humble thankfulness in having had the privilege of being Jackson’s sponsor. The impact of his faithful prayers for me over these years will only be known on the other side of Glory. My prayer now is that I would continue stepping towards gratitude, as Jackson has done and continues to do.