Benaia Freire Furtado had already been through a lot when she was first sponsored as a child in Brazil.
Her father had recently died, preceded by a close friend only six months before. She had also moved with her mother and brother to a new city, where they didn’t have friends or family. She was only 6 years old.
“I would think, ‘OK, Lord, you want to take everyone, is that it?’” she remembers.
After her father died, Benaia didn’t speak for four months. They had a close bond, and he was her model for God’s love. His work as a pastor kept him busy, but he played with his children often and prayed with them before bed each night. Benaia’s memories of him have had a deep impact on her life.
“My dad was an awesome dad, and I know he’s with the Lord and I’m grateful,” she says. “But at the age of 6, you don’t always understand completely what’s going on.”
The gap that Benaia’s father left behind was large. The family struggled emotionally, and they faced financial hardships. It was hard for Benaia’s mother to pay for necessities; it was nearly impossible to pay her children’s school fees.
When Benaia and her brother were accepted into the Nazarene Compassionate Ministries child sponsorship program, though, education became possible.
“God blessed us,” Benaia says. “We were blessed to receive help from someone we did not know.”
Love from afar
Not long after her father’s death, the family moved to the city of Itajaí, Brazil, in response to her mother’s call to ministry. As a child, the move felt like another blow to Benaia. Without friends, she often felt very lonely. Sponsorship enabled her to get an education, which was crucial to ensuring opportunities for a hopeful future, but it also provided an important relational aspect.
“It’s something that brings you hope because you know there is someone caring for you,” Benaia says. “The children that are sponsored today are aware there is someone caring for them, and it brings hope because God will … send other people to help each other. It’s really important.”
Benaia’s sponsor was Judy Veigl, who works at the Nazarene Global Ministry Center in Kansas, USA. Judy says she always had a heart for missions, and it was exciting to be connected with someone in another country.
“God takes something someone else does and makes it huge for someone,” Judy says. “It’s a privilege to be a part of it.”
Judy has been sponsoring children for many years. She believes education is vital to the development of children. She tries to remember the excitement she used to feel starting school and hopes to be able to help generate that for children across the world.
“It feels like we all could and should do our part—whatever that is—to help someone,” Judy says.
The part Judy played in Benaia’s life ended up being significant. Today, Benaia works as a teacher in part because of her experience as a sponsored child. Through sponsorship, her mother could ensure that her daughter was able to graduate high school. Benaia was even able to continue on to get a post-secondary specialization in education afterward.
Of course, at the time, Benaia had no intention of studying education. She felt God may be calling her to be a teacher, but she intended to get a degree in communications instead. Then she received an unexpected scholarship from the government. The catch? The scholarship was only for students pursuing an education degree. For months, she was devastated.
Now, though, she is grateful and says she can’t imagine doing anything else.
“I believe everything has a purpose in the kingdom of God, and what I am today—it is a result from my childhood,” Benaia says. “Today, I work with children in order to reciprocate what was done for me, and I love it. I will never be able to return what was done for me, but a simple way [to try] is to work with children.”
Two lives come together
Judy and Benaia never met in person, and Judy had no idea what impact her sponsorship had on Benaia’s life into adulthood. Many years had passed since Benaia finished high school and the sponsorship ended, and the two hadn’t kept in touch.
Unexpectedly, they reconnected on June 25, 2017. Benaia and Judy were both at the Church of the Nazarene’s quadrennial General Assembly. During the Sunday evening service, Benaia was invited to come on stage. She knew she had been asked to talk about her experience with child sponsorship. What she didn’t know is that Judy would be invited on stage, too. The meeting was a surprise to Benaia, who had just told everyone in attendance that she continues to pray for Judy to this day.
“It was unlike any experience I’ve ever had,” Judy says of the meeting. “[It was] very special and rewarding—to see in person someone you were connected with long ago …”
--Republished with permission from the Winter 2017 edition of NCM Magazine