This is the story of two boys, half a world apart. Two boys who have never met, and probably never will, but have become brothers in some small sense.
It’s a story about two boys, but it’s also a story about God. God who saw Michael in rural Uganda and Eric in urban Minneapolis and thought maybe they could help each other out.
I’ll never forget the day we met Michael in Rakai Uganda, 2009 He was 14 years old. A little boy with a man inside. We were there to celebrate the completion of World Vision’s transforming work in this forgotten place of AIDS and dirty water and parentless families.
Michael had traveled fifteen miles on dusty African roads and stood straight and tall, shoulders back, dressed in his best sky blue shirt and khaki pants. He spoke to John and me in perfect English:
“I have come to you on behalf of myself and my schoolmates. We need your continued help. It is my dream to become a doctor, but without help I will not be able to attend the schools I need to. I beseech you (yes, that’s what he said :)). Please do not leave us. I want to be the best doctor in Africa.”
Michael was articulate, brave, and clearly a leader. A remarkable young man. There was no way we could turn our backs on his need, so along with another couple we committed to pay his tuition through medical school.
Soon after that, back here in urban Minneapolis I started tutoring Eric, a young boy, 10 years old, who had moved here from Togo. Struggling to learn everything in his fifth language. Times tables, american culture, the harsh realities of cruel middle school boys.
Unlike Michael, Eric didn’t have dreams other than making it through the baffling days at school.
Still, like Michael I saw a core strength in Eric. A tiny spark of courage and hope that enabled him to keep showing up, like the robins who seem to have irrationally appeared back in Minnesota in spite of our April snow.
And this is when God showed up. In a whisper.
I felt like He was saying, “Michael should mentor Eric.”
Michael, now 18, in Uganda with his dream, was meant to inspire Eric, now 14, struggling to find his way in Minneapolis.
And so I introduced them. Through letters.
And Michael, a young man who has never traveled more than 125 miles from his home, never seen the ocean or ridden an airplane, is challenging and inspiring Eric, a world away.
I helped Eric write Michael about his life here in America and here is some of what Michael wrote back:
I think you are surprised that I know your name and you wonder how I got it. You should know that both I and you share some very important people in our lives. One of those people is Aunt Laura. I live in Uganda and she told me that you came from Togo. So you and I are brothers because we were born in the same area (continent). For me I have not travelled to any other country and I am happy for you because you are in America.
Aunt Laura told me that you are a very great boy and she is proud of you. She is always praying for you so that you can get used to the American system of education and American sports. We both trust you will soon do well, but you should be working hard and have a very positive attitude about what you are doing. Pray also as you word hard and God will help you learn what is difficult. Share with Aunt Laura whatever is hard for you. I am sure she will help you.
When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, Eric had written “a policeman because they get to drive cars fast.” He had also said he likes reading about the bad guys in the Bible from a book I gave him. This is part of Mike’s response:
It is not bad to become a police officer, but you also need to continuously seek for career guidance from Auntie Laura and Uncle John so that you can know other professions in life.
While at school, we receive a spiritual leader who leads us in fellowship and when I go back home, I go to church every Sunday just like you. Which bad guys do you always read about from the Bible? What things did they do?
For me, I always read about good guys like Samuel, Moses, and David, a young man who was loved by God and made king. From these I get inspiration and think you also need it. Please try to read about these three good guys. You will find it important. Tell me what you learn.
None of this life stuff for teenage boys is easy.
Neither have fathers in their lives. I don’t know what the future will hold. But very time I see Eric to tutor him and every time I write Michael, I try to leave them with these words, “Never forget, you are an amazing young man and God can do great things through you.”
Awhile ago, after I had said that to Eric at the end of our tutoring time in a room removed from the other kids who are prone to tease and distract, he went downstairs where they were playing pool, and he approached the head of the tutoring program. I prompted, “Eric, tell him.”
Shyly he said, “I am an amazing young man.”
I think that Michael is helping him believe that too. And I pray it is making a difference.
Lord, thank you that on days that feel bland and monotonous and like oatmeal without the brown sugar, You – Your holy hands are working behind the scenes, redeeming and weaving together lives that You see are bright and beautiful and deserve hope.