Monday, 23 October 2017

Butterfly wings and big jumpers

The other day I was surfing aimlessly - I mean, writing something profound - and I was distracted  by a ping from my inbox. As every writer knows, a ping from the inbox requires immediate attention, so I answered the call.

It was an alert to say that there had been a message from the child we sponsor in Uganda.

His name is Brian, he's ten years old and he likes football and animals. He's doing well in school, and passed his exam last year. He wants to be 'an army man' when he leaves school. Or maybe a doctor. 

I don't write to Brian anywhere near as often as I should. For someone who likes words and uses more than her fair share most days, I don't give enough to my little boy over the sea. 

Today I sent him a card since it's his birthday in November. I sent it early as it takes a while for everything to be translated and sent over to Africa to find him in the tiny one-room mud and corrugated iron hut that he shares with his mother and grandmother in the dusty little village in rural Uganda. I chose an online card with silhouettes of footballing children and had the opportunity to write 1000 words to greet him. 

A thousand words. With a thousand words I am usually only just getting started. I am not known for my brevity and quite often like to say something, then say it again in a different way, perhaps even a third time, just to get the message across. But these thousand words were hard to find, like all the others I've sent since we were first introduced to Brian a few years ago.

How can it be so difficult?  Well, it might be because Brian is a boy, and I am used to daughters. It might be that the culture difference is so great that I am unsure what kind of references to our life he would understand, or whether they'd be appropriate. It could be that I am aware that he won't get my letter for two to three months after I write it, and so perhaps I should be sending Christmas greetings soon, even as I lament the ridiculously early appearance of a mince pie stand in Morrisons? 

It's all three of these, and something else. Although I have photographs of Brian on the kitchen wall and I see him many times a day, I find it hard to grasp that we have a relationship. An energetic, vibrant little soul learning about the world and his place in it; a world that looks so different from mine. He works hard at school because where he lives it is a blessing and a privilege to be educated, not a burden or a hardship, as you might believe if you followed my children, trudging off in a morning. He eats a repetitive diet of maize and beans and steamed plantain. (This information is all available on the website. Brian doesn't talk about food very much). 

In the last letter he sent to me, Brian asked me to pray that he and his family would be healthy and have enough to eat. 

I sit here telling you about Brian in Uganda with a coffee and a Hobnob right next to me, casserole in the slow cooker, and breakfast pots in the dishwasher. 

How to write to my little boy across the sea? I find it difficult.

Someone once told me that if a butterfly flaps its wings on one side of the world, there's a gale that blows on the other side. I have no idea what that means, or what physics principle it illustrates, but as I sit here and contemplate my little boy with the big smile and bare feet, I find myself asking God to take the sparse, ill-informed, well-intentioned but inadequate words that I put together and make them into the thing that Brian needs to hear.

I want him to grasp somehow that there's a family thousands of miles away that think of him often. (More often than we put pen to paper).  This family have his photo on their wall and have sent him theirs; we took a very squashed selfie of the four of us just for him. I often wonder if he still has it, what he thought as he looked at our faces. There's a middle-aged mummy of girls who looks out of the picture and contemplates the little boy she never had. We wonder at how different his life is from ours. We don't know what to say.

I tell him about the weather. I send him drawings that the children have done, if I badger them to draw something. We tell him about sports and family birthdays and favourite animals. 

I tell him he is loved, remembered, prayed for. I tell him he has done well; he has a good brain for passing that exam. That he should work hard and dream dreams. I tell him that he is growing up to be a fine man and the world needs people like him. I tell him that he can make a difference, whether he's an army man or a doctor or something else. I tell him to be kind and brave and thoughtful and determined. I tell him he's never alone because he has Jesus. I try to find different ways to tell him these things. 

What if the butterfly wings of our hesitant letters create a wind that makes Brian stand up a little straighter? What if knowing that some strange well-fed family on the other side of the world looks at his picture and says a prayer for him helps him to feel less lonely? What if he is indeed encouraged to work hard and become an army man, and leads his troops with justice and compassion? What if he becomes a doctor and brings healing in his remote community? What if he tells other people about Jesus because it was in His name that a family from England sent blessings? 

What if Brian's prayers in his halting, mixed up English, were answered and we are blessed beyond measure because a little boy in Uganda asked the Lord to bless us? 

What if we learn more from him about patience and perseverance and truth than he learns from us? 

What if he has much more to teach us about the true nature of wealth and joy than we have to share with him? 

I must learn about Uganda so that I understand Brian's life a little more. I must stop telling him that it's cold over here and we have big jumpers. I must stop focusing on the gulf between us in terms of culture and material wealth and look instead at what brings us together. 

He is my child, yes. He signs his letters, 'Your child, Brian'. How amazing is that? My little boy. Not so little - he's growing up tall and strong. He'll be eleven soon and his shoulders are definitely getting broader. 

He's my brother too. My brother in Christ, with his own struggles and triumphs. I have no words other than those that Jesus gives me. May he give me the words Brian needs to help him in whatever way we can. I want to encourage, inspire, support, affirm. I want him to know that he has touched my life too - that our connection with him is the blessing he asks Lord Jesus for at the end of his letters. 

'Love from your child', from a mud hut in a remote village in Uganda. That takes my words away.

Look at his smile. 

More words, Lord. I need more words.

Check out Compassion UK to find out about kids like Brian. Consider sponsoring someone, if you can, but in any case, have a look at their little faces and say a prayer for them. Say what you'd like to say to them to God, and I reckon He'll pass it on. 

Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire, England, with her husband, two daughters and her mum.

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims, breeds Aloe Vera plants and collects ceramic penguins.

Helen has a blog: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith.

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01


  1. Made me a bit weepy. We have Compassion children that we don't write to often enough, too. And I never know what to write, either.

    1. Thanks for that, Amy. Glad it's not just me!

  2. Just wow Helen.... Made me pretty emotional. You're doing great, keep going xxx

    1. You're lovely, Mandy. Thank you very much. x

  3. What a beautiful post, thank you Helen. Brian is blessed to have you as his sponsor and you are blessed to have Brian. I am sure your words will inspire him.

    1. Oh, I hope so. Thank you for your lovely encouraging comment. x

  4. Oh Helen, Such a powerful and moving post. 'Your child, Brian' That is how I should sign off when I finish my prayers/letters to God. Your child, Deborah. You have described your feelings and challenges in this relationship tenderly and beautifully. Thank you for your compassionate and inspirational words xx

    1. Thank you, Deborah. Yes, you're right. We're all His girls and boys. Definitely worth remembering. Thanks for leaving such a lovely comment. x