Creative Connections

Jen Johnson and her family have been child sponsors and Rice & Beans Month participants for many years. Even so, the past “year like no other” has given them meaningful new insights into connecting with their sponsored kids during Rice & Beans Month and all year long.

“Send me addresses of people you think would like letters from me.” As I read this note from my daughter Kaya, who is very much a teenager of the digital age, I could not help thinking it needed a credit at the bottom: This message has been brought to you by the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020. All four of our kids have discovered the joys of snail mail this past year. Porch drop-offs, driveway parties, online game nights, meal or treat deliveries, and outdoor “carport hangs” have replaced a lot of our previous modes of connecting with people. Connecting didn’t go away, but it did change. And it got a whole lot more creative.

Amidst the challenges of distance, it has been a gift to feel more strongly connected to the two kids we sponsor in Tanzania: Anjelina and Baraka. We’ve always noticed the ways their lives are different from ours. It’s day for us while it’s night for them. When it’s cold and wet for us, it’s hot and dry for them. We’re concerned about the impact of accumulating too much stuff, they’re concerned about whether they will have enough to meet their basic needs. But now for the past year, we’ve had a very significant experience in common. Covid has impacted their daily rhythms, too. Their experiences of “normal” have also completely changed. Somehow, from opposite sides of the world, it feels like we have navigated this major alteration of life… together.      

The Johnson kids show the most recent letters and photos from the kids they sponsor in Tanzania.

All these new experiences of connection have given us fresh perspective on our impact in the lives of others. Our creative teenage girls now see their artwork as a way to love and encourage others. Our kind and friendly boys have bonded with an elderly neighbor through little notes and chats and gift exchanges. They probably don’t realize how much this brightens up her days as she grieves the loss of her son, but they sure know how special she is to them! Transforming the carport next door into an “outdoor living room” has allowed us to host small gatherings and celebrate special milestones. Whether the distance is 6 feet apart or miles and time zones away, we can connect across it. Those connections make a difference.

All of this reinforces our desire to participate in Rice & Beans Month again this March. Changing our diet to mirror Anjelina and Baraka’s is another way to share life with them and their families. The minimizing of gatherings and marketplace activities in East Africa has severely limited vulnerable families’ ability to work and get food. Hunger and malnutrition are a huge threat. And we can help. Right from our own kitchen! By simplifying our meals we can save some money, donate it, and make sure that none of the kids in the Lahash Sponsorship Program go hungry because of this pandemic. We are in.

Anjelina waits for her turn to receive a heaping plate of rice and beans during Lahash Sponsorship Program gathering

We know we aren’t the only ones craving meaningful connections with others in this long season of distance, losses, and general depletion. So we pray that all of you are finding creative and surprising bridges across those gaps. If you’re looking for more, how about sponsoring a child through Lahash? Or participating in Rice & Beans Month during March? These two decisions have changed our family for the better while impacting the lives of others for the better, too. The other side of the world is about as distant as you can get… and you can reach it from right where you are.

Jen Johnson is on staff with Lahash as a writer and editor. She lives in Portland with her husband Keith and their four kids. They look forward to the day they can travel as a family to East Africa with Lahash again, but in the meantime they are focused on distance learning, homeschooling, working from home, and taking care of their pandemic puppy.

For more information about Rice & Beans Month:

For more information about the Lahash Child Sponsorship Program: