Prayers and Planes

by Laura Alsum   |  Photos by Ty Van Rensburg

Grief turns to joy as sponsorship in Zimbabwe brings new purpose to a woman’s life.

With eyes closed and hands folded, a boy knelt in prayer.

Dear God, this is Lionel from Zimbabwe. I know you hear me, and I know you love me. We don’t have much, and life can be very difficult. Please, God, can you help my dream come true? I love you.

Lionel lives in Bulawayo, a city that sits against a stark brown landscape dotted with green trees and worn-down buildings. Diseases like HIV/AIDS have taken parents from their children. Unemployment is high. For Lionel and his mother, each day living in poverty was full of uncertainty, and his dream of becoming a pilot felt insurmountable. With no regular income or family support to change their situation, Lionel called on God. Who would see him? Who would show him there is hope?


More than 8,000 miles away in Florida, Wanda lifted her voice in worship. Then, with eyes closed and hands folded, she prayed. Dear God, I miss my husband. But I know you are with me and love me. Would you please guide me? Can you help me minister to someone in need? I love you.

In 2005, Wanda lost her husband to cancer. “It threw me into a big depression,” she says. “It was the darkest place I’ve ever been, but I knew that I had to do something. So I started seeking. I just fell in love with God.”

Wanda began attending Celebration Church in Florida, and one Sunday she heard a presentation from the nonprofit OneChild asking for sponsors. Wanda knew this was what the Lord was calling her to do. Lionel’s packet was the first – and only – one she saw that day. She felt an immediate pull toward the little boy in a red jacket with a shy smile. Serving this child was God’s answer to her prayer. And receiving help from OneChild and Wanda was an answer to Lionel’s prayer.

Over the next few years, Wanda and Lionel kept in regular contact, writing letters and sending photos. Every night, they prayed for each other — with thousands of miles separating them. But their relationship was growing, developing into a life-changing opportunity that would allow them to heal and thrive in ways they never thought possible.

“Please, God, can you help my dream come true?”

Lionel’s mother had been struggling and could barely afford to provide for them on the inconsistent wages she earned working odd jobs. Through OneChild, Lionel received essential resources, made new friends, and learned about Jesus. Moreover, as Lionel’s mother became involved with the OneChild Hope Center, she was given the opportunity of employment and now works as a Child Champion. She has a regular income to support her son, and they are part of a loving and caring community where Lionel is cherished and encouraged.

lionel-and-his-sponsor-wanda lionel-and-wandaDuring their visit, Wanda saw Lionel’s school, visited his home, and brought all the pictures of him she had saved over the years. “This sponsorship,” she says, “went from that little photo, and through the years, I never beyond my wildest dreams thought I could take it to this level.”

Meanwhile, as Lionel and Wanda continued writing to each other, Lionel started asking a regular question. “When am I going to see you, Granny? I want you to come to Zimbabwe.”

Wanda’s response was always the same. “Someday I will. I promise you, someday I will.”

In June 2018, Wanda made her promise a reality. As her plane touched down on the dry Zimbabwean soil, she was overwhelmed with gratitude, and tears filled her eyes. Wanda then arrived at a clean white school building. Standing in the garden, she shook her head in disbelief and awe that God had brought her to this point. After years of sharing letters and prayers, she would at last meet Lionel face-to-face. She felt a tap on her shoulder. Wanda turned around to find the same smiling boy from the photo that had inspired her years ago.

See the moment Lionel and Wanda first met

After a long embrace, Wanda held Lionel’s face in her hands. “I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time. God does answer prayers.”

“Yes,” Lionel replied. “He’s a faithful God.”

Lionel’s mom says she would not have been able to send him to school without Wanda’s help. Lionel is able to go to a good school, and his mom doesn’t have to worry about pulling him out because she can’t afford his school fees.

The next day, Wanda visited Lionel’s house. He had kept every letter and photo she had given him. This tangible evidence of her love was a constant reminder to Lionel that he was seen – that God had heard him and had a plan for his life. As Wanda and Lionel sat down together, she encouraged him to do well in school if he wanted to become a pilot and to study his Bible every day. Then she read from one of her letters. Your family is always in my prayers. Someday we will meet each other. It will be a real happy day.

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