Monday, August 31, 2009

Why am I Blessed?

One question I’ve always asked God, and myself, since I was a kid is, “Why am I so blessed?” “How come I was born in this wealthy nation with a loving family and numerous possessions, while someone across the world was born in a poor community with no toys, no access to education, and no parents?”

A few months ago, I was knocked off my feet. I had been noticing that I was complaining about what my mom made for dinner or that there was ‘nothing’ in the house to eat (even though there was just didn’t sound good to me). Throughout my time of complaining, I kept being reminded that I am abundantly blessed. That little voice inside my head (I call the Holy Spirit) kept coming back and convicting me. Then one night after I took a swig of cold bottled water and as I shut off the kitchen light, using the automatic switch, and as I walked across the tiled floor, up on the carpeted staircase and into my luxurious room with painted walls, a queen sized bed, and an expensive drum set, I got a glimpse of a small mud hut with dirt floors, a curtain for a door, and one single mattress for a bed. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. I felt ashamed for having all this stuff. For having a room bigger than what some people have as a house. I went to bed that night with a heavy heart.

It isn’t fair. I’m no better than a girl my age living across the globe in Africa. So why is it that I can go to the store whenever I want to buy food and miscellaneous stuff while this girl has to walk miles and miles just to get water? (dirty water at that)

I don’t know why. I don’t understand it. I don’t think anybody here on earth does. What I do know is that I can help. I’ve always heard the term I’ve been “blessed to be a blessing.” Maybe I can’t build this girl a big house complete with air conditioning, a large comfortable bed, and a computer. But I can give her what is important. I can give her access to food, clean water, and education. I can send her love all the way from my home in Arizona. I can sacrifice a few movie nights to provide this girl with a future.

Tara K.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's not about the bananna bread!

We have new neighbors. Well, actually they've been here over 2 months so they're not really "new" anymore. Since the day they moved in my kids have been asking if we could go over and welcome them to the neighborhood. Of course, having every intention of doing so, I told them we'd make some banana bread and take it over. The first week end came and I said we should probably let them get settled a bit longer before parading over there. The second week end came and we were too "busy". The third week end came, and so did another excuse. You get the picture. As much as I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, and as much as I really did want the new neighbors to feel welcomed, I continued to allow silly excuses stop me... until two days ago!

My kids asked (for probably the 50th time) if we could go meet the new neighbors. I immediately started in with the excuse that it would be a better thing to do on the week end, and besides, I hadn't made the banana bread yet. My 9 year old's response stunned me! Without missing a beat, he fired back with "Mom, it's not about the banana bread". My 6 year old then followed that up with "yeah, we can just give them friendship". Talk about a one-two punch! I very quickly realized that I was out of excuses and the only thing left to do was to get over there!

So, I set aside whatever else we had going on, made that banana bread, and as soon as my husband got home from work we made the walk to the "new" neighbor's house. What a blessing it turned out to be! They invited us in and told us their story of moving here from another state, then shared that they really don't know anyone in the area. It meant so much to them that we had gone out of our way to come over that the mom even got tears in her eyes.

I left there that evening feeling bad that we hadn't done it sooner, but so glad that we finally had! The whole experience was an incredible reminder that we won't always be asked to do the comfortable or easy thing, but doing it anyway is the right thing, and we might just get surprised with an amazing blessing in the process.

It makes me think of the thousands of people who've participated in Hoops of Hope events around the world. Is shooting hundreds or thousands of free throws easy, or comfortable? No, not for most of us anyway. But, is doing something to help others the right thing to do? Absolutely! So, whether you've shot some free throws to help AIDS orphans in Africa, or ran a marathon to help find a cure for cancer, or even made some banana bread for your neighbor - whatever it is, let me just say thank you! Way to think beyond yourself and act it out to help make a difference in our world! You're an inspiration, and I hope that you've been as blessed as I feel I have been for stepping out and doing it even when it might not have been convenient or easy. Way to go!


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

5 Year old Collect Thousands of Toys

Thought I'd share a story that was sent to us this week. What an inspiring 5 year old girl! She is definitely doing something bigger than herself. Check out the video below

VIDEO - Click Here


Friday, August 21, 2009

The "Wish People"

My family and I had the privilege this past week of taking a meal to a friend who is sick. Our friend greeted us at the door, while holding on to her daddy’s leg to help steady herself. We were so excited to see her even standing, let alone answering the door! We asked her how she was feeling and she didn’t really respond, just put her head against her dad. You see, our friend is only 5 years old, and has an aggressive form of brain cancer. It’s hard for her to walk, talk, or even to smile. I write this because what happened next brings tears to my eyes even as I think of it now. We asked her how her day had gone and she said “The wish people are coming” then gave us a big grin! Her dad quickly explained that the Make A Wish Foundation was sending representatives to their house that very evening and they were going to grant her a wish. It was all that little Kate could talk about. She was so excited!

It got me thinking about the “wish people” and wondering how that all got started. I mean this is a huge organization that has granted over 180 thousand wishes to kids all around the world! How did they begin? What I discovered should not have surprised me. Much like Hoops of Hope, the idea of the Make A Wish Foundation is traced back to one person, who wanted to help one child. A little boy named Chris wanted desperately to become a police officer so a family friend helped him make that dream a reality, just days before he lost his battle to leukemia. That one simple act of kindness helped give a dying child an experience he had always dreamed of, and sparked a movement that we now know as the “wish people”.

One man helping a sick child fulfill a dream. One kid in his back yard with a basketball. These are people who took their best shot, and in doing so have changed lives, and inspired countless others to do the same. It’s simple really, and humbling.

So, what’s your best shot? The answer might be simpler than you think.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

World Humanitarian Day

It seems like there is a "day" set aside for almost everything. Seriously, just take a look at most calendars and you'll find special days throughout the year. But I doubt you'll find a calendar that has "World Humanitarian Day" listed on it, but that's exactly what today, August 19th is recognized as. On December 11, 2008, the United Nations adopted today as World Humanitarian Day to honor those who have lost their lives helping others.

In honor of the day, I decided to look closer at what it really means to be a "Humanitarian". I found a lot of definitions, most of which describe a humanitarian as a person "actively engaged in promoting human welfare". A humanitarian is someone who "has concern for helping to improve the welfare and happiness of people". Wow, this could describe so many people, couldn't it? Think about it...pastors, teachers, police, public servants? All are humanitarians aren't they? Aren't they actively involved in helping to improve the welfare and happiness of people?

Well, this got me thinking about all of the people who selflessly volunteer thousands of hours to help host Hoops of Hope events around the world. There isn't a day that goes by that everyone close to Hoops of Hope isn't completely blown away by the passionate and serving people that work with us. These are people that don't get paid, are often not thanked properly, work tireless hours, all in the name of helping someone who they will probably never meet. What makes someone give like this for nothing in return? If you really want the answer to that question, you're going to need to volunteer somewhere. Why, because everyone of these volunteers can tell you that is better to give than to receive.

So for all of you who have volunteered one or a thousand hours to Hoops of Hope, I want to say "thank you". Thank you for giving of yourself; for doing something bigger than yourself. And, just so you know, we think of you everyday :)

If you want to volunteer, just go to our website and click the volunteer tab. We'd love to have you.


Monday, August 17, 2009

School Days

It's Monday morning and you're up before your alarm goes up. You dress in your favorite new outfit and shoes, have the one healthy breakfast of the year and then pose for a picture with your new backpack and lunchbox in the same spot you have for the past several years. For many, this describes the first day of school.

For far too many though, the first day of school isn't ever a reality. There is no new outfit, shoes, breakfast or new backpack. Some don't even have the opportunity to go to school.

Education however, is the best hope to breaking out of poverty. Education is so highly valued in the Twachiyanda Region of Zambia that children walk miles to attend the Johnathan Sim Legacy School. Many children travel so far that a return trip home isn't even possible, resulting in overnight stays inside the classrooms.

This year, Hoops of Hope has partnered with World Vision to build 4 dormitories for the Johnathan Sim Legacy School. The first dorm, an all girls dorm, is very close to completion, with 3 other dorms to be opened in the near future.

Hoops of Hope is also partnering with the Revolve Tour and World Vision to provide orphan backpacks. For as little as a $25 donation, a child can be provided with a backpack, basic hygiene & school supplies, and a warm blanket.

Giving children an opportunity to stay in school by providing shelter and supplies are two ways Hoops of Hope is helping provide orphan children combat the devastating effects of poverty. Our hope is these children will one day become the leaders of their community and country, resulting in a radical transformation away from poverty, HIV/AIDS, and death.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Take Your Best Shot

I recently read Austin Gutwein’s first book (I’m sure there are more to come), Take Your Best Shot. It tells the story of the creation of Hoops of Hope and Austin’s own heart for Africa from the time he was nine years old. The book is written for teens, so if you’re not a teen, it should be a quick read. It is filled with some great stories that Austin has experienced in the last few years while experiencing parts of the world that most of us know nothing about.

I was encouraged and again impressed by what this nine year old kid was willing to try. No matter how many times I hear the story, I am still so proud of Austin and the man that he is becoming (he’s now 15). You should check this book out, especially if you have kids. We could use a few more Austins in this world.

Here are a few quotes that stood out to me:
“…doing something bigger than yourself truly requires having Someone bigger than yourself inside you!”

“…those kids seeing themselves for the very first time. That’s a little funny isn’t it? Because here in America, we have the exact opposite problem. We are so used to seeing who we are on the outside that we never find out who we are on the inside.”

“Doing something new that’s bigger than yourself doesn’t depend on how old you are. It depends on how available you are.”

Jeremy J.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Simple but life changing

A few months ago, my husband Jeremy and I along with some of our friends went to a huge Christian concert here in Phoenix where we were all challenged by the bands to start living for something beyond ourselves and to begin making a difference in the world. They shared with us the impact that can be made by sponsoring just one child each month, a child in desperate need of hope. We were told that we could be the ones to bring that hope to a child and his family by just giving.

Jeremy and I decided that we wanted to be a part of this, that we wanted to make a difference in someone's life, even if this someone was across the globe, and even if this someone was someone that we might never meet. If our small monthly donation could be enough to change the life of just one person and his family, why wouldn't we want to be a part of that?

Sometimes, I think we feel that the need is just so great that there can't possibly be anything we could do to make a difference. Even if we tried to help, our efforts would be nothing more than just a drop in the bucket, right? Wrong! What Jeremy and I have begun to see through this experience is that, yes, the need is far greater than we can meet on our own, but we can change the world of one person. We can give them the hope that they need, hope that will get them through one day at a time.

This "small thing" for us has been a "huge thing" for a little boy in Tanzania that we like to call Naj.

-Cherie W.

Friday, August 7, 2009

New Friend

I'll admit, I wasn't looking to make any "new friends" yesterday. Call me mean, selfish or whatever, it's the truth. I was on the last leg of a long day of flying. I was tired and just wanted to sit back in my chair, put on my noise-canceling headphones and get some sleep. That was before I read Andy Andrews tweet which read something like "Lord, I am traveling today. Create i me a noticer's heart so I can touch those I encounter along the way".

I decided I would give a quick "heading back to Phoenix?" question to the guy sitting next to me before turning on my headphones. His answer was a simple "yes" but the accent is what caught my attention. It was an unmistakable African accent so I probed. His name is James and he is from Sierra Leone Africa. James' story is all to common, yet all to unknown to most of the world. He fled Sierra Leone in 1992 amidst the civil war which ravaged that country. After spending 5 years in Gambia, the UN cleared the way for James and his children to head to the US. James is 45 years old and just received his associates degree. He is now studying social work at ASU and hopes to return to Sierra Leone one day.

I asked James his impression of the US after being here for the past 12 years. He simply said, "the US is truly the land of opportunity". By opportunity, James went on to say, "you can always find opportunity. Opportunity to eat, opportunity to work, opportunity to receive an education, opportunity to sleep in shelter", etc. "In Sierra Leone, it is simply survival". Each and every day James told me the people wake up with the goal to simply survive. Yet, he said, "the people in Sierra Leone are so happy. They are so close, and just enjoy life".

I also asked James about the increase in Christianity that I've seen across Africa. James told me that he has "never seen anything increase as fast as he has seen Christianity increase. Why, because when all you have is God, and you rely on God for everything, when you lay all of your hope in God, He becomes your everything"

I told James that I was going to write a few paragraphs from our talk in this blog. He asked me for the website and when I gave it to him, he was shocked. He knows of Hoops of Hope, knows of Austin and follows the difference all of you are making for the people of Africa. He said what encouragement all of you are to his people and wanted me to say thank you to you. So on behalf of my new friend, James, thank you for being a part of Hoops of Hope. And thank you Andy for encouraging me to put down my headphones and look outside my world.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hoops of Hope in Guideposts Magazine

At age 9, Austin Gutwein knew he wanted to help orphans living halfway across the world.
So he did something about it.
In 2004, the Mesa, Arizona, resident had been touched by a video telling the story of African kids orphaned by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Despite his young age, he organized a fundraiser—similar to a walkathon—in which he shot basketball free throws to earn $3,000 for the World Vision charity.
After this early success, Gutwein set his sights even higher. The young basketball fan organized a free throw competition called Hoops of Hope, in which anyone can take part, regardless of ability.
Each year, schools across the country organize Hoops of Hope free-throw marathons which raise money for projects across Africa. To date, more than $800,000 has been raised to build schools, medical clinics, and orphan centers, as well as providing bicycles and mosquito nets.
Austin, now 14, told CBS News that watching other children get excited about helping others through Hoops of Hope has been an inspiration.
"It's just awesome to see kids get so motivated about shooting hoops," he said. "If given the opportunity, kids will blow you away."