Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Second Grade, Here We Come!


You’ve heard of a “good problem to have”, but I think ours qualifies as a fantastic problem to have. HUGS for Tomorrow has grown from a small feeding program in the village to a fully accredited school, recognized by the Malawian government, and now in need of a fourth classroom. The preschoolers who have been with us since 2018 are waiting for a second-grade curriculum, teacher, and building. We will work on the syllabus and the hiring of a new instructor, but we need your help to make the classroom a reality as soon as possible. We trust you’ll agree that this is indeed a wonderful dilemma to face as we forge into the new year. 


Now is the perfect time to break ground on a new building. We believe God will be faithful in providing what we need and that you will be generous as you always are, so we’ve given Snoden the green light to go ahead with hiring workers to plan and build. We’ll do as much as money permits, and we plan to work as funding comes in. We’re all super excited to think that we could have a preschool through second grade academy by this spring. We’re ready if you are!


Snoden has made this video to ask for your help in providing shelter for our "learners". Please give any amount no matter how small towards the goal of $3,000. Every little bit adds up pretty quickly with a project this size, so don’t hesitate to donate even what’s in your coin jar. Thank you so much for your support and for being the champions of this worthy cause. We love you and pray for God to richly bless you as you pour your prayers and finances into these precious children. 


Send a tax-deductible donation here:

HUGS for Tomorrow

P.O. Box 1816 

Azle, Texas 76098


Or make a tax-deductible PayPal donation here.





Sunday, October 16, 2022

BILLY


(Many of you know that John's brother Billy recently passed away. Some have asked how it happened, and we haven't been very vocal about it. This has been a difficult week for the whole family, and we've needed some time to process together. John asked me to write something to share with you, so I chose to prepare something to say to the family yesterday at his memorial service and post that for you today. I hope it answers your questions and blesses you in some way. Photo: John's dad, sister Gina, sister Janette, brother Billy, mom, John)


We’ve all come together to honor Billy’s life and to say goodbye. We talked about doing this at a funeral home, but that would seem awkward and out of character for this family. Instead, we’re meeting at the Henson house, where we always get together. Most holidays and special occasions as long as I can remember have been here. We talk and laugh and set out food and play cards and get into heated political discussions. It’s what we do. Then someone asks if Billy’s coming. Nobody ever knows for sure. “He said he would try to stop by later.” Sometimes he does. Usually he doesn’t. I find it fitting that the coroner hasn’t released his ashes and nobody has been able to guess if his remains would be available for this get together today. We’ll just have to do what we always do—talk a little about him and hope to see him soon. I think we will see him soon, not because he was a great person who earned his way into heaven, but because this life is short and Jesus is so very good even when we’re not.

What can we say about Billy that will honor his life today? All I can do is say what I know, which isn’t much, because even after knowing him for a quarter of a century, I hardly knew him at all. What I saw in him was that he was handsome but the lines on his face were too deep for his age. They couldn’t quite swallow up his big warm smile though. He was too skinny for his height, but he was as strong as an ox. His voice was rough and so were his hands. He didn’t keep his word, and he was not dependable. But, he was kind and gentle and never ever harsh. He was always good for a hug and a short, amiable chat. He told me a few times that he was trying hard to clean up his life. That’s where I think he went wrong. He was trying to do the impossible. He wasn’t equipped. His heart was too big and too tender. Maybe that’s why he turned to drugs to make life bearable—until they didn’t.

I’m afraid when people hear that Billy died of an overdose, they’re going to be quick to relegate his death to the dungheap of history where we put the useless and evil people. I’m afraid they’re going to make the mistake of thinking of him as a wasted life. I don’t believe there is such a thing. Billy had a whole family behind him, rooting for him to pull out of his addiction, and that struggle has not been wasted on any of us. It has changed us and, in some cases, brought us closer to God. Billy had parents and siblings and nieces and nephews who wanted him to get better. He even had children who counted on him to be the father they needed him to be. He just couldn’t do it, and I hope one day we’ll remember him for what he did offer and not for what he didn’t.

In the meantime, I hope we’ll all find some closure today and consider the reason we can honor Billy’s life in spite of the fact that it was cut short and never fulfilled the potential we all saw in him. God made Billy and he loved him, and because Billy believed that and was baptized, God has not only forgiven him, but He has made a place for him in heaven. So, our time today to say goodbye and honor his life is really more of a see-you-later because of Jesus. I suggest when we’re finished here, we set out food and play cards, but maybe skip the political discussions. Instead, maybe we could talk about the good things in life and how blessed we are to have each other now and the hope for eternity together in the future. Goodbye, Billy. We’ll stop by later.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

What I've Learned from Sourdough


Did you know that if you mix a little flour and water together and leave it at room temperature, it will become sourdough? Usually after only about twenty-four hours, the yeast in the air will begin to snack on the natural sugars in the flour, and the gooey mess will start to bubble and smell…well, sour. That’s when it’s alive and needs to be fed. As long as you keep giving it a little flour and a little water, it will keep growing and maturing into what baking connoisseurs call a local sourdough starter. There’s more to it if you want to turn it into delicious baked goods like bread, biscuits, and pancakes, but it all starts with those basic ingredients and it’s pretty simple. You should absolutely try this at home; it’s fascinating. 


If you keep feeding a sourdough starter, it will never die, outliving you and your children and their children. Each place has unique ambient yeast so local starters can vary greatly in flavor and aroma. Ever heard of the world famous San Francisco sourdough? That one’s been kept alive for over 170 years—that we know of. But, here’s the thing, if you leave any starter alone and stop feeding it, the yeast will continue to work its way through the entire mass of dough until it runs out of food, at which point it will completely devour the tangy and delicious contents of your mixture and turn it into a rotten, moldy clump of muck. It has to keep receiving fresh ingredients to be useful, which can be tedious and time consuming. You kind of have to love it or it will cease to exist.   


I recently started a fresh batch of sourdough in our new home in Nebraska. As I waited for the hungry little molecules to start nibbling their way into the mix, Ephesians 6:12 came to mind—the Scripture about not wrestling with flesh and blood but with the spirits of the air. Just like the yeast is hanging around waiting for something to devour, so are the demons that inhabit this world. It made me realize that the only thing keeping us from becoming that rotten, moldy clump of muck is God himself. He pours fresh ingredients into our souls through His word, as His spirit guides us through the gauntlet that awaits us at every turn. 


When I think about spirits of the air wanting to devour something sweet, I think of children and how vulnerable they are to the evils of this world. They rely on grown ups in their lives to protect them. Our little feeding program that has become a full-blown non-profit organization started out with kids who had no adults in their lives, abusive adults in their lives, or adults who love them but don’t have the resources or the knowledge to care for them properly. Now, Hugs for Tomorrow feeds, clothes, educates, and provides medical care for 125 kids every day, but none of that is the most important part of our ministry. Our main focus is to protect them from the evil that seeks to devour their precious little hearts, as we raise them up to know Jesus Christ and to be fortified with His Holy Spirit.


We greatly appreciate each and every financial gift we receive on behalf of these precious children, but those of you who give regularly are like the flour and water in a sourdough starter. You are largely responsible for the steady growth and maturity of the entire ministry. Thank you for your constant attention to this lengthy task that brings no immediate gratification. We know it can sometimes seem tedious, but as we all work together to consistently provide the fresh ingredients of God’s word for the children in the program over the months and years ahead, He is surely busy preparing a specific use for each of the men and women they will become in His Kingdom. That is certainly worth every ounce of our time and money and is very gratifying. We pray that as you pour into these kids, God will continue to pour a fresh measure of His spirit into your heart and mind.


Send a tax-deductible donation here:

HUGS for Tomorrow

P.O. Box 1816 

Azle, Texas 76098


Or make a tax-deductible PayPal donation here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Happy Birthday, Irene!


This little girl is a big deal! Her name is Irene, and she’s Snoden and Susan’s child. She turned one on July 31, which in and of itself is cause to celebrate, given the infant mortality rate in Malawi. Of every thousand babies born, seventy-six die before their first birthday. We’ve known some of them personally, and I don’t believe their deaths were necessary. In fact, we lose only five babies for every thousand born in the United States. That’s reason enough for us to do what we do through HUGS for Tomorrow, to give the kids in the village the same opportunities as our own children.  


We’re not highlighting Irene because she’s different or special—although we think she’s pretty great. She just happens to be the first baby born into our program who will be able to experience every level of what HUGS offers. God has so richly blessed our feeble efforts to help some underprivileged kids in the village that we’re now able to begin providing comprehensive care for a child even before she’s born. Snoden and Susan are some of the best parents we know, but they haven’t always had what they needed for their kids. Irene is named after Snoden’s mother, who was raising the oldest sibling when we met their family. They have since brought all their children home and done quite well, but Irene is their first to have received what we would consider a proper beginning. Susan had everything from prenatal care to regular checkups for Irene and herself since the day she found out she was pregnant. We want that for every family in the village. 


Irene has smooth chubby cheeks and clear brown eyes. She’s active and curious. Most babies in the village don’t look or behave like that. They’re smaller and less energetic. Of course, this beautiful family’s well being is worth all the resources that have been poured into HUGS, but God is multiplying our efforts, and so many more people are being affected than just this one family. Snoden and Susan were doing their best to serve their neighbors before we even met them. We believe God has seen their hearts and is rewarding them—and our program—in tangible ways. Now they just have more to share.


We’ve been away from Africa for longer than a year, so we haven’t met Irene in person yet. We’ve only experienced her adorable coos through video chats, but I can’t wait to hug her—and all the kiddos in our program—with my own arms. We plan to be there by the end of this year, at which point we hope to, among other things, spend some quality time with Snoden’s whole family and dream and plan together about all the ways we can take this program to the next level. We want every child to have the same chance for a good life and the same hope for a bright future as Irene. Together and with God’s blessing we can make that happen.


Send a tax-deductible donation here:

HUGS for Tomorrow

P.O. Box 1816 

Azle, Texas 76098


Or make a tax-deductible PayPal donation here.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Mwayi and His Family


Snoden is introducing Mwayi to you. He’s seven years old and a member of our feeding program and Kindergarten. His father died two years ago, and now his mother is terminally ill. He’s one of eight children. Mwayi has a quickly developing skin condition that you can clearly see in this video. We want to address that immediately, and two hundred dollars, the amount of money Snoden is asking for, should cover a trip to the hospital and a visit to a doctor. It may even cover his medication or a small procedure. However, as you may have deduced from the situation, we’re going to need more.

Friends and neighbors are helping the family while their mother is sick, but when she dies, the children will be orphans. As much as we want to take in all eight of them when that happens, we can’t. Not only is it probably best that family take care of family, but the government encourages it. The closest relatives will be responsible for them, whether they want to or not, and we would like to help lighten that burden—especially since sometimes these “unwanted burdens” are targets for abuse. Eight more children without more income can be devastating, so we want to be sure that wherever they go, there is enough money to provide for them.

This family is under an unbelievable amount of stress with their father gone and their mother as sick as she is. We will get Mwayi to the doctor even before you help us pay for that. It’s obviously urgent and cannot wait. But we’ll need your help to provide for these kids during the most difficult time of their lives. We would like to try to keep them together, but nobody in the village will be able to afford them all, and it’s likely they’ll be separated and possibly shipped to relatives far away from each other. We pray Mwayi will stay close and continue his education with us. It’s not up to us who they’ll live with, but we can offer to help pay for their food, clothes, and medical care until we’re no longer needed for that. Snoden is asking for two hundred dollars, but after learning more about this family, we realize this is just the tip of the iceberg.

This is one of the situations we dread the most in our ministry. It’s out of our hands and seems hopeless, but we know it never is. God is fully capable of making something beautiful out of this tragic situation. Please pray for Mwayi and his family, and give whatever God puts on your heart. We’ll do our best to discreetly provide for them and keep them together while they lose their mother and make the transition so many village children make every year to orphan status. We’ll continue to be as involved as possible and to keep you informed about their lives as much as we’re permitted. Thank you for your love and generosity!

Send a tax-deductible donation here:

HUGS for Tomorrow

P.O. Box 1816 

Azle, Texas 76098


Or make a tax-deductible PayPal donation here.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Long Distance Connection

Snoden and Angela at her new boarding school
Snoden and Arthur (in the background) harvesting food for the kids

When I was an exchange student in Vienna, for an entire year I had to walk to the end of the street and use a calling card at a phone booth for my mother to hear my voice—and she could never call me back. In order to talk to my friends I sent aerogrammes and waited weeks for a return letter. The problems of a sixteen-year-old girl are many, and by the time my mom or my friends got back to me in writing with their well-thought-out responses, I had already moved on to the next crisis. Times sure have changed, and now I can sit with a cup of coffee on my comfy couch, touch a button on my phone, and talk to people in an African village, where they don’t even have running water or electricity. It’s amazing, really. 


We talk to Snoden and Susan that way quite often. They have the kids wave to us while they’re enjoying a meal or let us “sit in” on a class while they teach. They walk us around and show us the progress on a construction project or let us see how well the maize is growing on our land. We chat over a 9,000 mile distance like we’re standing next to each other on the same soil. That makes it easy for us to forget how difficult it is to live in the village and just how much those kids need this program. No water, no electricity, no health care, no security, and no education—for too many of the children there. But the kids in our program receive all these things, so we continue to work together over this long distance to improve and expand our ministry. Snoden just sent us the two beautiful pictures I’m sharing with you here. They’re not the highest quality images or even textbook examples of composition, but what they represent is of far greater value.


The first picture is a selfie that Snoden took of Angela and himself while he was dropping her off at her new school. It means she doesn’t have to walk four miles through dangerous neighborhoods anymore just to arrive at a school with hundreds of students to one teacher per class, no books, and no lunch. She’s a bright girl with untapped potential, and we want to see her thrive. Thanks to our generous friends and supporters, she will. We started out by applying for her to attend the international school where I taught and where the boys went when we lived in Malawi. After the initial enrollment process, we realized that may not be the best school for her after all. Among a few other issues, getting there and back each day was going to be a challenge. It took a bit of searching but we believe her parents’ legwork has paid off and that she’s been enrolled in the perfect school to suit her needs. It just so happens to be the girls’ boarding school Gret Glyer, the founder of DonorSee, started when he lived in Malawi. (I wrote about his recent passing in my last blog article). We love to see Angela’s bright smile in this photo, and we share her sentiment.


The second picture is of Snoden at our new farm, showing off some of the beautiful produce already ready for harvest. He was on his way home from leaving Angela at school and stopped by to grab some food for the kids in our feeding program.You can see Arthur, Angela’s brother, playing farmer in the background. We know God is blessing this endeavor because it’s not the growing season in Malawi; there is no rain. This new land is low enough that it stays wet and allows plants to grow even when the land around it is bone dry. This means that even with the price of food on the rise, our kids will not go hungry and we should be able to feed others outside our program. It also gives the kids exposure to foods they have never eaten and increases their health and the likelihood that they will eat a well-balanced diet in the future. I cannot express to you how excited we are to see the abundance of nutrition represented in those green leafy vegetables! 


We hope to eventually eradicate poverty from the lives of every household in Malawi. Our latest two projects—the land purchase and enrolling Angela in school—have been especially fruitful to that end. We received the images that inspired this article just minutes after Snoden captured them on his phone, thanks to the miracle of modern technology. Now I’m sharing them with you just hours later. Isn’t it amazing that we can all be a part of what’s happening in Tambalale village right now? We don’t have to read about it in a book a year from now or a letter a month from now or even hear about it over the phone without actually seeing it. You and I can interact with real people living in real poverty today, and we can do something about it—today! It truly is an awesome blessing to be included in such a vital Kingdom work. We hope you feel the connection and the difference you’re making to put an end to the cycle of poverty in so many precious lives. 


Send a tax-deductible donation here:

HUGS for Tomorrow

P.O. Box 1816 

Azle, Texas 76098

Or make a tax-deductible PayPal donation here.


Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Shadow of Death


When I was in college I would sometimes wake in the middle of the night to a panicky feeling, only to realize it was because I’d forgotten to deliver someone’s drink at my waitress job or to turn in a paper at school. Not exactly life threatening, so it didn’t take me long to go back to sleep. Later when I became a wife and mother, I woke to thoughts a bit more important like kids’ schedules and overdue bills. Again, nothing critical. But now I feel like I’m constantly aware of the ticking clock hours before I want to be. My mind races with weighty issues that are completely out of my control, like the overabundance of drugs, pornography, and violence that my boys will have to navigate as they grow up and go off on their own. I haven’t been a news watcher for a long time, and I’ve recently adopted the habit of reciting as much Scripture in my head as it takes to doze off again. I recommend both to anyone who deals with nighttime anxiety. It does help, but in a world where evil seems to be intensifying at breakneck speed, it’s getting harder and harder to get a full night’s sleep.


A few nights ago when that familiar 3:00 am anxiety tapped me on the shoulder, I pushed it away with the opening words to the twenty-third Psalm. If I recite it slowly, that one usually has me asleep by the end. This time I stopped in the valley of the shadow of death—not on the words exactly but on the image. I imagined myself there like I never had before—in a deep valley with a black shadow, paralyzing my sense of direction—and it felt scary. It was as if God was saying, “This is what wakes you up, right? The darkness is what bothers you, but there’s no reason to be anxious. It can’t touch you; it’s just a shadow.” I must have recited this Psalm a thousand times through, but I’ve never before realized that the darkness I associate with that valley—the evil of this world—is only the shadow of death, not death itself. Just like an eclipse is impossible without the sun, the shadow of death only exists because of the brightness of God. And just like that eclipse will be gone before you know it, the darkness over this world will disappear when the Light behind it is revealed.


I was shocked the next morning to hear the tragic news that the founder of DonorSee, our main fundraising platform for the ministry in Malawi, was shot and killed in his home. He was only thirty-two years old and left behind a young wife and two babies. Even though I never met Gret in person, I’ve had many phone conversations with him. We’ve been with DonorSee since 2017, shortly after its launch, and I feel a strong sense of connection to the program. During the initial development of his website, I was vocal about what I wanted to see, and Gret was very responsive, making several changes I requested. DonorSee has been instrumental in feeding hundreds of children in our program, and we pray that Gret’s legacy will continue. It’s hard to make sense of such an abrupt and untimely death. I’m sure many people are seeking God’s peace today as we all wait for answers.


I lost my brother to a tragedy when I was in grade school. It took me many years to sleep through the night after that. I know there are no words to comfort a soul in that state of grief. I would not presume to speak any. But I do know that God can and will heal a broken heart, so I ask Him to do that for Gret’s family and for his friends. I pray that they will feel His presence as they walk through this valley and that they will feel the warmth of the Son that shines all around the shadow of death. What a sweet day of fellowship it will be when we’re reunited with those who have been swallowed up by death, when we discover that it was indeed just a shadow and that what is real is Jesus and His life and resurrection. May God bless this dear family and grant them peace and comfort until they can once again sleep through the night.