December 10, 2008

A Return to "Searching Eyes"

2008 1534 page19 capEN YEARS AGO THE ADVENTIST REVIEW ACCEPTED A STORY I’D WRITTEN. I was a senior at Southern Adventist University. The piece was several hundred words too short, but someone on the Review staff felt the urgency with which I had written and asked me to expand it.

In the article, “Searching Eyes,” I described the helplessness I felt when I saw poverty on television.1 What could I do? The irony was that I then felt obligated as a writer to offer a solution. Eventually, I concluded that I could be kind to those in my corner of the world. But I felt unsatisfied, dishonest even. I was already a decent person. Writing the column didn’t make me kinder. And what did this have to do with poverty?
Around the time I was writing “Searching Eyes,” my friend Mindy Burgin was looking through a magazine. She was also a Southern graduate, and like me, she’d been a student missionary in Thailand. In fact, that’s where we’d met. As Mindy was flipping through the magazine, she came upon a picture of a child squatting in the dust. “I was so moved. I wanted to help, but I didn’t know how,” Mindy later said in an interview with
Mindy did some Internet research and found a small orphanage in Uganda. She wrote the director and asked if they needed a nurse for four months.3 They did.
2008 1534 page19At the orphanage Mindy cared for babies. Many of them were dying of AIDS, others were undernourished. On Sabbaths she attended church, and the local pastor introduced her to older orphans who were anxious to go to school but didn’t have the money.
When Mindy returned to the United States, she began the Kirabo Foundation to send Ugandan orphans to school. At first the donors were mostly Mindy and her family and friends. Today, the Kirabo Foundation is an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. One hundred percent of donations go toward tuition and school supplies.4
“We are currently sponsoring 45 students, but there are so many more,” Mindy recently told me.
“What would you like people to know about Kirabo?” I asked.
“I would love people to know the huge difference a very small donation can make. For example, 
we put students in day schools for one term for less than 40 dollars, and that includes two meals 
[a day]. And since most of our kids don’t have parents, I love having volunteers pray for them.”
“What keeps you going?” I asked Mindy.
“The students,” she told me, rattling off success stories. “Macdonald Kinyera has been running a child-headed household since his parents died. Receiving a Kirabo scholarship enabled him to stay in school. He finished an advanced carpentry course this year and is awaiting his final results and applying for jobs. Now that he’s done, he is working odd jobs and is putting three children in his neighborhood through primary school. I was incredibly moved that not only is he facing a bright future, but he is committed to creating that bright future for others.”
“What would you say to people who want to make a difference but don’t know how?” I asked.
“I think everyone has a moment where they are drawn to something,” Mindy said. “For me it was Africa, but for someone else it might be their community. It’s a matter of finding what speaks to you, and then pursuing it. It doesn’t have to be financial, . . . but everyone can do something.”
In 2000 Mindy looked at a picture and felt called to do something. Then she acted on that call.
This is my last column for the Adventist Review, and I can think of no better way to finish than to call on you to do something tangible. Poverty is not inevitable. Change begins with us. 
1Adventist Review, January 14, 1999.
2Mindy Burgin interview,, March 8, 2008,
3She’d just earned her nursing degree.
Sari Fordham is an assistant professor at La Sierra University in Riverside, California. She teaches in the department of English and Communication.