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Unbound writer and editor Larry Livingston shares what he has learned about home from the families in the Unbound program around the world.

As a writer and editor for Unbound, I’ve had the privilege of traveling to visit several of our programs around the world. I’ve always found these trips to be times of learning, growth and grace. But of all the experiences I’ve had, the ones I cherish the most are visiting families in their homes.

We visit the homes of families in the Unbound program to listen and learn. In my case, I go mainly to document stories so I can share them with the wider community. They’re stories of need, sure, but also stories of resilience, giftedness and accomplishment.

Messengers of special stories

I remember visiting the home of Doris, a sponsored elder in Meru, Kenya. She took great pride in showing us the water pump she’d had installed after years of saving portions of her sponsorship benefit funds. She was happy to no longer have to carry heavy buckets from a distant well, but what gave her the greatest joy was that she could now share water with her neighbors.


In a 2017 photo from the Unbound archives, Doris, a sponsored elder in Meru, Kenya, demonstrates the new water pump she’d recently had installed on her property. After years of lugging heavy buckets or relying on a reluctant neighbor for water, Doris was delighted to be able to share water with her community.


On that same trip I sat in Teresiah’s tiny home in a slum in Nanyuki. Though, with little income, she was already raising three children, she’d taken in a little girl who’d been abandoned at a local garbage dump. She found room in her heart and her home for one more.

Then there was the home of my own sponsored children, Alvaro, then 7, and his sister, Maria, 4, in a village in southwest Guatemala. On a blazing hot day, they and their mother sat with me in the shade outside their house. I drew silly faces on balloons and the children giggled as we found our way of overcoming the language barrier.


In a 2009 photo from the Unbound archives, writer-editor Larry Livingston meets his sponsored friends, Alvaro and Maria, at the local Unbound program center in Guatemala. Today, Alvaro is 19 and Maria is 16.


It’s one thing to hear these stories. It’s something else to be where they happen, to experience the rugged, dusty hike to an isolated rural hut, or the heat and confinement of a windowless slum dwelling. To know the sights, sounds, smells and feel of these homes is to be given a rare gift.

Allowing things to come into focus

Many of the families in our program live in homes without electric lights. Some, especially those in big-city slums, have homes with no windows. On entering one of these dwellings from the brightness of the midday sun, it usually takes a moment for one’s eyes to adjust. Slowly, things come into focus.

That’s not a bad analogy, I think, for the experience of sponsorship. We enter another person’s world and, perhaps, at first see only darkness. But as our eyes adjust — which is to say as our perspective changes and our worldview expands — we see their reality, which is more than need.

Walking out of a home back into the daylight takes another adjustment of the eyes, and every time I’ve done it, I’m reminded of the story of Peter and John visiting the empty tomb of Jesus. They enter the tomb with curiosity and, perhaps, anxiety. They leave with hope.


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The world is smaller than I once thought, and people are much more alike than different. #catholicmom

What I’ve discovered on my travels is that the world is smaller than I once thought, and people are much more alike than different. Families want to live in peace with their neighbors. Parents worry about their children’s futures. And every home — whether it’s a mud hut miles from the nearest road, a tin shack in the middle of a sprawling urban slum or a split-level dwelling in a U.S. suburb — is sacred ground.

Copyright 2021 Larry Livingston for Unbound
Images copyright 2021 Unbound, all rights reserved.