A Girl named Mary
As Scott Dishong was serving in Kenya as a missionary, often he would visit an orphan care center. There was this little girl named Mary. She was one of his favorites. He would often play with her, talk with her and just be silly with her. But one day he was there when all the other kids were at school, and Mary was there by herself. In Kenya at the time, elementary school had just been made free for all elementary-aged children, but Mary wasn’t in school that day. Scott asked Mary why she wasn’t in school, and she got overwhelmingly embarrassed, put her head down, and wouldn’t answer him. He asked her several times, but she would not say. So Scott went over to ask one of the workers at the center why Mary wasn’t in school. They explained to him that even though school was now free, Mary’s family wasn’t able to afford the school supplies that she needed to go. This just broke Scott’s heart that poor little Mary sat out of school all by herself for several weeks because she didn’t have a few school supplies.
Scott asked what she needed and found out all she needed was a notebook. So he got in his car and drove to the closest store. He pulled out 1000 shillings (which was equivalent to about $15) since he was expecting that this notebook must have been really expensive. Sometimes in Kenya supplies like that are in high demand and the prices are expensive. He figured he would only get about 50 cents or a dollar back in change. But after he handed the store clerk that 1000 shillings, Scott received 950 shillings in change. It was only a 50-shilling notebook, just over 50 cents. It was at that moment that Scott’s heart broke- that a 50-cent notebook prevented sweet little Mary from going back to school. So he took that notebook, gave it to her parents and explained to them that he wanted her to have it. Mary was able to go to school that day.
Scott began to realize how many other children weren’t able to go to school because they couldn’t afford simple supplies, such as shoes or pencils and pens or a backpack. That moment changed his life, and he wanted to do something about that.
That’s how Project Lucas got started. Scott and his wife Alisa came back to the US and, with some dear friends, started Project Lucas. The first time Scott and a few friends made a trip back to Africa, they decided to pass out backpacks with school supplies. They passed out 50 backpacks. There was big ceremony, and a lot of guardians and parents and even city officials showed up. It was a big, big deal and turned out to be a really cool thing. They were really excited. Scott and his friends felt pretty successful.
Afterward, as Scott and his friends were driving out of the village in a taxi, they were pulled over by two African mothers. They were on the side of the road and waved them down, and Scott went out to talk to them. They asked him, half in English and half in Swahili, why he gave them a backpack. Why did Scott care? He told them that he loved them and loved their children. They continued to ask Scott, "Why?" over and over and over again, many different ways. They were poking at his chest, saying, “Why, as a white man, are you doing this? Many missionaries come here and preach to us and leave. But you left us hope. You helped us to feel and touch hope.” And as Scott continued to talk with them, he was able to share the gospel with them. After about 30 minutes of conversation, Scott and the mothers put their arms around each other, and he prayed the sinner’s prayer with them right there on the street as they gave their lives to Jesus.
At that moment Scott realized what it meant and what it felt like to feel, to see and to touch the gospel. That backpack represented hope to them. The hope of a better future. The hope of education. It showed the hope of the gospel. Scott began to understand that a simple backpack can change lives. A simple backpack gives an introduction to Jesus. Backpacks For Africa started right then and there. The first time Scott gave a notebook to little Mary. The second time we gave out 50 backpacks, and those two mothers accepted Christ. Since then we have given out thousands of backpacks and have shared the gospel with thousands more. This is what started as "Mary's story".