SHREVEPORT, La. — An Internet-fueled show of support for a 12-year-old girl killed this summer in a church-bus accident is reaching as far away as Africa, bringing clean water to impoverished children in Malawi.
More than 13,000 people have committed to one act of kindness on Oct. 29. That would have been the 13th birthday of Maggie Lee Henson, who died Aug. 2 from injuries she received when the bus carrying youth from First Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., overturned while headed to a church camp. The accident had taken place about three weeks earlier.
Proceeds from sales of a T-shirt and charm necklace designed for the occasion will go to Watering Malawi, a ministry of the Passport youth-camping ministry that provides clean water and irrigation in the drought-plagued country of 13 million.
Maggie Lee’s father, John Henson, an associate pastor at the Shreveport church, heard Colleen Burroughs, Passport’s executive vice president, talk about Watering Malawi at a recent event sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Louisiana.
Burroughs, who is based in Birmingham, Ala., said she didn’t know the family had chosen to contribute funds to Watering Malawi until she read a website posting about it written by Maggie Lee’s mother, Jinny Henson.
“The gift of this water is as though Maggie Lee herself will be sharing cups of clean water with 13-year-old girls in Malawi,” Burroughs said. “The thought takes my breath away. It really is Living Water.”
The Shreveport youth were on their way to a Passport camp in Georgia July 12 when their bus blew a tire and overturned several times on an interstate highway near the Mississippi-Alabama state line. One youth, 14-year-old Jason Ugarte, died almost immediately.
Maggie Lee was taken to Batson Memorial Children’s Hospital in Jackson, Miss., Her parents provided prayer updates on CaringBridge, a non-profit Internet service that connects family and friends during serious medical events. That developed into an intensely personal journal written from Maggie Lee’s bedside describing her final days.
Kelli Alamond, a mother of teenagers from Texarkana, Texas, did not know the Hensons personally, but she was moved enough by the story to start a Facebook group to build prayer support. It went viral, and after Maggie Lee’s death Alamond suggested keeping her memory alive by doing something good on her birthday.
Jinny Henson started a Maggie Lee for Good Facebook group with a goal of trying to get 1,300 people to perform a demonstration of Christ’s love on Oct. 29, in honor of her daughter’s 13th birthday. The goal was surpassed in less than 24 hours, and she upped it to 13,000. On Oct. 12 she announced that more than 13,600 people had signed up either through Facebook or a separate Maggie Lee for Good website.
Henson said her daughter was a caring Christian who would give her allowance and money she received at Christmas to children the family sponsored through World Vision.
“She just really had a passion for helping other people and just being Jesus to them and loving them in very creative ways,” said in an interview that aired Oct. 12 on K-LOVE radio. “If she saw someone hungry on the side of the road, then she would say, ‘Let’s pull over and give them a hamburger.’“
“We feel like we are to carry on her generosity and the love that she had for God and other people in tangible ways since she is no longer here to do that,” she said.
Erin Anderson, a wedding photographer in Houston who several years ago attended the Hensons’ former church in Brownwood, Texas, designed a Maggie Lee for Good logo.
Christine McAlister-Gray of Mesa, Ariz., one of the thousands of people touched by Maggie Lee’s story, approached Snider Sports and Apparel in Gilbert, Ariz., about designing a T-shirt for the occasion. It sells for $15, with proceeds donated to Watering Malawi.
Amy Peters, a jewelry designer in Avila Beach, Calif., created a $5 Maggie Lee for Good necklace, with 100 percent of profits also going to Watering Malawi. Peters is the designer of a ring engraved with “Dream, Fly, Dance, Sing.” that Maggie Lee was wearing when emergency personnel found her. John Henson wrote about discovering the ring his wife had recently purchased for their daughter in his computer bag in a CaringBridge post July 21.
Burroughs said providing access to clean water “extends Maggie Lee’s goodness in ways most people in the States cannot comprehend.”
“If a young girl spends most of her day walking miles for water, she cannot attend school or learn to read,” Burroughs said. “If you give the same girl a 5th-grade education, her babies are 85 percent more likely to live past the age of 5.”
“I will be wearing my MLFG (Maggie Lee for Good) shirt on October 29,” Burroughs said.
Jinny Henson said acts of kindness had already begun. She received an e-mail message from one woman who will be out of town Oct. 29, so she did her “Maggie Lee” a few days early by taking a bag of groceries to a homebound neighbor. She watched from a window as the neighbor got his groceries, read the card and blew a kiss toward the sky.
Later in the day the man told her about how the groceries had mysteriously appeared. “I don’t know who she was,” he said, “but Maggie Lee must truly have been an angel among us all if she was able to inspire such an act of human kindness, especially in today’s world.”
“I cried right along with him,” the e-mail reported.
Henson said in the radio interview that birthdays and anniversaries are the most difficult days for someone grieving the loss of a loved one. “While it will be difficult, I’m just so thankful that so many people want to honor her and really want to see good have the last say,” she said.
The Maggie Lee for Good website offers several ideas for the day sent in from across the country.
“One of my ideas is just to pick up the phone and put a grudge aside, because you really don’t know how much time you have,” Henson said. “We all take for granted that we are going to have the next year or the next decade with our kids and with our friends and family, but really we don’t…. Time is short and the time to love and forgive is now.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)