Editor’s note: This is part of our six-week sponsor series highlighting Compassion and the work that some of their epic bearded gospel men are doing to serve pre-bearded children and churches around the world.
Tom Emmons is known for many things, but perhaps the funniest is the joy he brings children around the world using fake sticky mustaches!
Many years ago, Tom received a white elephant gift that was meant to bring a few temporary laughs, but it instigated a tradition that has spread giggles around the world. The gift was a package of fake stick-on mustaches. Since Tom is an employee of Compassion International, he travels a lot for the child advocacy organization. “I instantly knew I would take them on a Compassion trip with me. They were a huge hit. The kids snatched up those mustaches so fast and all their friends wanted one too! So, when I got home, I ordered some online and took them on my next trip!”
Tom has handed out well over 500 mustaches at Compassion centers from Asia to Central America and across Africa. Once one child decks his upper lip in some fuzz, his friends start laughing and then all the other kids want one too. The girls especially enjoy it! Even the leaders of the church want to wear one, resulting in a lot of giggles from the kids.
“When I take a pic of their lip rug and show them, they go crazy. Their friends laugh and they have a lot of fun with it. Pretty soon we have an entire room of little ones sporting facial hair like Groucho Marx. ”
One of Tom’s favorite memories is when a little boy put the mustache in between his eyebrows and proudly sported a unibrow!
Tom has had facial hair most of his adult life, although it’s taken different forms—mustache, beard, or goatee. “When I was a freshman in college, I grew my first mustache. I called it a football mustache because it only had 11 hairs on each side! It was pretty weak. By the time I was a senior, I could grow a good 1970s mustache. Mustaches were very popular then and I wanted to try it. Since then, it has gotten fuller and I’ve enjoyed having a full beard on many occasions.”
“In 1987, I started working for what some people call the original online service, CompuServe. I worked in the electronic mall department and we invented a shopping destination with big retailers like J.C. Penney, Sears, Lands’ End, FTD, and so on. I started feeling led to go into ministry work. I didn’t understand that feeling though because I thought that meant I had to become a pastor. I knew I wasn’t cut out to be a pastor! Then I stumbled upon something that changed my life. One day, I realized that I had gotten ahead on my Compassion child sponsorship payments. I’d been sponsoring a child for a few years, so I needed to get in touch with Compassion to figure out how much extra I had paid. I went on their website to find the phone number. While there, I clicked on the careers link. They happened to be looking for someone who had my experience and skill set. Nineteen years later, I’m still working at Compassion and work in the USA Marketing department.”
When Tom was in college and a new believer in Christ, he went on a missions trip to Haiti. “While on that trip, I saw poverty for the first time. What I saw overwhelmed me and made a lasting impact. They took us to work in an area where we saw kids with signs of malnutrition. I’ll never forget those children’s faces. That trip was instrumental in me going into ministry and serving children in poverty.
Tom has traveled a lot with Compassion and he still gets emotional about kids who are impacted by poverty. “It makes me think of my kids and my grandchildren who could have been in the same situation. They are not, primarily because they were born in a different country. It impacts me to see that.”
Tom sponsored a girl in Colombia for her entire childhood. “I was in Colombia recently and Compassion was able to track her down 10 years after she graduated from the program. She is a mom now and still attends the same church. We were able to Skype together and she remembered me. She said, ‘I still have all your pictures and letters!’ She asked about my sons and we had a nice discussion.”
On a trip to Ecuador, Tom visited a center in the Andes mountains and when his group arrived, they learned that it was a special day! One of the girls in the Compassion program was getting a wheelchair. Her mom had been carrying her daughter on her back a long distance every day so she could come to the church. That day, Tom watched the joy this family expressed as they received the wheelchair.
“About 5 years later, I went back to that same project. The girl who received the wheelchair was now a teenager and I asked the church leaders how she was doing. They were happy to point her out. ‘She’s right there!’ She was running and playing with the other kids! With that wheelchair, better nutrition, and medical care, she was able to overcome that disability. It was a complete life change for her and her family. For me, it was a tangible example of how Compassion can change the life of a child and their family.”
That day, Tom understood more fully why Compassion is needed around the world. “I like that Compassion is church-based and every child has the opportunity to hear the gospel. Children also get physical needs attended to as well. They get food, clothing, medical checkups, education, etc. that’s important to me too. Sponsoring a child is an opportunity to become a missionary without leaving home. You can help a child’s economic, spiritual, educational and physical needs through your sponsorship and through the letter-writing process.”
And sometimes, that experience includes a sticky mustache!