How Kissing a Bearded Dragon in Portland Saved Lives in Central Africa

By Send Relief Staff

You’ve heard how kissing a frog turned him into a prince, but that’s just a fairy tale. This is the true story of how kissing a bearded dragon rebuilt a community, saved lives and spread the gospel in Central Africa.

Each year at Portland Avenue Baptist Church, Director of Childhood Ministries Gina McKean looks for ways children in the church’s VBS program can support missionaries around the world.

Last year, she landed on a big goal—Send Relief’s “Buy the Farm” Catalog item, in which a family in need is gifted with not only the land they need for growing crops, but also animals that will give them a reliable source of meat, milk and income.

McKean set a goal of $600 for the children and had the boys and girls split into teams to compete against one another. Their reward? If the boys won, McKean would have to kiss a bearded dragon lizard and, if the girls won, the head pastor would have to do the same.


It was all the motivation the kids needed—they raised enough money to buy two farms and exceeded their goal by $200!

“The squeal of excitement for achieving our goal was piercing, and we all experienced such joy,” McKean shared. “In the end, Pastor Walter and I both had to kiss George the Bearded Dragon, but in reality, we were all winners in that we had the blessing of purchasing two farms and sending additional funds to families in urgent need. Some of our kids emptied their piggy banks of every cent because of their desire to make a difference in the life of another child! Participating in this challenge for Send Relief was such a great way to make a difference with our offerings and serve those on the mission field in a tangible way.”

Meanwhile, in a community in Central Africa, God was laying the groundwork for a powerful moment of reconciliation.

A cluster of several Christian villages had recently been attacked by a neighboring Muslim tribe. A project director in the region commented on this tragic event, “Churches, Christian homes and crops were burned and destroyed. Livestock were slaughtered. Some people were brutally attacked, with at least one recorded death. It was incredibly destructive, and a local pastor in the area reached out, wanting to help Send Relief rebuild some of the Christian churches and homes.”

In response, our project director asked if Send Relief could help in an even greater way.

He asked the pastor to return to the community to find out if any non-Christians had also been caught in the middle of this terrible act of violence and to ask them what Send Relief could do to help them recover.

“The cycle of violence will only be stopped by actively turning the other cheek,” he shared.

The pastor returned with a request that—in addition to helping the Christian villages replant crops, provide construction materials for damaged churches and houses and sponsor a medical clinic—Send Relief provide new roofing, farming equipment and livestock to a neighboring Muslim village that had also been attacked.

Because of Gina McKean and Portland Avenue’s dedication to fundraising through VBS, we were able to grant that request.


After the project was complete, the pastor reported, “When I told them the good news that a Baptist church in America was helping, they felt this was such a special gift and asked me to pray for them and for peace in the community. This gesture really cemented our relationship with them! They told me, ‘We have never had such a gift ever, even from our Muslim brothers. You are a true man of God. This is the first time in our lives a Christian pastor did a good thing.’”


The pastor even shared a new proverb in the village—“We expect help from our Muslim brothers, but the help came later from our Christian brothers.”

Little do we know what a lasting difference one small act of generosity can make in the lives of strangers across the globe.

If you or your church are interested in helping more communities like this through VBS fundraising, click here for creative ideas on how children can raise money for families in need.

Published May 4, 2022

Send Relief Staff