Walk with Compassion

The first annual Walk with Compassion in Tucson was held last Saturday at Brandi Fenton Park, and photographer Jodi McGinn created this slideshow to showcase the event.

There were 85 participants, and seven children were sponsored.

Musical Gifts

As we settled into our seats in a theater in El Salvador, we had no idea of the awesome event we were about to enjoy.

This large group of sponsors filling the theater had spent that morning visiting Compassion projects in one of the most violent countries in Central America. It is a country ruled by gangs, and we learned of some of the challenges these children face.

We heard their stories throughout the day, sometimes from the children themselves, and sometimes from their tireless teachers and pastors at the projects. We worshipped and prayed with them, played games, danced to silly children’s songs and shared a meal. We laughed with them, and just as easily cried with them, as they made their realities known to us.

It was a day that left us with our hearts filled, and I could not imagine my heart could become even more full. But once the music in that theater began, it was clear that a heart filled by God knows no limits.

This was no ordinary show. It was an extraordinary musical experience, put together and performed by more than 100 Compassion children for a theater full of sponsors.

The conductor walked on stage, and as the music began, I was instantly lost in the beauty of the moment. The children played compositions including “Days of Elijah,” “Stand by Me,” “Ancient of Days,” “Open the Eyes of my Heart,” Agnus Dei,” and “Our God.”

Before my eyes was an entire symphony orchestra and choir made up of Compassion children, using their God-given talents, and playing at a level made even more impressive when I later learned how infrequently these children played together.

They could not take their instruments home, but had to leave them locked up, only to be brought out once each week when they gathered to practice.

Listening to these children perform, sharing their musical gifts with us, and feeling the music wash over me, I thought this must be very close to the soundtrack of heaven.

Please enjoy the following videos, and if you feel moved to do so, you can donate to this talented group by clicking here.

 

This Boy is Mine

image1

Pastor Raul and Israel share their inspiring story to a group of Compassion sponsors.

“This boy is mine.”

These are the words Raul, a Compassion pastor in El Salvador, spoke to a local gang to reclaim his student, Israel.

Israel was only 7 years old when an accident with a kite and electrical wires severely injured his arm. After the incident, Israel spent two years in the hospital recovering.

When he finally left the hospital, young Israel returned to school, where he was bullied due to the visible disfigurement of his arm. His peers told him he would never hold a job or be able to support a family.

Desperate for acceptance, Israel later joined a gang, where he gained a sense of belonging. He stopped attending the local Compassion project where he was registered, and Raul noticed his absence and began to search for him around the community.

“Whenever he would see me, he would run away,” Raul said of Israel. But Raul did not give up.

Eventually, Raul spoke with Israel and asked him what the gang was giving to him.

Israel answered, “Two dollars a day and friends.”

Not to be outdone, Raul replied, “I will give you two dollars a day and a family.”

Israel self-consciously rubbed his injured arm as he told his story to a large group of Compassion sponsors, who later lined up to hug this inspiring young man.

image2

Israel and his megawatt smile!

He explained how Raul convinced him to leave the gang and return to his Compassion project, where he did, indeed, receive a family.

And now, this young man radiates warmth and a humble spirit. With the love of his Compassion family and by the grace of God, Israel has even overcome his greatest fear: electricity.

Israel is earning a certificate in electrical engineering.

Which child will you claim as yours? When will you partner with Compassion to keep a child off the streets of El Salvador? Click here to see who is waiting for you.

 

God is in the Details

Sunsets are beautiful, but I find their beauty greatly increased when I take the time to appreciate their details.

The many shades of yellow, orange and red, slowly cooling to shades of pink and purple are details that can be overlooked with just one glance. The sun’s warmth heating your face, then fading, cooling over time, requires a few minutes to enjoy. Sunsets are beautiful, but these details greatly enhance them.

It’s when I take a moment to notice the details that I find myself truly appreciating an experience, and it’s in that time that I often reflect on how God is in each of those details.

Sometimes God’s presence in the details is subtle, and I have to slow down to see it, but one afternoon in Nicaragua last summer, His presence was as undeniable as crashing into a wall.

My two sons and I were visiting my sponsor son Jose’s Compassion project that day. It was our second time meeting Jose, and we had already spent a couple of hours with him at lunch.

I’ve found my meetings with my sponsor children to be intense bits of time, full of emotion, and always finished too quickly. They’re the kinds of experiences where the clock seems to speed up, and the desperate attempt to enjoy every precious moment to the fullest somehow makes those moments a blur.

This day seemed to be heading in that direction. It was slipping past too quickly, and I was already dreading its end. Jose showed us around his project, stopping at the kitchen, the chapel and the main office, where we were able to look though his records.

Next he took us to his classroom, where his classmates were seated in desks, listening to a teacher. Their usual teacher had been spending the day with us, so today they were being taught by a young man.

He looked up as we all walked in, and our translator introduced us to him and the children. Then a look of recognition appeared on his face. He excitedly told our translator something in Spanish.

“I remember her,” she translated, as the young man named Kevin gestured towards me.

He continued explaining to her, and we found out that he did, in fact, remember me. When I first visited Nicaragua in 2014, two years earlier, Kevin’s sponsor was on that same group tour. On the last day of the tour, all of the sponsors were able to meet their children at a local amusement park and spend the day with them.

Kevin remembered seeing me on that day, when I first met Jose.

What were the chances that we would ever see each other again?

Well, it was clear this encounter did not happen by chance. God was in these details.

There are 177 Compassion projects in Nicaragua, and on that day, we walked into the one project where Kevin was working. There are 46,514 sponsored children in Nicaragua, and two years earlier, Kevin was one of about 25 Compassion children at the amusement park on visit day.

dsc_5418

Project director, Kerri and Kevin

I stood there amazed realizing God’s hand in this meeting. We took photos together, and Kevin told me his sponsor’s name. I assured him I would contact his sponsor and share his message and photos with him. I was so excited to let Kevin’s sponsor know that after he graduated the Compassion program, he had gone on to become at teacher with Compassion, helping young children like he had been.

We both were a bit emotional by the end of our quick meeting. I was honored to stand in for Kevin’s sponsor, and to hug him and encourage him.

And as we walked away, exclaiming over how incredible that meeting had been, I knew God was at work, slowing me down, reminding me to appreciate the smallest details throughout the day.

We went to Jose’s house next, and it was raining, so we crowded into his home, which was small, but dry, and we sat together. Jose scrambled to find chairs for us, carefully wiping mine down with a rag before letting me sit.

We were quite a group, including Jose, my two sons, me, our translator, Jose’s mother, two younger brothers and his teacher. We talked, laughed, and even sang a little, enjoying a rainy afternoon together inside. And when the day ended, it still was difficult to say goodbye.

But God had slowed us all down that afternoon, and He had certainly been in all the details.

 

 

Between Two Worlds

DSC_1789

Sometimes following Christ’s call on your heart can be quite uncomfortable.

It can lead you into situations and to faraway places where you’d never have thought to go on your own; situations where your heart is stretched, bruised and broken, only to be patched back together and filled up again, stronger and better than it was before.

But I’ve found stronger and better doesn’t necessarily mean free of pain.

For me, Christ’s call recently has taken the form of two trips: one to Nicaragua and one to Guatemala. There’s a pain that lingers beyond those incredible experiences. There’s a sorrow and a joy, a devastation and a hope, and an emptiness left by the people you grew to love during the visit.

And there’s a strangeness in coming back to live in my world after visiting theirs.

The stark differences between the two worlds, the plenty and the poverty were on my mind as I spent the past weekend watching my son compete at Irish dance.

It’s what he loves, and in that world, he has found so much happiness from classes, competitions and performances. In three years, he’s had lessons in hard work, persistence, setting goals and winning and losing gracefully. He’s learned new skills, including stage presence and focus. And he’s made a wonderful circle of like-minded friends who have become family, who push him to dance better, and who support him always.

It warms my heart to see my boy in this world that he loves.

And yet, my mind kept moving towards next weekend, when I will return to Nicaragua, the poorest country in Central America, and the second-poorest in the Western Hemisphere, just behind Haiti.

Nicaragua is a country where, according to the CIA World Factbook, 21 percent of children leave school in the first grade, and where the average education level is only 5.6 years, dropping to 3.6 years in rural areas.

It was surreal to sit in the ballroom of a resort hotel, knowing I’d soon be unable to brush my teeth with sink water, using bottled water instead; to know that I’d be visiting a country where 75 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day, while watching dancers compete in dresses that cost more than the average Nicaraguans’ annual income.

It was surreal and uncomfortable, but something I wouldn’t miss, anymore than I would miss the opportunity to see my sponsored children again next week. I’ll see them once again in their worlds, and the reality will be hard, but the smiles and hugs will be beautiful.

And with any luck, my heart will be stretched, bruised and broken, only to be patched back together and filled up again, stronger and better than it was before.

 

 

 

 

Priceless Child Visits

DSC_9764

Playing basketball during child visit day in Guatemala, July 2015.

As child sponsors, we long for letters from our children. We treasure any new bit of information we can learn about the children we love so fiercely from afar.

Even better is a letter with a photo tucked inside. It gives us a peek into our child’s world, as we scour the photo’s background for details that a quick glance would miss. It shows us a new expression on our child’s face, or maybe even a smile that wasn’t there in the standard sponsorship photo. It’s an added bonus if a family member is in the photo, too.

If a simple letter and photo can bring so much happiness, can you imagine the joy and excitement of actually meeting that child in person? It’s something I imagined for four years before it became a reality for me when I visited my children in Nicaragua with Compassion International in 2014. Then in 2015, I was blessed to be able to visit my children in Guatemala as well.

I fully expected those visits to be life-changing for me, and they were. But what I didn’t expect was the incredible and deep connections with my sponsor children and their family members that were created in those visits. I knew we had all been deeply impacted based on the smiles and emotions in those first hugs, and the full hearts and tears in our goodbyes.

(Click here to see a video of those first hugs in Guatemala.)

Once I was home again and processing all that I had done and seen, I looked forward to my children’s next letters, to learn their thoughts on our days together.

Their letters confirmed to me the value of my visits.

Jose, 11, of Nicaragua, wrote: “I will never forget the meeting we had when you came to Nicaragua. It was an unforgettable day.” That letter was written shortly after our visit.

A few months later, Jose had more to say about that day, when he wrote: “I am happy for the day that you came to visit me in Nicaragua to know me. We share that day together, and it was beautiful. I will never forget it. I am thankful to God to have a sponsor like you. At the school, I told all my classmates about your visit here to Nicaragua. We had a great time together, and it was a fun day.”

A little more to the point, Esteban, 9, of Nicaragua, wrote: “I thank you very much for your visit. It was a special day.”

And as only a 3-year-old could sum it up, Jefry’s letter said: “Jefry says it was fun to drive the race car with you.”

I’m still receiving letters from my children in Guatemala about that visit.

DSC_9571

Hania smiled all day.

A letter I received from Hania, 9, of Guatemala, said: “Hania wants to tell you that she is very happy for your visit in July. She thanks you for meeting her personally, also for the dolls, dresses, ball, backpack and for all that you gave her. She will never forget you, and that day she had a good time, and she was very happy.”

My son Logan, who traveled with me to Guatemala, met his own sponsor child there.

DSC_9782_2

Logan and Osmar say goodbye to each other.

His child, Osmar, 13, wrote: “Thank you for the pictures you sent me and for coming to see me, which was an unforgettable day for me. I loved to make competitions with you in the inflatable games, to play ping pong and hide-and-seek and many other things. That day I was so nervous, but I was happy to see you at the door.”

Unforgettable, happy, special, nervous, fun, beautiful, thankful – their words match my own in describing our meetings.

If you can make it happen, visit your child! The experience will be priceless. And if you don’t sponsor a child, yet, you can do so by clicking here.

DSC_9543

Winston shows off a bracelet my daughter made for him.

DSC_9677

Logan brought Osmar his own Dodgers jersey and hat.