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.
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.
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.
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.
Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and with so many things in my life for which to be thankful, I’ve decided to focus in this post only on those which are Compassion-related.
This has been a very busy year for me as a Compassion sponsor and advocate. It’s been filled with many blessings, opportunities to serve, new friendships and new experiences. I’ll try to sum it up in the following list of gratitude:
Guatemala Sponsor Tour: In July, I had the incredible opportunity to travel with my son Logan to Guatemala for a sponsor tour. This was my second Compassion tour, and it was every bit as amazing and special as the first. There are so many aspects of this tour that stand out, but here are the parts for which I am most thankful: meeting my sponsor children in person; meeting other sponsors, including many who are Compassion staff here in the United States; meeting the Compassion staff in Guatemala; experiencing the sights and sounds of this beautiful country; and most of all, doing all of this with my son.
There are no words to fully describe meeting your sponsor children in person. It is an experience filled with emotion, and the opportunity to see their facial expressions and movements, to interact with them and to meet their parents and project workers, really adds so much to the relationship. It is definitely the highlight of a sponsor tour.
A close second, though, is meeting the other sponsors on the tour. They are, in a word, amazing. While they share a love for children in poverty with you, they come from all over the country, with all kinds of unique experiences to share. And long bus rides and many meals offer lots of time for sharing. Sometimes you are lucky enough to meet members of Compassion’s U.S. staff on these tours, and they can give special insight into the ministry, and always confirm to me what a great organization Compassion is. These new friendships are invaluable.
Meeting the in-country staff is really fun as well. These very special people are dedicated and hard-working, and they are a wonderful source of information about Compassion and their country. They love their country and its children, and they love us sponsors. On our last night in Guatemala, one translator said to me, “Thank you for loving our children.” To be thanked after being blessed so greatly all week by her was quite humbling.
Making this trip with my son, who is 14 years old, is something neither of us will ever forget. To share so many wonderful experiences was priceless. I deeply enjoyed watching Logan make new friends, interact with the children at each project, and take in all of the new things going on around him. Since returning home, I have seen the ways the trip has changed him many times. He seems to have a deeper appreciation for the many blessings in his life.
Logan Becomes an Advocate: After returning from Guatemala, Logan was on fire for Compassion and its ministry. Within a week, he decided to become an advocate. He sponsors his own child in Guatemala, and he corresponds with another child in Kenya. He is passionate about helping children who are living in poverty, and I am proud of him.
Sponsoring Gladys: We did not sponsor a new child while on the sponsor tour in Guatemala, but we did sponsor a new child two months later from one of the centers we visited. I had requested child packets from centers we visited on the sponsor tour in hopes of connecting sponsors to children from the areas I had seen in person and photographed. One of the five packets I received was for a little girl who looked very familiar. After looking through my trip photos, I found a photo of her with Logan, so we welcomed Gladys into our sponsor family!
Continued Close Relationships with my Children in Nicaragua: After meeting my four boys in Nicaragua on a sponsor tour in 2014, we have continued our relationships with great letters filled with love. They are truly members of my family, and I know they feel the same. I can’t wait to visit them again.
Letters: Letters are our connection with our sponsor children, and this year, I continued to write monthly to each of my children, and to receive many letters in return. It can be a slow process, but it is worth it to build these relationships. Our letters are a blessing to our sponsor children, but their letters equally bless us.
Compassion Experience: In May, Logan and I volunteered at Compassion Experience. I had been waiting for Compassion Experience to come to my city, and was so excited to have this opportunity. I was thrilled to see how accurately Compassion has recreated sponsor children’s homes and projects to tell their stories effectively. For more information about Compassion Experience, click here.
Concerts: Another great opportunity to be involved with Compassion is in volunteering at concerts. Compassion partners with musicians who sponsor children and promote the ministry by encouraging others to sponsor as well. We volunteered at concerts by For King and Country and Matthew West this year, and more than 100 children were sponsored at each event! It is a lot of fun to see new sponsors connected to waiting children.
Sponsorship Anniversary: Finally, this fall marked five years since I first became a sponsor. When I chose my first child, I never would have imagined that in just five years, our sponsor family would continue to grow, and I would leave the country not once, but twice, to visit my sponsor children. This has been a wonderful journey with Compassion, and I look forward to seeing where it leads in the future.
If you are interested in beginning your own Compassion journey, please click here to see the many children who are waiting for sponsors. Contact me if you have any questions.
Happy Thanksgiving and God’s Peace!
I find it hard to express in words the emotions in meeting my sponsor children, so I’ll let this short video show the beauty of the moment.
This video shows me meeting my two children, Winston and Hania, in Guatemala on child visit day, and my son Logan meeting his sponsor child, Osmar.
It’s International Day of the Girl Child today! Please spend some time praying for the girls in your life, including your sponsor children. They face so many challenges and difficulties in this world, but with Jesus in their lives, we know they are well-loved.
Child visit day is special in so many ways.
There is nothing like those first hugs with the sponsor children to whom you have been writing. Having the opportunity to observe them in person, to talk and play with them, and to see their facial expressions gives great insight into their personalities.
You learn things that you just couldn’t learn through letters.
And as wonderful as all of those things were for me to experience as a sponsor, there was an added beauty in the day in being able to see my sponsor children’s parents joining in the fun.
These are parents who struggle to provide for their children daily in ways it is impossible for me to imagine. Yet in spite of the difficult circumstances they face, they each took a day off work and traveled several hours by bus to meet me, a stranger from another country who sends letters to their children.
It was humbling to meet them and to receive their thanks throughout the day.
It was heart-warming to be accepted instantly into their families, as their sister in Christ; to be loved as one of their own.
And it was beautiful to see the joy on their faces as they played with their children.
After Winston beat his father, Guillermo, in an obstacle course race, his dad requested a second race. He wanted another chance to win against his son, and he did. And the smiles and laughter between father and son were priceless.
Hania’s mom, Onifacia, seemed quiet and shy at first, maybe overwhelmed by the day’s events. But with an air hockey paddle in her hand, she was a fierce competitor! After I played several games with her daughter, I invited Onifacia to give it a try. She was tentative at first, getting a feel for the game, but in no time, she was slamming that air hockey disc hard and fast across the table, smiling the whole time.
And Osmar’s mother, Delores, had an easygoing, fun-loving manner that was impossible to resist. We were teammates in a serious boys vs. girls soccer match, where I saw her steal the ball from her son more than once, and tease him about it afterwards.
Quick moments in a day filled with emotion and activity, but priceless and unforgettable memories that I’ve tucked away, as I’m sure those parents and children have as well, to be treasured forever.