Unshaken

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Dan Woolley traveled to Haiti in January 2010, where he was working for Compassion International. He and co-worker David Hames were there to shoot video and photographs documenting Compassion’s work in Haiti.

After a day in the field, the two arrived at Hotel Montana, and as they walked through the lobby, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit. The hotel collapsed on top of them.

Woolley survived, but Hames did not.

More than 200,000 people were killed in the earthquake, and more than 3.5 million people were affected.

“Unshaken” is the riveting story of Woolley’s survival. Trapped beneath the hotel rubble, Woolley used the flash from his camera to light his path to an elevator car, where he waited 65 hours for rescue.

He suffered a broken foot, a bleeding gash to his leg and a head injury, as well as dehydration. Alone in the dark, he also battled depression, hopelessness and guilt over a strained marriage and home life. He turned to God for help.

Woolley scribbled emotional goodbye letters to his wife and two young sons in his journal as he spent those long hours thinking he would never see them again.

From the time the earthquake hits to Woolley’s dramatic rescue, his story keeps the reader anxiously engaged.

“Unshaken: Rising from the Ruins of Haiti’s Hotel Montana,” is written by Dan Woolley with Jennifer Schuchmann contributing.

For information on Compassion’s ongoing work in Haiti or to sponsor a child in Haiti, go to Compassion’s web site at http://www.compassion.com.

How I Decided to Sponsor

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Sometimes the most exciting and fulfilling journeys are those that simply appear in front of you, when you aren’t looking, and that is how my journey with Compassion began.

I had seen the late-night commercials showing children with bulging tummies swatting flies from their faces with the voice-over pleading for just a dollar a day to help these children. I always thought the images were sad, but never gave the pleas much consideration because it seemed like a scam – like some kind of cheesy made-for-TV, telethon and infomercial wrapped into one.

Imagine my surprise when I was reading a newly found favorite blog a few years ago, and suddenly the posts were about a trip to Guatemala. The writer was going to visit her sponsored child there, and she detailed her preparations for the visit. She described standing in a department store and picking out just the right clothing to take to her girl, even having her son of the same age try on the dress to be sure she was choosing the right size. She carefully selected other items to take to the girl’s family. The care and thoughtfulness that the writer and her family put into preparing for this visit sparked my interest.

She was traveling with a group of sponsors who also were bloggers. Veteran sponsors know this event as a Compassion Blogger Trip, and wait for the announcement of each year’s trip destinations with great anticipation. Compassion picks very talented writers to go on these trips, where they write each night, describing the day’s experiences and offering an intimate look into the lives of sponsored children and their families, and into the amazing work Compassion is doing in these areas.

But I was not a sponsor yet, so I read these “pre-trip” posts with curiosity, and planned to follow along reading posts throughout the trip. It turns out, I had no idea how my life was about to change.

Each day, as I read these stories of extreme poverty and viewed photos for which there are no adequate words, I was drawn in. Here I was, sitting in my comfortable home, maybe eating a warm breakfast, and reading about lives and situations that couldn’t be more different from my own.

I began to research Compassion and to read everything I could find about the organization. And I began to pray. I couldn’t get these stories out of my mind.

Just three days into the trip, I sponsored Anderson. One week after that, I sponsored Winston. Both boys were from Guatemala. They were 10 and 8 years old – close in age to two of my own sons.

As many sponsors have experienced, I was surprised by the immediate love I felt for these children. I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I wrote them letters, gathered items to send to them in packages and continued to gather any information I could find about Compassion and Guatemala.

Just that simple act of choosing to sponsor these two boys began to change my way of thinking. It began to put things into perspective, and the change seeped into many areas of my life.

I began to equate things like dinner at a restaurant or taking my kids to a movie with the funds to sponsor a child. I didn’t stop doing these things entirely, but realized that by cutting out one or two of these outings each month, I could add another child or two to our sponsor family.

Not only did this cause me to put more thought into how I spent money, it also gave me an even greater appreciation for what my husband and I were able to provide our own children.

I felt lucky; blessed to be born into this time in this country, when I could just as easily have been born a neighbor to Anderson or Winston.

As God worked on my heart, my Compassion family grew. I have sponsored several children now for more than two years, and they have helped me every bit as much as I have helped them.

And it is ironic that as I set out to bless these children, they also have blessed me.

Winston’s letter to me last month brought tears to my eyes when he wrote, “I am very happy because you always remember about me because you have supported me during two years, and I hope you don’t stop writing to me because I am very happy with you being my sponsor.”

My heart is full, and I am blessed.

One Thousand Gifts

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Ann Voskamp begins her story recalling the tragic death of her toddler sister, who was run over by a truck in her driveway. She recounts the sadness and grief that overtook her family during that time.

Through this and other personal stories, Voskamp gives readers a look at events in her life that might lead anyone to search for happiness.

Instead, Voskamp accepts a dare from a friend to write down a thousand gifts from God to her. As she adds these gifts and blessings to her list daily, she finds joy and peace.

It is a captivating experiment because the reader begins to see that in a life full of thanks, there is not much room for the opposite.

Voskamp’s writing style is poetic, artistic and simply beautiful to read, and her journey is beautiful as well.

For more talented writing by Voskamp, check out her blog at http://www.aholyexperience.com.

What is Compassion?

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Compassion is a feeling of sympathy or empathy for the suffering of others. 

Often it is what leads to a person becoming a child sponsor.

So it seems appropriate that when I decided to become a sponsor, I teamed up with Compassion International, a company dedicated to easing the suffering of others by lifting children out of poverty.

Compassion is a child sponsorship program operating in 26 different countries and serving more than 1.2 million children. Compassion works through local churches with the goal of releasing children from four kinds of poverty: economic, physical, social and spiritual.

The unique way that Compassion works toward this goal is by providing one-to-one child sponsorship. In other words, when you sponsor a child for $38/month, you are the only sponsor connected to that child. You are able to write to that child, pray for that child and send monetary gifts for that child.

A sponsored child receives many benefits in addition to a personal relationship with a sponsor. Compassion provides educational opportunities, Christian training, hygiene training, and often meals. When Compassion partners with a local church, it becomes a safe environment for children to learn and grow.

In addition, Compassion is a non-profit organization committed to financial integrity. For 11 consecutive years, Compassion has earned Charity Navigator’s highest ranking of four stars. More than 80 percent of every dollar is spent on the organization’s child development programs, and expenses are detailed on Compassion’s web site, http://www.compassion.com.

That covers the basics of Compassion, but Compassion is so much more than goals and numbers. I urge readers to go to Compassion’s web site and see what it’s all about, and check back here often for more Compassion-related stories.