Manos de Compasion

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A young mother works on a project in the Hands of Compassion sewing room.

In a room buzzing with activity, young mothers are busy cutting patterns from cloth, sewing new outfits, practicing and perfecting a trade that may give them financial support in the future.

There are young children running in and out of the room, and babies playing in a crib in the corner, as the women work. Many patterns hang from a nearby wall, and the women will learn to make each one.

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The sewing instructor, holding a pattern, explains her program.

These women are part of Compassion’s Child Survival Program (CSP), which currently has 30,269 mothers and babies enrolled worldwide. This project near Leon, Nicaragua, called Manos de Compasion (Hands of Compassion), is serving 43 women. Of these, five are still pregnant, while the remaining have had their babies already. Mothers can stay in the program until their children turn three years old, when the child is registered in Compassion’s sponsorship program.

The sewing instructor teaches the women using five treadle sewing machines. She shows us some items they’ve made, including a toothbrush holder for the children at the project, and a nurse’s outfit for the CSP director, Julissa, who is going to nursing school.

When the women aren’t learning to sew, Julissa teaches them valuable parenting skills and covers topics like nutrition and health and shows them how to stimulate and teach their babies.

Julissa keeps a three-ring binder for each mother in the program, tracking each baby’s milestones and medical appointments. She also makes home visits to the mothers and babies, giving both much-needed care and attention.

If you are interested in supporting a CSP similar to Hands of Compassion, please click here. Your donation will help to prevent illness, give children a healthy start, provide training to mothers, and offer spiritual nurturing while Compassion ministers to the whole family.

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Julissa in the baby room.

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A mother and baby in the sewing room.

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A toddler napping at the CSP.

Meeting Marlon

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Marlon with Aidan and Kerri at his Compassion project.

He sits in a plastic white chair by the doorway, shoulders hunched forward, eyes down.

That’s my first view of my newly sponsored boy, Marlon. He’s seven years old, and we are about to meet for the first time.

I have never met one of my sponsored children before this day. My son Aidan and I chose this boy from a stack of child packets during our flight from Miami to Managua just days earlier.

As we prepared for this trip, we purchased three backpacks and filled them with gifts for our other three Nicaraguan boys. Then we decided to sponsor one more boy during the trip, so back to the store we went. One more backpack and a few other items later, and we were ready.

While looking through the packets on the airplane, we narrowed our choices down to two boys. In Marlon’s photo, he had a bit of a scowl, and his information showed that he lives only with his father. There is no mother mentioned. My heart broke for him when I read that, and I knew he was the child for us.

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Marlon’s Compassion photo.

The night before we visited Marlon’s project, Aidan and I filled his backpack and wondered what our meeting would be like the following day. We’d seen many videos of joyous children at the moment they learned they had been sponsored. The videos showed tears, hugs and smiles from both sponsors and children, the start of beautiful relationships around the world.

But our meeting with Marlon would not be like this.

As we approach Marlon, he is surrounded by other children from the project. Korina, Compassion Nicaragua’s tours and visits specialist, is nearby, ready to translate for us during this special meeting.

She tells Marlon that I am his new sponsor, and I kneel down in front of him, and can see right away that he is closing down quickly. He is nervous, probably scared, and continues to look down, unable to meet my eyes. As more children gather around us, he begins to cry quietly, wiping at his face quickly as if to hide this fact from the rest of us.

Of course, this has me in tears instantly as well, and I tell him not to worry. I tell him it’s OK to be nervous, and that I have children at home who would be shy and nervous in a meeting like this as well.

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Marlon surrounded by the crowd.

To break the ice, I give him the photo album I brought for him. I go through each photo, introducing him to each member of my family, as Korina translates. He gives very little response.

I give him the soccer ball we brought for him, and he holds it in his lap. I begin to show him some of the items in the backpack, as Aidan takes photos, and the other children press in to see. We don’t get far before I suggest that he explore the bag on his own at home, as I can see this curious crowd, the pressure of my presence, is just too overwhelming for this young boy.

I move to the chair next to him, and we take some photos together, but I can feel the tension in his back, and it is difficult to give him his space, when I really want to wrap him in my arms and tell him there is nothing to worry about.

Marlon’s young aunt is with him at the project on this morning, so I ask her to tell me what his life is like at home. Her answer is not easy to hear.

She says Marlon lives with his father, grandmother and two brothers. His mother left him when he was a baby, and he has only seen her a few times.

I pat the knee of this brave boy sitting next to me, whose heart has been broken and battered already, at such a young age. I marvel at this perfect match for sponsor and child, him abandoned by his mother as a baby, and me by my father at birth, similar scars on our hearts.

We sit together quietly for a while, and the crowd, losing interest in us, begins to move away.

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Marlon shows interest in his backpack.

Marlon bends over and touches the backpack. Progress, I think. He struggles to adjust the straps on the bag, and I reach in and help him. He doesn’t seem to mind. He discovers the ball pump in a side pocket of the bag, and I use hand motions to show him where the needle is, how to put it in the pump, where it goes into his soccer ball.

So we have connected in a small way, but our time is up. I promise to write him many letters before I stand to leave, patting his knee one last time. It is not easy to walk away from this boy.

And I pray he will remember these moments when he begins to receive my letters, that he will remember the love in these moments, and that we will meet again in the future, to continue to build this blessed relationship.

Fuente de Vida

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Fuente de Vida church, in San Benito, Nicaragua, is partnered with Compassion project NI-176.

The sun hitting the tin roof of the church in San Benito begins to warm up worshippers as the service goes on, but we hardly notice as we are treated to so many children’s performances, songs, puppet shows, and even a skit.

Upon arrival earlier that morning, we were greeted by a barrage of popping balloons, a firecracker welcome, as the children gathered to greet us at the gate. Their little hands reached out to touch us as we walked past, and shy smiles welcomed us to their church, Fuente de Vida.

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The children of NI-176 welcome us to their church.

I was surprised when I saw the church name painted on a wall I passed on the way to my seat. Fuente de Vida, Fountain of Life, is the name of my church at home. The church where I was married 19 years ago, where all of my children have been baptized, where my family continues to attend today.

I’ve always heard God is in the details, so why am I surprised by this beautiful reminder of home as I am missing my own family this Sunday morning?

Two young girls stand at the pulpit now, ready to sing, as the opening notes to Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” are played. They sing a worship song in Spanish to the tune of that 1960s hit, and despite a lack of comprehension on my part, the song is deeply moving to me.

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Girls singing a worship song in Spanish to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.”

It is ironic, as this church service has been anything but silent. This is a group full of energy and love. We have clapped energetically to the rhythm during most songs, and we can hear children playing, chairs moving, even full conversations all around us throughout the service.

After a short message by Pastor Jesús, the service winds down, and we are given cake, baked by the project’s own bakery students, and bracelets, made by the project’s jewelry-making students. We are treated with love and hospitality by our brothers and sisters in Christ at Fuente de Vida, and I suspect this is a service I’ll not soon forget.

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Two young children just before singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Feet” (yes feet, not toes).

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The children performed a Noah’s Ark puppet show.

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Pastor Jesús with Carlos translating.

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Children drinking juice after church.

God is Good

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Jose and Aidan enjoying the waterslide at Play Zone Park in Managua.

We are two mothers sitting side by side, watching our sons laugh, play together.

They are climbing the inflatable waterslide’s ladder, then racing down the slide, two boys from different countries who became fast friends this morning. After they tumble into the water, make their splashes, they resurface with huge smiles and climb up again.

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Jose and Aidan

We laugh, too, every once in a while. We are both mothers of sons. She has three, and I have five. But mostly we are quiet, sitting together in the shade, finding refuge from the heat, taking in the scene in front of us.

Our translator asks me, “Is there anything you want to ask her?”

His job is to translate, to encourage us to communicate, and he is very good at this. But he is also a young man. How can he know that mothers don’t always need words to communicate? Mothers can be content watching their sons build a friendship, marveling at their sons from different worlds together, laughing, splashing more.

Is there anything I want to ask her? Of course there is, and questions buzz through my head like a swarm of bees. How can I narrow it down? Which questions are most important?

By nature, I often enjoy silence more than talking, and she seems the same, this mother of my sponsored child. This hard-working woman, whose struggles I can only imagine, has taken a day off from her duties to visit an amusement park with her son to meet me, her son’s sponsor, who lives more than 2,000 miles away from Managua.

Our time together is short, and my questions are many, and as our translator patiently waits, I desperately choose one.

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Jose and his mother

“Can you ask her, what is Jose like at home?,” I say.

He asks, and she answers, “He is obedient.” She says he plays well with his 5-year-old brother and helps him a lot.

I nod and say, “That’s good.”

But she isn’t finished.

She tells our translator that Jose sometimes becomes so emotional when he reads my letters to her that he cries. She says he can feel how much I care for him in the letters.

I can feel my throat tightening as I take this in, as we continue to watch our boys together on the waterslide, smiling, sliding, splashing.

Then she tells our translator that I sent Jose a financial gift earlier this year. She says she is so grateful for the gift.

I had sent money in March for Jose’s 11th birthday.

She explains that the gift arrived at a very difficult time for her family, that they were struggling, and it enabled them to purchase shoes for Jose and food. She is very grateful, she says again. Unsure and awkward when accepting thanks, I nod again.

I take a deep breath to push back the emotion, and I explain this gift was from God, not from me. He blesses me, and in turn uses me to bless her. And his timing is perfect. He knew when they would need the gift.

After my words are translated, she nods, and I nod. We hug each other, our eyes watering, then look ahead at our sons again, side by side. I swallow hard as my throat tightens again.

Our translator watches us, then says simply, quietly, “God is good.”