These are my friends at Compassion project GU-479 in Cantón Paxot II, Guatemala. They wanted me to take their photo while leaning against a motorcycle outside, and when I showed the photo to them, I said, “muy guapo” (very handsome). They thought this was so funny that they spent the next several minutes giggling and punching each other. I actually checked with a Spanish speaker to be sure I hadn’t said the wrong words, and I hadn’t. The boys just thought it was funny that I called them handsome.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” – Matthew 19:14
My eyes had been open all week, taking in the poverty, the difficulties and challenges, and the sometimes seemingly hopeless situations of the families we visited.
My heart was full of the details of their lives, of their struggles and their hopes. I saw the pain in their eyes as they shared their stories, the raw, human pain, and it hurt to see it. There were broken families, alcoholism and even death, all to be dealt with in addition to unimaginable poverty.
And on the last day of home visits, we met another family living in poverty, this time in a dangerous “red zone” in Guatemala City. This family also was struggling with challenges, but my heart was too full, there was no more room to squeeze in this family’s story. Or there was room, but this family’s reality hurt too much to let it in.
It was like the last drop of water before the bucket overflowed, and frankly, I was tired, and didn’t want the bucket to overflow.
Somehow unable to take in even one more detail, I can’t remember the name of the woman and her child, whom we were there to meet. And I can’t remember the name of the woman’s mother, who lived next door. But I can’t forget the woman’s little brother, Jonathan.
The beautiful boy, 9 years old, with jet black hair and bright green eyes, striking eyes if you were fortunate enough to get a glimpse of them.
He stumbled out of the door with his mother following close behind, as we met his sister and baby nephew. He was clean, well-cared for, dressed in a nice button-up shirt with a collar, but it was clear in his manner and in his walk that something wasn’t right.
He kept his head down, shuffling around in random paths, like a toddler, and his mother followed him, keeping him safe, as if he really were a toddler. The uneven ground he navigated, cluttered with rocks, buckets, bricks, posing danger every few steps.
Jonathan’s mother told us her boy had a seizure when he was three years old. He was a healthy boy at the time, walking and talking as he should at that age. But after the seizure, Jonathan had to learn to walk again. He hasn’t learned to talk again.
Taking in the horror of that life-changing event, imagining this mother seeing her healthy son completely transformed was difficult to comprehend. But trying to imagine Jonathan’s future now, in this place, was even more difficult.
He is already almost his mother’s height, growing stronger and taller each day. How will she follow him and keep him safe in a few more years, when he outweighs her, when he grows into a man? How will she protect him in this harsh environment, where his disabilities make him especially vulnerable?
And why? Why would God give this family this particularly difficult challenge?
It’s been five weeks since we met Jonathan, and still I have no answers to these questions. My heart breaks for him.
So I recall these verses:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” – Matthew 6:26
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:20
God has plans for Jonathan. He cares for him, and is with him always.
I will pray for Jonathan often, and ask you to do the same.
We met Willy after worshipping at his Compassion center’s church in Comalapa, Guatemala (GU-490).
When the service ended, sponsors were directed to the fourth floor of the building. There we found a room full of child painters sitting next to their masterpieces, which were displayed on easels creating a maze of artwork throughout the room. Even more paintings adorned the walls.
The project director explained that in a community known for its artistry, a painting class was a good fit at this Compassion center.
Willy’s teacher, Filiberto, told our group that he was teaching the children about lines, shapes, perspective, warm and cool colors and complimenting colors.
Judging by the quality of the paintings displayed, Filiberto is a highly skilled teacher, instructing equally skilled students.
As we walked through the room, squeezing between easels, the talent on display was unbelievable. Most of the children in the class were between 8 and 10 years old.
Then we saw Willy. His oil painting of a volcano at the edge of a beautiful lake with a flower-filled shore was beautiful. The perspective, the colors and the shadowing and depth proved this student was learning well. He told us this painting took him two months to complete.
“¿Cuántos años tienes?,” I asked Willy. (How old are you?)
He answered “nine” in English, with a shy smile.
We asked his name, and posed for photos with Willy, and when a translator told him we wanted to purchase his painting, Willy’s smile grew.
He grabbed the painting, and we made our way through the crowded room of artists, following Willy downstairs to record the purchase and pay for the painting.
His joy and excitement over his first sale was evident as he smiled and bounced continuously, and Willy’s painting is now a treasured piece of artwork in our home.
On a gray, cold December afternoon, while my family and I drove home from church, I sponsored Favian.
His photo on the Compassion web site had caught my attention as I looked through children’s profiles earlier that week, so I saved the link to Favian’s information, and continued to consider sponsoring him.
When he was still on my mind that Sunday, I told my husband about Favian, and showed him his photo on my phone. “What do you think,” I asked him. “Should we sponsor him?”
My husband replied, “Yes.”
It was Favian’s birthday that day, and it was my husband’s birthday, too, so we already had a special bond with this special boy.
I could not have imagined on that day that I would be sitting in a hotel lobby in Guatemala five years later, waiting to meet Favian in person.
We had shared many letters throughout the sponsorship, which ended when Favian graduated the Compassion program. Several months after his graduation, he found me on Facebook, and I was overjoyed to hear from him again.
And now, after an exciting week spent traveling Favian’s country, visiting Compassion projects and playing with hundreds of children, I waited nervously with my son Logan and our translator Liz to meet one child, one young man, whom my family had grown to love over the years.
When he walked in with the project director from his former Compassion center, I hugged Favian tightly and kissed him on the cheek. He was dressed nicely for our meeting.
Our small group sat together in the lobby and visited for a while before walking to the dining room for dinner with the other sponsors and translators on the tour.
While we talked, I shared with Favian the story of when I first sponsored him.
He was soft-spoken, but our conversation flowed well. We knew a lot about each other, from letters and Facebook conversations, but we had never seen each other in person or heard each other’s voices.
We confirmed some facts we already knew, and asked questions about things we didn’t know. We shared a meal together, and dessert, more conversation and laughter. And all too soon, it was time to for him to leave.
So we posed for photos, and we prayed together, and we hugged and said goodbye, and my heart was filled by our meeting, but already hoping for the next one.