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.
Visiting families living in poverty is not easy. Often I fight back emotion throughout the visit, overcome by the difficult circumstances in which the family is living, then leave with a heavy heart, resigned to the unfairness of their situation.
But the visit to a home in the little mountainous community of Cantón Paxot II in Guatemala was unlike any I’ve experienced.
Our adventure began in the back of a pickup truck, much to the delight of the two teens in our group. We traveled bumpy backroads in the truck, the got out and climbed a narrow, steep dirt path to Santiago and Clara’s home.
There we were greeted warmly by the family, which had covered the courtyard floor with fresh pine needles to welcome us. This is a custom usually reserved for celebrations, and the scent was wonderful.
As we visited with the family, asking about their lives on the mountainside and sharing about our own lives as well, it became clear that this was a strong family, united in faith and love. They were happy to share their lives with us, and wanted to learn about us, too.
Santiago works as a day laborer, while his wife, two sisters and mother sew and embroider skirts to be sold at the market.
Clara showed us her kitchen, complete with wood-burning stove and corn boiling in a large pot for making corn tortillas and tamales. The family also has a water filter provided by Compassion and water from a faucet.
Their three daughters, Shirley, 7, Ashely, 5, and Melanie, 3, were quiet and shy throughout most of the visit. Because they are Mayan, the children haven’t learned Spanish well, yet, and speak Kiche instead, so our questions to them were translated from English to Spanish by our translator, then from Spanish to Kiche by their parents. We were told the younger children in the community could only speak Kiche.
Shirley and Ashley are both in Compassion’s sponsorship program, which often indicates special need by the family, as Compassion usually registers only one child per family.
Shirley excitedly showed us the letter she has received from her sponsor. Ashley hadn’t received any letters, yet.
Shirley’s parents proudly presented her report card to us as well. She is excelling in math and a subject called “citizen education,” and she told us she likes school.
During the visit, the women taught Todd and his daughter, Anna, to sew, and seemed pleased with their efforts.
After we presented the family with a gift of grocery items, and posed for group photos, it was time to say goodbye, and Santiago extended an invitation to us to visit again anytime.
And I walked away feeling very positive about this family, with this verse in my mind:
“But as for me and my household, I will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:15
After quick hugs and photos, the boys were off and running, making good use of every minute of their short day together.
Logan and Osmar have shared letters through Compassion International for about two and a half years, and they finally met in person last week in Guatemala City.
It was no surprise that the two were instant best friends. They have many things in common, including a love of sports and big smiles. Both love to help their mothers cook meals. They even share the same position in their families: third child, with two older brothers.
Within minutes of meeting, they each wore the same blue Dodgers baseball hat and jersey as well.
They filled the day playing soccer, air hockey, basketball and ping pong, racing through an obstacle course several times, and pausing only briefly for lunch. They hugged often and always were smiling, having fun even when a translator wasn’t around to bridge the language barrier.
After lunch, the boys exchanged gifts before they were running again.
Logan sponsored Osmar in February 2013, and this was the day that brought that sponsorship to life. He had traveled to Guatemala with me and spent the week visiting Compassion projects around the country, learning how the program works and playing with children at each stop, but today was the day that mattered most to him.
And when the time came for goodbyes, it was clear the day had impacted both boys greatly.
Tears and hugs followed, and after our initial farewells, Osmar managed to find Logan in the crowd again, running back for one last hug.
Logan already is making plans to visit his Guatemalan brother again in the future.