Priceless Child Visits

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Playing basketball during child visit day in Guatemala, July 2015.

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.

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Hania smiled all day.

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.

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Logan and Osmar say goodbye to each other.

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.

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Winston shows off a bracelet my daughter made for him.

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Logan brought Osmar his own Dodgers jersey and hat.

 

 

 

When God’s Plans are Better than My Plans

Sometimes God’s gifts are obvious, and they fit perfectly into my plans: a healthy newborn baby; a loved one returning safely from a war zone; a cancer scare for a dear family member that turns out fine. Huge life moments when you fall to your knees in thanks for the outcome.

But what about those gifts that are not only unexpected, but don’t even really register on your wish list because they don’t fit into your plans?

Jefry coming into my life was one of those gifts, unplanned by me, but not by God.

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Jefry’s official Compassion photo.

He stood out in a stack of five child folders I received just two months before visiting Nicaragua. At three years old, he was almost exactly one year younger than my youngest son, and had a birthday just a few days before my son’s.

Jefry looked apprehensive in his photo, maybe even shy, his skinny legs peeking out of his shorts, baby toes showing in his little red sandals. I thought how I’d love to sponsor this little boy, but I set aside his folder on the table.

Later my husband walked by the table, and he noticed Jefry’s photo, too. “Who is this,” he asked. I said, “You’re drawn to him, too, aren’t you? He’s a cutie.”

But we had no plans to sponsor another child so close to my upcoming trip with Compassion. I already had two children on my list for child visit day, and had been collecting gifts to bring to them, and I was saving a spot in our budget to sponsor another child while on the trip.

So, as planned, I scanned in Jefry’s photo, and along with the four other child folders, posted his information on my blog, hoping to find him a sponsor.

In less than a day, a man contacted me and said he wanted to sponsor one of the children whose photos I had posted. I asked which child, and he said to just choose for him. He also agreed to have me assigned as his child’s correspondent, so I would write to the child while he was the financial sponsor.

Any guesses who I chose? Two months later, I was meeting Jefry for the first time.

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Meeting Jefry for the first time.

Just like in his photo, he looked shy as he approached. One of my other boys, Esteban, held Jefry’s hand and led him to me. After our first hug, “shy Jefry” disappeared.

It turned out that timid little guy actually had mischief in his eyes, beautiful dimples that flashed with plentiful smiles, and a whole lot of energy. He was on the go non-stop!

I often pray for his beautiful mother, Gloria, that she would have the energy to keep up with her little firecracker, as I saw him test and challenge her many times that day.

He carried a “traca traca”, two balls connected by a string, stuffed impossibly into his little jeans pocket.

He crashed into a glass door, which knocked him flat on his back and left a small red bump on his forehead, but he didn’t miss a beat.

This boy tackled every new experience throughout the day with enthusiasm, from his first go-cart ride as my passenger, to driving his own boat in circles, to a boat ride with me as we chased my son and other sponsor children to squirt them with our water cannon, causing him to laugh loudly.

He overcame his fear of the jumping castle as we bounced inside it during a rain shower, soaking wet and laughing.

He strapped on roller skates and flung his legs wildly, held up by the arms between his mother and our translator, eyes sparkling and only half-heartedly trying to skate, but obviously enjoying his legs wildly flailing around.

He repeatedly stuck his thumb in his mouth during photos to tease his mother.

He wanted to play baseball immediately upon receiving the glove and ball I brought for him.

He ate a hot dog in the morning, chicken and fries for lunch, then cake and popcorn later in the day, always with enthusiasm and finishing every bite.

And after all of this, he still had the energy to kick a soccer ball around with me and the older boys.

In fact, I didn’t see Jefry slow down the entire day, until we climbed back on the bus together. Then he fell asleep – sitting up.

Our translator carefully lifted him over the bus seat and into the arms of his mother.

So despite Jefry’s photo catching my eye and tugging at my heart that first time I saw it, I was ready to give up the chance to meet this wonderful little boy without even a second thought. I’d have missed out on that awesome day with Jefry, getting to know him and his mother. I’d have missed out on the chance to watch him grow in the coming years, and hopefully to visit him again sometime. I’m so thankful God had other plans.

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Jefry on the go carts.

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Jefry driving his own boat.

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Jefry teasing his mom by sticking his thumb in his mouth.

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Ready to play ball.

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Roller skating with some help.

Jewels of Christ Student Center

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Jewels of Christ Student Center, NI-102

Jewels of Christ Student Center is a vibrant and busy Compassion center in Nicaragua.

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Pastor Ronald of NI-102 greets sponsors visiting his center.

Located just west of Managua in Ciudad Sandino, and serving more than 400 children, we visited this center on a Saturday morning in October and were greeted with many songs and dances. The staff was warm and welcoming.

Later, we were impressed as we toured the center’s many programs, which offer wonderful job training to the children in attendance.

These include a computer lab, a bakery, music education, jewelry-making and a cosmetology program. These programs are beneficial to the community because they provide students with valuable experience, and hopefully employment in the future.

The surrounding area is home to about 120,000 people, who earn an average of $70 per month. Most homes have dirt floors, brick walls and corrugated tin roofs. To learn more about a family we visited whose children attend this center, please click here.

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NI-102’s bakery class; one boy explained that he likes to make cakes and snacks the best, and is looking forward to learning to make pizza.

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These children in the center’s music class treated us to a beautiful song.

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Children in the computer lab are learning to use the programs Word and Excel proficiently.

If you are interested in sponsoring a child who attends this center, please consider one of the following five children, for whom I am advocating. Contact me in the comments section if you wish to sponsor one of these children or to learn more about them. To read about my meeting with my own sponsor child at this center, please click here.

StivenNI

Stiven is three years old, born June 19, and lives with his mother and father, who is sometimes employed as a laborer. He enjoys soccer and playing with cars, as well as playing a musical instrument.

ErickNI

Erick is four years old, born September 13, and lives with his father and mother. There are three children in the home. He likes soccer and playing with cars.

OnellaNI

Onelia is 14 years old, born May 31, and lives with her mother. There are two children in the family. She likes playing a musical instrument, singing and listening to music.

CesarNI

Cesar is 11 years old, born April 1, and lives with his mother. There are three children in the family. He likes soccer and bicycling, and his school performance is above average.

KarlaNI

Karla is seven years old, born February 5, and lives with her mother and father. There are four children in the family. She enjoys singing, playing house and playing with dolls.

A Gift

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Jose and Kerri looking at one of the bilingual Bible story books I brought to Nicaragua to give to two of my children there.

Jose and I looked over the book together as I explained that my own children have the English version of it at home. Now we could read the same stories, although separated from each other by so many miles, a special connection to bridge the distance.

It is a bilingual Bible story book called, “The Jesus Storybook Bible.” I love this book because the stories are well-written, the artwork is beautiful, and there are notations with Bible verses at the beginning of each story telling where to find it in the Bible.

So this week, as my family prepares to celebrate Christmas, and Jose’s family does the same, I will think of them as we read:

“And there, in the stable, amongst the chickens and the donkeys and the cows, in the quiet of the night, God gave the world his wonderful gift. The baby that would change the world was born. His baby Son.”

I’ll think of Jose, and his beautiful mother, and pray that they are enjoying God’s wonderful gift as much as we are.

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Jose and Kerri

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Jose reads the inscription on the inside cover.

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Beautiful artwork

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Kerri fills in the “Presented to” page with Jose’s name and the date.

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Spanish and English versions side by side on each page.

Faith, Love and Family

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Our group with Michael’s family.

After an emotional meeting and goodbye with my newest sponsored child, Marlon, our group gathered outside to go on a home visit.

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A door to one of the homes.

This would be our second home visit that week, and it’s a unique experience, giving us sponsors the opportunity to see the home of a child attending the project we had just toured. It gives a better understanding of the child’s home environment and of the family’s needs. And once again, we were able to give the family a huge bag of groceries provided by Compassion.

As I waited to board the bus for the short drive to the home, a light-eyed boy in a purple shirt came up and hugged me. I told him my name, and used my shaky Spanish to find out his… Michael. I said, “Miguel?” thinking he was giving me the English version. And he said, “No, es Michael.” Venturing a little more in Spanish, I was able to find out it was his home we would be visiting that day, and that his sister also attends the project.

We arrived at the home to find that it was a cluster of small buildings on one lot, surrounded by a fence pieced together like a puzzle of sheets of metal and wood. There were 16 family members living there, including Michael’s parents and four siblings, his grandmother, and some aunts, uncles and cousins, and it looked like there were three separate small homes. Chickens pecked at the dirt near us.

Michael’s grandmother and aunt sat in rocking chairs outside, and we gathered around to visit with them and the rest of the family. The grandmother told us she had recently come home from the hospital, where she had been admitted for heart problems.

In the mish-mash of tin roofs and patched-together homes, two things stood out to me.

First, there was a definite love of God in this family. There were phrases spray-painted on the doors and walls inside the compound attesting to this, including one that said simply, “Dios” or “God” in English. An uncle sat outside throughout the visit, and seemed interested in discussing his faith. He wanted to know if any of us were pastors, and at the end of our visit, he led a beautiful prayer for us.

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Michael holding his sister.

Michael’s grandmother talked about their church, and told us that Michael’s father had recently begun attending with the family. She seemed pleased with this new development, and we were all happy to hear it. He seemed a little embarrassed by the attention. She shared with us that Michael’s sister has been baptized, and they are hoping Michael will be baptized soon. Then she asked each of us to tell her the names of our churches.

The other thing that stood out was a definite love of family. This group clearly cared for and respected each other. The teens were quick to bring out the chairs to seat their grandmother and aunt at the start of our visit, and they hovered around both ladies while we were there. Michael held his baby sister for quite a while as we all talked.

After prayers and hugs, we gave Michael’s family the bag of groceries and climbed on the bus to drive back to the project.

I had a good feeling that with faith, love and Compassion’s help, this family is richer than many.

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Carlos translates the conversation as we visit.

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Michael, his older sister and his father.