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.

 

 

 

Compassion Thanks

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and with so many things in my life for which to be thankful, I’ve decided to focus in this post only on those which are Compassion-related.

This has been a very busy year for me as a Compassion sponsor and advocate. It’s been filled with many blessings, opportunities to serve, new friendships and new experiences. I’ll try to sum it up in the following list of gratitude:

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Logan with our sponsor children: Osmar, Winston and Hania in Guatemala. Logan sponsors Osmar on his own.

Guatemala Sponsor Tour: In July, I had the incredible opportunity to travel with my son Logan to Guatemala for a sponsor tour. This was my second Compassion tour, and it was every bit as amazing and special as the first. There are so many aspects of this tour that stand out, but here are the parts for which I am most thankful: meeting my sponsor children in person; meeting other sponsors, including many who are Compassion staff here in the United States; meeting the Compassion staff in Guatemala; experiencing the sights and sounds of this beautiful country; and most of all, doing all of this with my son.

There are no words to fully describe meeting your sponsor children in person. It is an experience filled with emotion, and the opportunity to see their facial expressions and movements, to interact with them and to meet their parents and project workers, really adds so much to the relationship. It is definitely the highlight of a sponsor tour.

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Sponsors and translators in Guatemala.

A close second, though, is meeting the other sponsors on the tour. They are, in a word, amazing. While they share a love for children in poverty with you, they come from all over the country, with all kinds of unique experiences to share. And long bus rides and many meals offer lots of time for sharing. Sometimes you are lucky enough to meet members of Compassion’s U.S. staff on these tours, and they can give special insight into the ministry, and always confirm to me what a great organization Compassion is. These new friendships are invaluable.

Meeting the in-country staff is really fun as well. These very special people are dedicated and hard-working, and they are a wonderful source of information about Compassion and their country. They love their country and its children, and they love us sponsors. On our last night in Guatemala, one translator said to me, “Thank you for loving our children.” To be thanked after being blessed so greatly all week by her was quite humbling.

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Logan and Favian, our formerly sponsored child and Compassion graduate.

Making this trip with my son, who is 14 years old, is something neither of us will ever forget. To share so many wonderful experiences was priceless. I deeply enjoyed watching Logan make new friends, interact with the children at each project, and take in all of the new things going on around him. Since returning home, I have seen the ways the trip has changed him many times. He seems to have a deeper appreciation for the many blessings in his life.

Logan Becomes an Advocate: After returning from Guatemala, Logan was on fire for Compassion and its ministry. Within a week, he decided to become an advocate. He sponsors his own child in Guatemala, and he corresponds with another child in Kenya. He is passionate about helping children who are living in poverty, and I am proud of him.

Sponsoring Gladys: We did not sponsor a new child while on the sponsor tour in Guatemala, but we did sponsor a new child two months later from one of the centers we visited. I had requested child packets from centers we visited on the sponsor tour in hopes of connecting sponsors to children from the areas I had seen in person and photographed. One of the five packets I received was for a little girl who looked very familiar. After looking through my trip photos, I found a photo of her with Logan, so we welcomed Gladys into our sponsor family!

Continued Close Relationships with my Children in Nicaragua: After meeting my four boys in Nicaragua on a sponsor tour in 2014, we have continued our relationships with great letters filled with love. They are truly members of my family, and I know they feel the same. I can’t wait to visit them again.

Letters: Letters are our connection with our sponsor children, and this year, I continued to write monthly to each of my children, and to receive many letters in return. It can be a slow process, but it is worth it to build these relationships. Our letters are a blessing to our sponsor children, but their letters equally bless us.

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Logan with the Compassion Experience truck.

Compassion Experience: In May, Logan and I volunteered at Compassion Experience. I had been waiting for Compassion Experience to come to my city, and was so excited to have this opportunity. I was thrilled to see how accurately Compassion has recreated sponsor children’s homes and projects to tell their stories effectively. For more information about Compassion Experience, click here.

Concerts: Another great opportunity to be involved with Compassion is in volunteering at concerts. Compassion partners with musicians who sponsor children and promote the ministry by encouraging others to sponsor as well. We volunteered at concerts by For King and Country and Matthew West this year, and more than 100 children were sponsored at each event! It is a lot of fun to see new sponsors connected to waiting children.

Sponsorship Anniversary: Finally, this fall marked five years since I first became a sponsor. When I chose my first child, I never would have imagined that in just five years, our sponsor family would continue to grow, and I would leave the country not once, but twice, to visit my sponsor children. This has been a wonderful journey with Compassion, and I look forward to seeing where it leads in the future.

If you are interested in beginning your own Compassion journey, please click here to see the many children who are waiting for sponsors. Contact me if you have any questions.

Happy Thanksgiving and God’s Peace!

Cantót Paxot II, Guatemala: Sponsor a Child

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The road to GU-479 in Cantón Paxot II, Guatemala.

After a 3-hour drive north from Antigua through lush mountains with beautiful valley views, we were greeted by firecrackers upon arrival at Compassion project GU-479.

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Children lined up to greet us when we arrived.

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Playground at GU-479. New classrooms are being built at the right.

Compassion International has been partnered with Metodista Paxot II, a church in the community of Cantón Paxot II, Guatemala, since 2012. The area is home to about 1,500 residents, and the most commonly spoken language is the Mayan language Kiche.

Children lined up outside of our buses to shake hands and greet us before leading us down a rural road to their project, where they performed many traditional dances for us, including a dance to honor St. Thomas, the dance of the monkeys, the stealing of the bride dance, and the dance of the bull. It was an honor to be among the first group of sponsors to visit this project.

The staff and parents were warm and welcoming in this remote community, where we learned the most common health issues are intestinal diseases and respiratory illness. The community has water and telephone service, but needs employment opportunities, public transportation and vocational training. Most adults are unemployed, but some work as day laborers, earning the equivalent of $75/month.

Please consider sponsoring one of these beautiful children from this project:

Jaymerson

Jaymerson, born Sept. 9, 2007.

Jaymerson, 8, lives with his parents and six siblings. He is responsible for gathering firewood and running errands, and his father works as a farmer.

He enjoys soccer, basketball and playing with cars, and he attends church activities and Bible class regularly.

Jennifer

Jennifer, born March 24, 2005.

Jennifer, 10, lives with her parents and one sibling. She helps care for animals and makes beds at home, and her father works as a farmer.

She enjoys playing house and playing with dolls, and her performance is average in school. She attends church activities and Vacation Bible School.

Fernando

Fernando, born May 29, 2008.

Fernando, 7, lives with his parents and two siblings. His duties at home are carrying water, gathering firewood and making beds, and his father is a farmer.

He enjoys playing soccer, swimming and playing with cars, and he attends Bible class regularly.

William

William, born July 9, 2004.

William, 11, lives with his parents. His father works sometimes as a farmer, and there are two children in the family.

He enjoys playing soccer, ball games and bicycling, and his school performance is average. William also attends Bible class regularly.

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A view of the area with the church in the background.

If you are interested in sponsoring one of these children, please contact me.

Sponsorship costs $38/month, and the benefits to both the child and the sponsor are priceless.

Compassion has worked in Guatemala since 1976, and there are more than 130 child development centers in the country, serving more than 32,400 children.

Compassion works in 27 countries world wide. If you would like to sponsor a child in another country, please click here to see children available for sponsorship.

A Unique Home Visit

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Clara, with her youngest daughter Melanie, and two sisters-in-law, making skirts.

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.

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Todd, Anna and Logan riding in the truck.

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.

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Walking up the path to the family’s home.

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.

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Santiago at right, with two of his daughters, his wife Clara, center, and two sisters at left.

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

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Shirley with her report card.

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Clara with her daughters, Shirley and Ashley, in the kitchen.

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Clara and her daughters open the gift we brought for them.

Faraway Friends Finally Meet

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Osmar and Logan just minutes after their first hug.

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.

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Logan and Osmar

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.

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Osmar and Logan with Osmar’s mother, Delores, and the correspondence director from his Compassion project, Yancy.

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Laughing during lunch.

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Quiet time together.

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Air hockey

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One of many hugs

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The final goodbye

Strength through Mourning

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Delmi and her mother, Adela, share with us a photo of Roberto, Delmi’s father, who died in an accident less than two years ago.

The devastating loss of a husband, a father of four beautiful daughters… it happened almost two years ago.

The date was Sept. 9, 2013, and it was the same day Compassion project GU-492 opened in San Martín Jilotepeque, Guatemala. It was a day that would change the lives of 9-year-old Delmi and her family members forever.

As our small group walked to visit Delmi’s home, project workers explained the family’s situation to us. They said Delmi’s mother, Adela, had a very difficult time after her husband’s death, including dealing with depression. They told us Adela continued to struggle, and that her daughter Delmi would receive more help when the project hired a new counselor.

So we walked up the steep path to the family’s hilltop home, and we didn’t know what we would find there.

The yellow-painted brick home sat on a hillside, overlooking the community. It felt fresh and clean on that hill, after walking the busy streets below. There were trees offering refreshing shade, a worn bench on a covered porch looking out over countless tin-roofed homes. Potted plants with flowers added color, while chickens wandered and pecked the ground beneath brightly colored clotheslines.

It seemed to be a peaceful refuge.

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Delmi shows us her basketball medals.

And there we met the family. Adela, the mother, introduced us to her daughters, Dulce, 15, Delmi and Fatima, 4. Her oldest daughter wasn’t home at the moment because she was studying for school, but we would meet her later in the visit. We also later met the girls’ abuela, Adela’s mother who lives nearby.

We visited with the family while enjoying a special orange drink Adela had prepared for us. During that time, I saw a strong and courageous woman in front of us, a woman hurting deeply, possibly shattered by her loss, but forging ahead for her children.

Adela supports her family by selling snacks at a nearby school. Her own mother does the same job.

She spoke glowingly of her mother, whom she said taught her the value of hard work, raising her own family without a husband. Adela said she prays every day that her mother will never leave her because she doesn’t know how she will go on without her.

She clearly receives a lot of support from this woman and loves her very much.

Adela shared with us that she reads out of Psalms from her Bible every night; that she can’t go to sleep without reading it. She said it is difficult when her youngest daughter is upset and cries for her daddy; that it hurts her because she feels helpless.

Delmi, who entered the Compassion program when it opened, showed us the medals she’s won playing basketball. She makes good grades in school and wants to earn a science degree. Adela’s hard-working example obviously is rubbing off on her daughters.

And much too soon, it was time to say goodbye to this special family. We prayed with them, loved them, took photos together and said our goodbyes. And while there doesn’t seem to be a tidy, happy ending to wrap up this family’s story, there is reliance on God, love of family, and Compassion’s support, which is more than many hurting families have.

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Adela with three of her daughters.

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The view from Adela’s home.

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Our group with the family.

If you are interested in sponsoring a child in Guatemala, or in any of the 27 countries around the world where Compassion works, please click here.

Boats, Cars and Smiles

One of the boys’ favorite activities during our visit day was driving, whether it was boats or cars. Please enjoy the beautiful smiles in the following photos.

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Jose, Aidan and Kerri ready to race!

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Jefry piloting his very own little boat.

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Esteban driving a race car.

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Kerri and Esteban

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Jose and Aidan riding together.

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Jefry and Kerri

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Esteban getting ready to take aim at Kerri.

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Jose enjoying the boats.