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.

 

 

 

The Meetings!

I find it hard to express in words the emotions in meeting my sponsor children, so I’ll let this short video show the beauty of the moment.

This video shows me meeting my two children, Winston and Hania, in Guatemala on child visit day, and my son Logan meeting his sponsor child, Osmar.

Parents Play, Too!

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Winston’s father, Guillermo, prepares to race his son on the inflatable obstacle course.

Child visit day is special in so many ways.

There is nothing like those first hugs with the sponsor children to whom you have been writing. Having the opportunity to observe them in person, to talk and play with them, and to see their facial expressions gives great insight into their personalities.

You learn things that you just couldn’t learn through letters.

And as wonderful as all of those things were for me to experience as a sponsor, there was an added beauty in the day in being able to see my sponsor children’s parents joining in the fun.

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Winston’s father on the obstacle course.

These are parents who struggle to provide for their children daily in ways it is impossible for me to imagine. Yet in spite of the difficult circumstances they face, they each took a day off work and traveled several hours by bus to meet me, a stranger from another country who sends letters to their children.

It was humbling to meet them and to receive their thanks throughout the day.

It was heart-warming to be accepted instantly into their families, as their sister in Christ; to be loved as one of their own.

And it was beautiful to see the joy on their faces as they played with their children.

After Winston beat his father, Guillermo, in an obstacle course race, his dad requested a second race. He wanted another chance to win against his son, and he did. And the smiles and laughter between father and son were priceless.

Hania’s mom, Onifacia, seemed quiet and shy at first, maybe overwhelmed by the day’s events. But with an air hockey paddle in her hand, she was a fierce competitor! After I played several games with her daughter, I invited Onifacia to give it a try. She was tentative at first, getting a feel for the game, but in no time, she was slamming that air hockey disc hard and fast across the table, smiling the whole time.

And Osmar’s mother, Delores, had an easygoing, fun-loving manner that was impossible to resist. We were teammates in a serious boys vs. girls soccer match, where I saw her steal the ball from her son more than once, and tease him about it afterwards.

Quick moments in a day filled with emotion and activity, but priceless and unforgettable memories that I’ve tucked away, as I’m sure those parents and children have as well, to be treasured forever.

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Hania’s mother dominating the air hockey table.

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Osmar’s mother guards the goal.

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The racers take a break: Guillermo, Winston, Osmar and Logan.

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

Guest Post: Faraway Friends

Find out who my son Logan will be meeting this summer by checking out my guest post on Laura’s blog at MommyMaleta.com! And while you’re there, take some time to read some of the other great posts on Laura’s site.

You can read my post by clicking here.

By the way, if you aren’t already following me on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, please check out these links:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/GtatefulGiving.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TeamKEight.

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/stewkaz/.

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.