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!

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.