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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Jewels of Christ Student Center is a vibrant and busy Compassion center in Nicaragua.
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.
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.
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.
Please enjoy this short video showing Esteban’s balero skills. He was catching the ball on the first try every time until I started recording. To read a related post, click here.
After an emotional meeting and goodbye with my newest sponsored child, Marlon, our group gathered outside to go on a home visit.
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.
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.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Today is Esteban’s 9th birthday!
This month also marks four years that I’ve been sponsoring Esteban, and getting to know him through letters.
This year, I had the privilege of sharing birthday cake with Esteban in an early birthday celebration during our child visit day last month in Managua. Toward the end of the day, we all gathered together to sing “Happy Birthday” to the children with birthdays in October and November.
It was very special for the children, and Esteban even teared up a bit with emotion during the song.
Afterwards, I got to hug him, wish him a Happy Birthday in person for the first time, and share some cake with him.
It was a special moment for us, and has been on my mind today as I imagine him celebrating his birthday at home with his family.
Happy 9th Birthday, Esteban!
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.
When we arrived at the Play Zone Park, we were directed to a large cafeteria-like room, where we waited for snacks before we could go outside and explore the activities available.
To pass the time, Aidan pulled out his balero, which he had purchased at a market place the day before. A balero is the same thing as our “ball-in-a-cup” toy.
Aidan had been practicing with it since he bought it, and definitely was improving, so he showed the little guys his new skill. Then he offered it to 8-year-old Esteban for a turn.
Esteban caught the ball in the cup on his first try.
We all clapped for him, then watched in amazement as he continued to catch the ball on the first try, over and over and over. He just smiled.
Next, we gave it to 3-year-old Jefry. He wasn’t quite coordinated enough to catch the ball, but he gave it a try, and knocked it all over the table where he was sitting. Finally he picked up the ball and put it in the cup, so we clapped for him, too.
His dimpled smile was beautiful as he showed off his accomplishment.
Well, if Esteban’s skill was impressive, and Jefry’s smile blew us away, when 11-year-old Jose took his turn, he showed everyone that he is, indeed, the master of the balero.
Jose proceeded to catch the ball on his first try too many times to count. He must have worn out his arm, though, because when I finally pulled out my phone to make a video of this mastery, he missed the ball.
Not to be outdone, Jefry pulled from his little jeans pocket two balls connected by a string – a traca traca, known to us as “clackers.” I’m still not sure how this toy fit in his pocket.
Jose showed us what to do with the traca traca, but neither Aidan or I had much luck. Fortunately, what I lacked in skill, I made up for in hilarity because the boys laughed quite a bit at my efforts.
Once again, Jose was the true master of this toy, and he impressed us with his ability to make the balls hit faster and faster.
Now we have some goals for our next Nicaragua visit: master the balero and the traca traca!
By the way, several people told us there is an even more difficult way to play with the balero. Instead of catching the ball in the cup, you can try to land the ball, with the hole in it facing down, onto the peg at the bottom of the balero’s handle. I thought they were joking with us, but they insisted it’s possible. It may be something to keep Aidan busy until we visit our Nicaraguan family again.
In a trip that was full of new experiences, sights and sounds, filled with emotion, with each day ending in exhaustion, heart overflowing with God’s blessings and love, everything came together in these brief, beautiful moments. I met my boys.
Yes, meeting them was the main purpose of this journey to Nicaragua. If not for them, Aidan and I would not be there. But we had experienced so much already, changed so much already, how could there be more?
But of course, there was more, and it began with this meeting.
After much anticipation, a sleepless night, and an early-morning wake-up filed with anxiety and nerves, Aidan and I headed to the hotel lobby, loaded down with gifts for our boys. There we joined the other sponsors on our tour, and listened closely as our leader, Kim, read off our bus assignments.
Five buses would be arriving shortly, carrying our sponsored children, and we were excited to learn that we’d be on the first bus!
Finally, we saw the buses pull up in front of the hotel. The first sponsor from our bus headed out and hugged his children, then they posed for photos. At this point, it was becoming difficult to hold back the tears. I squeezed the hand of the sponsor in front of me, and moments later, she walked outside to meet her beautiful young lady, followed by more hugs, more tears, more photos.
And it was our turn.
I handed my camera to Kim as Aidan and I walked through the lobby doors, and I saw Jose walking toward me. We hugged, I kissed him and cried, and we hugged some more. Then we tried to pull it together enough to pose for a few photos.
Before we had a chance to recover, Esteban walked into my arms. The little pudgy 5-year-old, whom I had sponsored almost four years ago, who had asked me to visit in his letters, was now a thinner, taller boy, and hugging him at last was a wonderful feeling.
As soon as we finished our hugs, little 3-year-old Jefry cautiously walked up and greeted me. I only started writing to Jefry at the end of August. In fact, he hadn’t even received a letter from me, yet, and that, along with his age, left him a little unsure of what was going on. But he followed Esteban’s lead, and joined in the celebration, posing for photos after hugs.
We climbed onto the bus together, where I met each boy’s mother and project tutor, and I must admit, I had to ask for everyone’s names again later because it was all I could do to just be in the moment with my boys, hardly believing I was sitting next to them on a bus in Managua.
To break the ice during the drive to Play Zone Park, I gave each boy the soccer bracelet my daughter had made for them, and a little photo album full of family photos. We all looked through the photos together, Esteban making sure Jefry turned the pages in his album right along with the rest of us.
It was a beautiful start to an unforgettable day.
Nicaragua is known as, “The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes,” and that’s just what we got to see while driving back to Managua from Leon one evening.
It had been such a hot and humid day, while visiting a project in Leon, playing with the children and visiting a home in the area, that a quick stop at the shore of Lake Managua was a welcome reprieve. The air was cooler standing at the edge of the water, and the breeze felt wonderful.
The view was beautiful, peaceful, and it was a perfect end to the day.
In the middle of the church service, he appeared, off to the side, watching and listening.
One sponsor noticed him, then another, whispering, “Look, it’s Obert.”
We had met Obert as a group the day before in a conference room at our hotel in Managua. He was there with three other Compassion graduates to share his story with us.
Obert told us he first was registered with Compassion at the age of five. He was sponsored by the same Canadian sponsor until he graduated the program.
During that time, Obert switched projects twice and even stopped attending the project for a while. His project director never gave up on him, though. Obert said the director would find him at his home or playing in the neighborhood and encourage him to begin attending again.
Obert listened to his project director, and he eventually did return to the project, where he became enrolled in a bakery class.
The class was offered under Compassion’s Complementary Intervention Program (CIV). This program provides for a wide range of enhancements to Compassion’s sponsorship program, including emergency medical care, nutritional assistance, disaster response, water projects and non-formal education, like Obert’s baking class.
After taking the baking class at his project for two years, Obert started a bakery business with his parents. At 16 years old, he sells about 100 loaves of bread each day, earning about $34 daily.
As a Compassion graduate, Obert will begin teaching baking classes to children at his project soon.
He said his dream for the future is to go to a university and become a professional chef.
After telling us his story, Obert expressed extreme gratitude to Compassion, his sponsor, the project director and others in charge of his development. We all shook hands with Obert, hugged him, and told him we were proud of him. One sponsor told him he’d love to taste his bread someday.
Obert’s story was an inspiring testament to the wonderful good Compassion does in children’s lives, but the reason for Obert’s appearance at church that morning was even more than inspiring.
As the service ended, our group was told to line up because Obert had come to church that morning with a gift for each of us.
He gave us bread.