Faith, Love and Family

DSC_1977

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.

IMG_6690

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.

DSC_1974

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.

DSC_1976

Carlos translates the conversation as we visit.

DSC_1972

Michael, his older sister and his father.

Birthday Boy

DSC_2548

Compassion children celebrate their birthdays with their sponsors!

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!

DSC_2549

Esteban with his birthday cake.

DSC_2551

Kerri & Esteban

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.

DSC_2448

Jose, Aidan and Kerri ready to race!

DSC_2242_2

Jefry piloting his very own little boat.

DSC_2221

Esteban driving a race car.

DSC_2190_2

Kerri and Esteban

DSC_2191

Jose and Aidan riding together.

DSC_2280

Jefry and Kerri

DSC_2271

Esteban getting ready to take aim at Kerri.

DSC_2270

Jose enjoying the boats.

Play Time

DSC_2159

Aidan showing Jefry and Esteban his balero.

DSC_2160

Esteban conquers the balero.

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.

DSC_2163

Jefry with the balero.

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.

DSC_2168

Aidan and Jose, the balero master.

DSC_2171

Aidan trying the traca traca while our translator, Nicole, looks on.

DSC_2174

Jose, the traca traca champion!

DSC_2172

Jose giving a traca traca demonstration.

The Meeting

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.

DSC_2124

Anxious sponsors listen as Kim, our tour leader, reads off bus assignments before the children arrive.

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.

DSC_2131

Meeting Jose for the first time.

DSC_2138_2

Aidan, Kerri and Jose after our first hugs.

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.

DSC_2143_2

Finally hugging Esteban after almost four years of sponsorship.

DSC_2147

Aidan, Kerri, Esteban and Jefry.

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.

DSC_2149

Seated on the bus, traveling to Play Zone Park.

Beautiful Nicaragua

DSC_1909

Volcanoes Momotombo, left, and Momotombito, right, as seen across Lake Managua.

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.

DSC_1910

The shore of Lake Managua.

DSC_1920

A family collecting firewood on the shore of Lake Managua.