Unforgettable Jonathan

DSC_9342

Jonathan with his mother.

My eyes had been open all week, taking in the poverty, the difficulties and challenges, and the sometimes seemingly hopeless situations of the families we visited.

My heart was full of the details of their lives, of their struggles and their hopes. I saw the pain in their eyes as they shared their stories, the raw, human pain, and it hurt to see it. There were broken families, alcoholism and even death, all to be dealt with in addition to unimaginable poverty.

And on the last day of home visits, we met another family living in poverty, this time in a dangerous “red zone” in Guatemala City. This family also was struggling with challenges, but my heart was too full, there was no more room to squeeze in this family’s story. Or there was room, but this family’s reality hurt too much to let it in.

It was like the last drop of water before the bucket overflowed, and frankly, I was tired, and didn’t want the bucket to overflow.

DSC_9357

Jonathan receiving gifts as his sister, holding her baby, looks on.

Somehow unable to take in even one more detail, I can’t remember the name of the woman and her child, whom we were there to meet. And I can’t remember the name of the woman’s mother, who lived next door. But I can’t forget the woman’s little brother, Jonathan.

The beautiful boy, 9 years old, with jet black hair and bright green eyes, striking eyes if you were fortunate enough to get a glimpse of them.

He stumbled out of the door with his mother following close behind, as we met his sister and baby nephew. He was clean, well-cared for, dressed in a nice button-up shirt with a collar, but it was clear in his manner and in his walk that something wasn’t right.

He kept his head down, shuffling around in random paths, like a toddler, and his mother followed him, keeping him safe, as if he really were a toddler. The uneven ground he navigated, cluttered with rocks, buckets, bricks, posing danger every few steps.

Jonathan’s mother told us her boy had a seizure when he was three years old. He was a healthy boy at the time, walking and talking as he should at that age. But after the seizure, Jonathan had to learn to walk again. He hasn’t learned to talk again.

Taking in the horror of that life-changing event, imagining this mother seeing her healthy son completely transformed was difficult to comprehend. But trying to imagine Jonathan’s future now, in this place, was even more difficult.

He is already almost his mother’s height, growing stronger and taller each day. How will she follow him and keep him safe in a few more years, when he outweighs her, when he grows into a man? How will she protect him in this harsh environment, where his disabilities make him especially vulnerable?

And why? Why would God give this family this particularly difficult challenge?

It’s been five weeks since we met Jonathan, and still I have no answers to these questions. My heart breaks for him.

So I recall these verses:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” – Matthew 6:26

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:20

God has plans for Jonathan. He cares for him, and is with him always.

I will pray for Jonathan often, and ask you to do the same.

DSC_9349

Jonathan’s home.

DSC_9359

Laundry at Jonathan’s home.

DSC_9362

DSC_9363

It’s (Not) So Sad to Say Goodbye

In three years as a Compassion sponsor, I’ve had to say goodbye to several sponsor children. Children leave the program for many reasons, including graduating, moving away from the area with their families and even simply tiring of the program.

Three times, though, I’ve had children leave for an incredible reason, which is surely a testament to Compassion’s success. They left because their family situations had improved so much that they no longer needed Compassion’s help.

Image

Anderson, from Guatemala, was my first sponsor child, and also my first to leave Compassion due to his family’s circumstances improving.

Can you imagine that? These families who once qualified for Compassion’s services had improved their circumstances so greatly that they were able to stand on their own.

Initially children are selected for Compassion sponsorship by the leadership of the local project, which is often a pastor or a committee of church leaders. These children are selected after being identified as the most needy in the community. 

Image

Greyvin, of Nicaragua, was my second sponsor child whose circumstances improved so much that his family left Compassion.

While in the program, children receive help with spiritual, economic, social and physical needs. Meanwhile, their parents also can receive training covering topics such as family care, adult literacy education, seminars on domestic violence, and nutritional food preparation.

At the point when a family feels it no longer needs Compassion’s services, the family can make this known to the project leaders, who make a home visit to confirm it.

A Compassion representative told me that many families make the decision to leave the program when their circumstances improve because they know there are children on the waiting list who desperately need the benefits offered by Compassion.

Image

Jordy, of the Dominican Republic, is my most recent child to leave Compassion when his family’s circumstances improved.

So a family in desperate need receives help and training, its circumstances improves, and the family makes the decision to step aside so another family in the community can receive help. I can’t think of a better system than this.

Please click here, browse the children waiting for sponsors, and see if there is a child you would like to release from poverty. Compassion works in 26 countries around the world, and has more than 3,500 chldren available today on the United States web site alone.

When you partner with Compassion, you could help a child and its family to reach the point where Compassion’s help no longer is needed, and isn’t that the whole point of sponsorship?

Don’t Fix Poverty, Just Help a Child

Do you feel like poverty is an issue that’s too big to fix? Are you overwhelmed by the number of people living in poverty in this world?

More than 1.2 billion people in the developing world live below the poverty line, according to The World Bank. That means they live on less than US $1.25/day.

Feeling helpless in the face of such a large number is understandable, but don’t let that prevent you from sponsoring a child.

For only $38/month, you can change the life of a child. Your sponsorship money will provide that child with nutritious snacks and meals, educational opportunities, health and hygiene training, medical checkups, the support of a local church staffed by caring adults, and the message of God’s love through Jesus Christ.

By becoming a sponsor, you also have the unique opportunity to mentor a child through letters, filling him with love, hope and encouragement.

Johnny Carr, author of “Orphan Justice,” says, “Poverty is not necessarily an issue to solve; it is an opportunity to serve. As we go through each day, our heart’s cry should be, Lord, where would you have me give, serve and invest myself to bring hope to the poor?”

Are you investing yourself or are you giving up in defeat?

In Matthew 26:11, Jesus says, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”

It’s true the poor will always be here, and it’s true that you can’t “fix” poverty, but you can make a difference in a child’s life.

You can make a difference in Cristian’s life by clicking here. Cristian is 6 and lives with his parents and one sibling in Colombia. He has been waiting 241 days for a sponsor.

Image

Cristian, 6, of Colombia

You can make a difference in Maria’s life by clicking here. Maria is 9 years old and lives with her parents and five siblings in the Dominican Republic. She has been waiting 213 days for a sponsor.

Image

Maria, 9, of the Dominican Republic

There are 3,249 children on Compassion’s web site today who are waiting for sponsors. You can view them by clicking here. Please consider helping one of these children.

Kisses from Katie

Image

“Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption” by Katie J. Davis

It’s not often that you run across someone who has determinedly decided to forgo the “American Dream,” but that’s just what a young woman from Nashville did.

At 18 years old, Katie Davis traveled on a short mission trip to Uganda over Christmas break during her senior year of high school. It was a trip that changed the course of her life, causing her to make decisions that surprised her family, boyfriend and friends.

Upon returning home after the trip, Davis continued to feel the Lord calling her back to Uganda. She decided to answer that call by giving up college and returning to the country that had captured her heart.

It was a shocking decision made by a young woman who seemed to have everything going for her. Her book, “Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption” tells that story.

Davis wrote, “I hadn’t realized what a transformation had taken place while I had been in Uganda, the spiritual richness I had experienced in material poverty and the spiritual poverty I felt now in a land of material wealth.”

Hers is an amazing story of faith and determination, and I can’t help but be in awe of how the years have played out for Davis. Facing extreme poverty, hopelessness, disease and sometimes death of those she cared for, it is incomprehensible that this young woman was able to hold up under such pressure.

But hold up she did, and years later, Davis remains in Uganda, making a difference every day.

Davis established a ministry called Amazima in 2008, which sends 600 orphaned and vulnerable children to school through an education sponsorship program. It also feeds lunch to more than 1,200 children in the slum community of Masese every week day. Amazima hosts Bible studies and worship services and implements vocational training programs in the area.

And as if all this weren’t a huge accomplishment, by the end of her book, Davis is in the process of adopting fourteen girls, who live with her in her home in Uganda. She cares for these children daily, as their mother, all the while, caring for members of her community as well.

Davis’ inspiring story is well worth reading, and for more stories after the book ends, visit her blog at http://www.kissesfromkatie.blogspot.com.

“I have learned that I will not change the world, Jesus will do that,” Davis wrote. “I can, however, change the world for one person. I can change the world for fourteen little girls and for four hundred schoolchildren and for a sick and dying grandmother and for a malnourished, neglected, abused five-year-old. And if one person sees the love of Christ in me, it is worth every minute. In fact, it is worth spending my life for.”

To donate to Davis’ ministry, Amazima, visit http://www.amazima.org.

Blessed by Giving

Image

Cristian, 4, of Romania, with gifts purchased using family gift money.

I’ve sponsored children in poverty for 2 1/2 years, and the thrill of receiving a sponsored child’s letter in the mail has not worn off.

Today, I was excited to find a letter in the mailbox from a child I sponsor through World Vision. I was even more excited to open the letter and discover two photos inside.

The photos showed Cristian, 4, of Romania, with items his family was able to purchase using a monetary gift I sent them in December. It warms my heart to see so many items stacked on the table in front of him. The purchase of food shows the family’s need, and I’m so thankful to have been able to help them out.

Because Cristian is too young to write, one of his older sisters writes letters for him. I’ve learned several things about his family in just 6 months of sponsoring him.

He lives in a two-bedroom home in rural Romania with his parents and six siblings. They suffer through very cold winters, with lots of snow, often piled as high as their house. One of Cristian’s young sisters has cancer, so she spends some time at a hospital. And, like children everywhere, his siblings like to invent games and make paper airplanes.

Today’s letter thanked me for the gift and listed items purchased: “canned goods, chicken legs, rice, sugar, beans, flour, peas, pasta, bread, biscuits, diary products, tomato sauce, diapers, washing powder, jam, cheese, apples, bananas, oranges and many other products.”

And these words, which humble me in ways I can’t describe: “Thank you so much for the wonderful gift you sent me when I needed it the most. We were going through a difficult time, and your help saved my brothers and me.”

I’m thanking God today that my own children’s needs are met every day, and that we can share God’s blessings with another family.

Learning Compassion

Image

Ryan with photo of Paula.

As the holidays approach each year, I am often dismayed by my children’s greed. Wish lists and letters to Santa fill up pages with wants and more wants.

At our house, the lists look something like this: video games, iPods, LOTS of Barbies, and on and on and on. Somehow even “gift cards” pops up on those lists, just in case the wants aren’t satisfied.

Even Charlie Brown laments the commercialism that often overshadows Christmas in his famous holiday show.

I’ve noticed this consumerism in the kids doesn’t only manifest at Christmas, though, so this year, I wanted to find a way to chip away at the entitlement that seems to be coursing through the veins of “kids these days.”

I know, I know, every generation’s parents think their kids are spoiled and don’t appreciate what they have, and I’m sure a lot of that goes along with being a child. I’m sure everyone from my generation heard the famous “kids are starving in Africa” line at dinner, just as our parents heard about the kids starving in China.

So like any good parent, I told the “when I was your age” stories and the “walking to school in the snow uphill both ways” tales. But words never seem to bring home the point like actions do.

While I wasn’t willing to send my children on uphill marches through the snow to prove my point that they actually have it pretty good, I was ready to find something that would have more meaning in their lives.

In September, while reading one of my favorite blogs, the writer took a trip to Guatemala with other bloggers. The trip was sponsored by Compassion International, a charity whose motto is “releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name.”

The bloggers spent a few days touring Compassion-run projects around the country and writing about their experiences. I was deeply moved by the stories and photographs that resulted from this trip, so I started researching Compassion. In just a few days, I’d made the decision to sponsor a child.

I couldn’t believe how many children there were on the web site or how specific I could get in my search. I could narrow it down by region, country, age, disability, orphan, HIV/AIDS affected, gender and even birth date.

Finally I chose a 10-year-old boy from Guatemala named Anderson. I showed his photo to my children and explained sponsorship. I wasn’t sure what their interest levels would be, but am happy to report that it went over quite well.

They had all kinds of questions about Anderson: where did he live, what was his house like, what did he eat, what was he like. I read them the brief biography from the web site and told them the only way to find out more was to start writing to him.

Then each of my three oldest boys sat down and wrote a letter to this boy in Guatemala. A boy they’d never met, but had already piqued their interest. My 9-year-old even sent him some baseball cards from his own collection.

We have sponsored a few more children since then, including a 5-year-old girl from Colombia, hand-picked by my own 5-year-old daughter. I was thrilled to witness my daughter’s thoughtfulness when she picked out stickers from her own stash to send to a little girl she has never met.

In three short months, these sponsorships have impacted our family in many small ways. They’ve made us more conscious of how we spend our money and more thankful for our blessings, to put it mildly.

They also have provided many teachable moments, like when my daughter wanted me to make a video of her doing a ballet dance to send to our Colombian girl.

I said, “Honey, she doesn’t have a TV.” That reminded me that what may seem obvious to us adults isn’t always so clear to the kids. Her look was one of disbelief, then horror, as she empathized for a moment with this little girl who lives without a television.

Do I dare tell her this little girl likely lives without a lot more than television? Do I tell her that thanks to our meager contribution, she gets a couple of meals a week, some tutoring, some healthcare and spiritual guidance?

That hardly seems like enough to me, and I’m sure the unfairness of it will be too much for my Kindergartener to grasp. It’s too much for me to grasp.

“She doesn’t have a TV,” I repeated, “so why don’t you draw her a picture of yourself doing ballet instead?”

As she bounced off happily to draw her picture, I thought, there will be plenty of time for her to understand the reality of the situation.

For now, she can do what she can, which is caring about somebody else.

(This story was written by Kerri and posted in December 2010 on another web site, http://www.parentingfortherestofus.com, a blog about parenting with several contributing writers).

Too Small to Ignore

Image

Sometimes when a book relates upsetting stories, and especially when those stories involve children, I have to take frequent breaks from reading. I have to put it down and walk away so that the pain coming from the pages reaches me only a little bit at a time.

Wess Stafford’s book, “Too Small to Ignore,” was definitely one of those books.

It took me quite a while to get through it. It was well written, but the stories of child abuse and children in poverty were very difficult to read.

Stafford was a child of missionaries who spent part of his childhood in Africa. There, he essentially led two lives.

One was the idyllic childhood in the small African village where his parents were working. There he enjoyed learning and growing in a close-knit community, watched over by many loving adults. It was there that he also witnessed poverty firsthand. As a child, he saw many close friends in the village die, giving him his first glimpse of the destructive effects of poverty.

The other life Stafford led was at the unspeakably abusive boarding school he attended each school year with other children of missionaries. Here children were punished, beaten and abused daily in unfathomable circumstances.

Stafford used these situations in his life for good, though, committing his life to helping children in poverty. Today, he is the CEO of Compassion International, an organization that serves children in 26 countries, with a strong commitment to Christ, children, church and integrity.

Despite the difficult obstacles Stafford faced as a child, he has become a champion of children everywhere. He urges readers to rethink the importance of children and their role in our lives, putting them first, treasuring them and pouring our time and love into them, whether they are our own children or children in a faraway village.

As he explains the effects of both financial and spiritual poverty on children, he challenges the reader, “Now that you know, what will you do?”

This book is eye-opening, thought-provoking and inspiring, and I highly recommend it.