In May 2011 I was given the privilege by God of going on a Compassion sponsored tour to Guayaquil, Ecuador with other wonderful Christians from all over the country. First of all, thank you Lord for the honor and opportunity to serve You alongside fellow believers and see how You work among the faithful people of Ecuador and how Your love through me can make such a difference in the life of a child and their family. What a joy you have put in my heart!!!
I have sponsored a child from Ecuador, Jeniffer, for the last four years. Jeniffer, who was 13 when I began sponsoring her, is now 17 so her time in the program is coming to an end. I knew I had to meet her before she left. I went with no real expectations except for joy and excitement and the opportunity to love others. I have been on two mission trips to Panama before so seeing the conditions of poverty, I thought, were not going to effect me to the point of being shocked. They really didn’t, but the opportunity to go on a home visit of a family in the Compassion program made the realities of poverty much more personal. I never thought about some of the conditions I saw and the dangers these families face. The worries the parents have for their children has to be overwhelming. I not only had the wonderful opportunity to meet my precious Jeniffer, who I have been writing to for 4 years, but also had the chance to be in the community of Compassion Projects. This is where the rubber meets the road. I saw first hand how Compassion is giving hope through the local church of faith. We were afforded the great opportunity to see where the children come each week to learn about Christ, to grow in their faith, to get help in their education, to get a good, nutritious meal, to learn good hygiene and to learn how to act socially.
Our first full day was spent at a Child Survival Project in Duran, Guayaquil. We got to see this vital ministry and how it helps mothers before and after the birth of their children. The volunteers are all serving others in their community with the strength and love of Jesus. How exciting to see how these women serve God and the local people and just how this program gives such hope. We then went to the home of a woman named Rosa who goes to the project for help. Rosa has 4 children – 3 girls, ages 16, 4 & 2 and baby boy. Being able to share lunch in her home was such a blessing. She kept apologizing for the condition of her home, but it was her home and we made sure to let her know it was an honor to be able to share a meal in it. Rosa explained a lot of the difficulties of living in poverty in Guayaquil. She has no husband and has to go out to work every day. She is able to find care for her baby, but the 4 year old and the two year old stay home by themselves while Rosa is working. Rosa’s mother, who lives next door, is able to check on them from time to time. There are no locks on her door and her window is an opening in the bamboo wall. She shared her fear for her children in this situation. She has no choice. The oldest daughter, Josie, still goes to high school. She has dreams of being in the military. Rosa said that the streets are so dangerous where they live she fears for her daughter’s safety. She is so focused on helping her daughter have a better life for herself. She said ‘what Mother doesn’t want the best for her child.’ Rosa’s situation is not uncommon for many women in Ecuador. The men are absent in many cases. Whether it is from the pressures of poverty to provide for their family and the guilt that accompanies it or just an attitude of not caring it is a difficult situation many families face. Rosa does the best she can with the resources she has, but the one thing that gives her hope is her faith in Christ. The church, with the help of Compassion, is able to help her and her children and show them a better way of life. The thing that Rosa said, that truly confirmed all I thought I knew of this Godly woman, was ‘Jesus is everything’. She knew where her strength, joy and protection came from and it touched our hearts in a way I will never forget. She may have less than most do in material things, but she is so rich in faith and thankfulness. I learned so much from her and her family.
The following day we visited a Compassion Project Center in Guayaquil, Ecuador. What a joy to meet the dedicated and Spirit filled workers that volunteer their time in the name of Jesus to better their community. The children were so full of joy to meet us and one person on the trip with us had his sponsored child run up and meet him to his surprise. What a wonderful meeting arranged by God. I found such joy as I was able to play with the children on the playground. The smell of raw sewage was in the air as we walked to the playground, but pure joy and love in Christ overwhelmed the stench. We were told a few kids would ‘latch’ on to us. We would be their special friends for the day. This is exactly what happened with two little girls named Elisa and Juana. I knew as a man, my roll with these kids was to show them what a man who loves Jesus looks like since many are growing up without fathers. I pray I was able to do that. The joy I experienced there was amazing and so I am hoping that is confirmation that I did.
The next day, and last full day in Guayaquil, was the day we all waited for. Meeting our sponsored child. I was filled with anticipation as I loaded up bags of gifts for my child, Jeniffer, and her Mom. In fact I was down right nervous, as the time grew closer. What do I talk about with a teenage girl that I only knew from short blurbs in letters I received? I have two boys and she speaks a different language. It would be hard, I thought, even though we would have our own translators. When we arrived to the water park they made us wait until they had all the children organized and in place. Then we lined up. Each child had a sign that had his or her name and their sponsor’s name on it. As I looked through the group of children I could not find my Jeniffer. What if she couldn’t come or was sick or worse yet didn’t want to come. Finally, I saw a girl that looked like the young lady I had only seen through pictures. When I finally got to the front of line there were smiles on both our faces and the people surrounding her, and I knew that even without looking at her sign that it was her. Our greeting was one of great love through Christ, overflowing from the bond created through our correspondence and His filling of our cups to the top. It also was a release of tension and nerves and the peace that came from God. The worries of how I would spend the day talking were way over blown – as most worries are. We shared and asked many questions. Her Mom and Director of her Compassion project were so thankful for what ‘I’ had done in Jeniffer’s life. Saying that I had been like a father to her when her Dad left and that I was an angel sent from God. Her Mom also said that she ‘thought God had forgotten them’ until I came into their lives. I assured them, even though I admit it made me feel good, that I was just a man filled with the love of Christ – that I was blessed to be a blessing. I told them that in the USA that we may be blessed by material wealth but in God’s Kingdom that meant very little unless you shared that blessing. I was just so thankful for the opportunity God had presented me to give and hopefully be that blessing. Jeniffer has given me so much more than I could ever give in material things. I learn so much from observing those that have little in the world’s eyes, but have more than enough in God’s eyes. James 2:5 says ‘Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the Kingdom he promised those who love Him?” The day was filled with emotion and many tears and laughs. The gifts I gave Jeniffer were appreciated, but as we started opening the other bags she said ‘no I want to save them for later to be surprised and I would rather spend time being with you’. What child would say that unless they were filled with the Spirit? It overwhelmed me when she said ‘I don’t have much to give you, but I have two rings that I have had since childhood. I want you and your wife to have them to remember me. What a wonderful giving of oneself. Nothing could mean more to me than that act of love. She had to console me as the tears flowed. I told her that she has given me way more than I could ever give her by blessing me so much!
As I reflect on this trip almost 4 weeks after it ended, I think of how missions such as these make me realize how they are not necessarily just for those I serve through Christ. They are also for me to reflect on relationships – my relationship with Jesus and others. How Jesus has transformed my life, my dreams, wants and desires. How relationships with others in the Body of Christ, including, of course, my family, is so important and how it is so cool that happens even with people you have never even met before. We are bonded together through the Holy Spirit by seeing the love of Christ in action. We can move from surface relationships to relationships of the soul with each other because of that bond. I learned so much about love, true fellowship and joy through Jeniffer and the other children, the leaders of our trip, my fellow missionaries and the parents I spent time with. The group I was with have become good friends that I keep up with through a Facebook group. Since we have this common experience and common love of children in poverty we continue to share our thoughts and our love for Jesus online. It is an awesome and exciting thing to grow together in faith as we are weaved together in Spirit and Truth. I guess the real question comes in where do I take this? What will this passion look like in 2, 4,…..10 years? I pray that I follow where God leads me and hopefully that includes making a difference in the life of a child and having enough faith to ‘speak up with compassion to a child in my world.’
Don’t think YOU can make a difference in this world? YOU can, by sponsoring a child through Compassion International. YOU can release a child from poverty in Jesus’ name. Check out Compassion’s website that has tons of useful information about sponsoring a child. Also click on the “about us” tab and see how accountable Compassion is with your donations. May God bless you!