Quite honestly, I had no idea what to expect on this trip. I left tired, spent, and quite overwhelmed with all the work I knew I would be coming back to. It was at the gate, in Miami, where it finally hit me…people from all over the country were making their way to this gate to go meet their sponsor child and they had gone way out of their way to make this a very special time. Some, to my surprise, travel all over the world to meet their sponsor children through Compassion. None, however, could give me specifics as to what I should expect…”it’s different every time” they would say. So I made up my mind right then to leave my worries behind, to fully be there, and to expect great and challenging moments ahead…
When we landed in La Paz, Bolivia, the first thing that strikes you is the altitude (3800 Km above sea level…yikes!) After being 8hrs in the air, you would think that altitude would have no affect on you, but after being crammed for so long combined with a lack of sleep, my whole body and head felt like they were being crushed. I was ready to scream! This was just a lay over, so shortly after we continue on to our final destination, Santa Cruz only to hop on another plane a couple days later to head to another city up on the hills, Cochabamba.
Altitude there was also an issue, but not nearly as bad as in La Paz. Anyhow, Bolivia in general looks typical of South America, dirty and packed with cars going in all directions, somehow harmoniously rushing through the lights and successfully avoiding colliding into each other. The next thing that became obvious as we were leaving the airport is that Compassion Tours are planned to the T. There are people coordinating every detail way before you arrive and it shows. While you’re there to meet your sponsored child, you’re also there to be exposed to the life of sponsored children and you’re also there to catch a glimpse of how it all works and how it affects children, families, churches, community and in this case even the country. This was a small group of sponsors, about 40. Accommodations were some of the best in town and both American and Bolivian staff carry their faith on their sleeves; they were kind, patient, accommodating and beyond efficient…no mediocre service there!
Fast forwarding here…and a couple days into our trip we were visiting the Compassion Headquarters. We were there to get a feel of how everything works. From how they handle their correspondence to the President’s vision and goals, you get to hear and see more than my small brain had capacity for.
Here, I met this petite (shorter than me, if you can imagine that!) woman Noly. She was the first one up to give us her testimony about growing up as a sponsor child now working for Compassion. Her meek and gentleness of speech captured all of our attention. Her story of perseverance and suffering resonates with me still. As she gathered herself, constantly trying to get pass the tightness in her throat, she shared how her childhood days were filled with sorrow and hunger. “There were times the only meal I had was the one at the Compassion center…and if I could, I would sneak food into my bag to bring home …” There were still shadows of the pain and sufferings as she described her childhood. But the light got brighter as she shared her greatest find while in the program. “I found God there”, with tears streaming down her face, and ” I found friends who would encourage me when life got tougher…”
I honestly was perplexed; I wasn’t expecting that. There was beauty in Noly that wasn’t measured by status, statue, cosmetics, or clothes. It was the kind of of beauty that was resting on the providence of God and His sovereignty over all which resulted in a life of obedience to Him. I expected desperation and people wailing in hopelessness. Rather I heard poverty briefly mentioned and a Christ-saturated testimony. Suddenly, this was not a dining ministry with some vague approach to Christianity – It was the church – the body of Christ in upper floors of some downtown building with a very compelling name:Compassion…In Jesus Name.
Then on we went into this small room where Celia, a soft but well spoken woman awaited to tell us about her job. I took my place on the floor (no more seats available.) Her eloquence and her concise sentences full of truth captivated my attention instantly. This lady is responsible for orchestrating the overarching goal and vision of the curriculum they use. So with great conviction and careful words she began to describe what the church/partners, also called “projects”, are there to accomplish.
Our approach with sponsored children is “holistic” she confidently stated. Evangelical churches already reaching out to children in need get trained and equipped by Compassion to administer a wide rage of child development activities. I imagine these churches face more than people not wanting to accept Jesus as Lord; they face poverty. This poverty cripples the church leaving them with little to no resources to effectively function and reach out to it’s community. Compassion and your help essentially enables the church to reach out to impoverish children in their communities. Please note, they enable the church…they don’t don’t take away the work of the church. Surprising, right?
First, they tend to their immediate physical needs: hunger. They feed these kids 3-4 days a week, depending on the project. I watched kids inhale those meals. They were good nutritious meals; we all ate them too. They were made with much care and love. I made it my job to visit the cooks in each project I visited. I couldn’t believe the meals these kids were eating – full balanced meals and plenty of it.
“Who’s making all this food – there’s at least a couple hundred kids here today!” I would ask. And there, tucked in a small hot room were these saints, laboring away to feed these hungry growing children. I would ask how long they would cook to which they often responded “7am-5pm.” Some hid from me when I wanted to take a picture, but others took their positions at the stove and giggled as they posed.
Another area they address is the social & economic. Imagine not having a thing to eat…would you be concerned to go to school and learn? A hungry child probably has a hard time focusing on anything other than his aching tummy. In these classrooms they eat and then they learn that obtaining an education will enable them to get a job that will then provide for their needs. They learn how their government works and what is expected of them as citizens of their country. Teachers not only teach that this in theory, but they get busy helping children do their homework and tutor in subjects of need. But that’s not it. In becoming literate they can then be taught to read and learn the Bible 😉 😉
A hand full of us arrived at a project unannounced and watched how organized and dedicated these teachers were. Without hesitation these kids would shout their favorite subject, they would sing songs of praise, recited their verses, and even asked very eloquent questions of those of us visiting. Small rooms packed with 15-25, one teacher and no helper, imagine that! There was a sense of order and the aroma of Christ’s love and patience. As we were leaving, this particular church/project’s pastor arrived. He was there to baptize a child that had recently made a profession of faith. It was Wednesday…
There was garbage everywhere, did I mention that yet? No sense of responsibility and ownership out on the streets. These kids need to make the connection that what they are, God’s image bearers, comes with certain responsibilities. Learning to be good stewards of their bodies and their community is a major topic to learn on a daily basis. To look presentable and to speak well because, in Christ, our whole person speaks of whom we serve. “Can I take you home with me?” I thought. “We need to teach that to American Christians!” They get it, that our bodies and how we carry ourselves matters…we must present ourselves worthy of the King! At every project, each child without exception washed their own dish and spoon and put it back where they got it; everyone served one another. In the homes of the children I saw toothbrushes had a place in the house. They were learning basics and those basics were reaching into the homes, a radical approach to helping the poor indeed – the King’s reputation is at stake here.
With only pausing for the translator to do her job, Celia spoke without loosing a beat. She then got to the Spiritual realm. “Wait? It all sounded spiritual, no?” Well, the best was yet to come. At 10-12 yrs of age, they begin to chart the students’ own goals and visions that they have for themselves. They begin requiring them to set goals for their lives in as much as they can. They take what they learn of the Bible and draw practical applications to that knowledge, they chart it and then they get held accountable. By doing that, they’re paving the way to hopefully have these students graduate at the age of 18-22 with a clear sense of who they are as adopted children of God, and a clear technical career path that will provide the means to support themselves and/or pursue further education. My heart could jump out of my skin of excitement at this point…”these people are in the disciple making business and they’re doing it purposely at a very young age!” Who knew?!
On our last day, some of us healthy enough to trod along dusty roads went to church on Sunday. This church essentially showed the fruit of what years of Compassion work can produce. They had tons of older kids and younger adults. The church had 12 classroom of about 20-25 kids each. Over 400 children attend this church on a weekly basis. I sat in one of their classes to hear the teacher give her lesson. She, again, seem confident, eloquent, and convicted of what she was teaching these 10 yr olds. She was talking about the 12 disciples and how they were called by Jesus and they obeyed and followed the calling…Then she asked what were they going to do with the abilities and gifts God had given them? Boy, the answers ranged from missionaries to biologist. These kids were not afraid to dream and to dream big. Then her next question was to a little boy, “How would you honor God as a biologist?” “By doing a good job in all I do,” he replied.
These kids and teachers had good sound theology with right practical applications. The atmosphere had a different aroma, if you will, than those churches/projects with only a couple of years of Compassion assisting them. Kids young and older had a more vibrant look to them. Older kids, whom had been in the program, looked happy, confident and yet meek. One could catch a glimpse of what could be…
Celia’s informative speech began to take form as I visited the projects and watched the pastors, teachers, and children all bear witness of their vision and approach. These people were zealous about what they do and everywhere we went whether starting out or doing this for years, one could see the fruit of their labor.
Besides the altitude causing my head to feel like it was getting crushed, my heart rejoiced. I seriously saw hope for the poor in Bolivia. Every staff and non-staff member doing either technical, administrative, vision casting, promoting, writing, translating letters, filing, undoubtedly had unity, vision, and faith. It showed in their commitment and obvious dedication to our Lord, Jesus. Compassion indeed strengths theChurchto be more effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ, in an exceptionally holistic way.