The first day has already come and gone. Quickly, I might add. Already there have been moments that I can not stop replaying in my mind. To be honest though, none of these “moments” have consisted of surprise, shock, or speechlessness when it comes to the scenes of poverty. Blame it on the day job.
I look at pictures of children all over the world nearly everyday. I’ve read hundreds of stories, interviews, and testimonials of kids, parents, and pastors alike. I knew this trip would hold little shock value. I don’t mean to sound hard-hearted. Please understand that I simply mean, when it comes to the issues surrounding and frankly, creating poverty, there’s little room for surprise.
Driving from the hotel 20 minutes through winding, nicely paved, roads to the child development center was a highway of irony. On the outskirts of Guatemala city lies one of the richest communities of Guatemala. Homes, or mansions rather, that you could barely see over the stucco gates rivaled Beverly Hill’s best. Mercedes dealerships and fine restaurants peppered both sides of the road.
But with a single turn, the scenery changed. The neighborhoods were not gated. Corrugated metal, cement cinder blocks and bed sheets for front doors stacked up along the hillsides. Homes were built on top of one another, literally. The floor of one home provided the roof for the home below it. The well paved roads became bumpy as we drove along uneven cobble stone streets.
The van parked and our leader said, “We’re here.” Everyone was quiet.
I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t nervous. I was. Reading about these places is simple; walking their streets is not easy.
But right in the middle of the depravity was Compassion’s church partner. Brightly colored and on a high-traffic thoroughfare of town, the Church’s doors were open.
That’s been the view of Adrianna and her two children, Daniel and Jaqueline, who are currently sponsored children.
We had to hike to their home, set on the side of a steep hill and built into the mountain. Their kitchen was outside; a pile of wood that cradled a large metal cauldron. Their clothes line hung next to their washer; a large tub next to a water spicket. And their front door was a pink bed sheet. Torn and frayed, it gently hung over the only entry to their home.
As we (me, two other visitors, and a translator) sat on their front porch, Daniel and Jaqueline passed around the letters and pictures they had received from their sponsors over the years. There was a big difference between the two siblings, however. Daniel, 17 years old, has been sponsored by the same family for eight years. They wrote frequently, sent him birthday presents, and even included him in their family’s Christmas Card mailer.
Jaqueline, on the other hand, has been enrolled in the program for the same eight years and has been sponsored by more than four families, none of whom wrote her more than a few times. And the difference between Jaqueline and her older brother was undeniable.
Daniel volunteered an answer for every question we asked of their humble family. If his mother spoke, he chimed in too. He was articulate, well dressed, attentive, and unintimidated by our visit. When I asked him what he wanted to do when he was done with school, he grinned widely and chuckled before he listed a long list of goals he had for himself. Daniel was also among the smartest in his class academically and a gifted artist.
His sister though, barely spoke at all. It wasn’t that she was just quiet; she was shy. She was not as accomplished in her studies as her brother and when I asked her what hobbies she enjoyed, she shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. She made little eye contact, slumped slightly in her chair, and when she passed around her small stack of collected letters, she seemed embarrassed. Her collection of correspondence was a quarter of her brothers.
As a Compassion employee, we are often told that the letters the children receive are of indescribable importance to their development emotionally and socially. The relationship that correspondence fosters between a child and a grown-up that believes in them, encourages them, and tells them to hope for a life beyond poverty is… well, it’s the Church. That’s the body of Christ doing her job. From one believe to another, life is given and hope is instilled. It is absolutely life changing for a child.
I, as a sponsor, so often struggle with what to write my little girl in Bolivia. “I think I asked this question last time. I don’t remember what I wanted to know about when I was 9 years old. How do I write something that resonates with her?” These are the questions I wrestle with. But the fact of the matter is this: Compassion’s sponsored children look forward to and treasure every letter you send them. They covet your prayers and they fervently pray for your welfare. They need you. They love you.
They need to hear that you need and love them too.