Today I have the opportunity to share with you a guest post written by my husband. Two years, ago, we made the decision to sponsor children through Compassion International. After much thought and prayer, we selected two boys who live in Colombia. My husband’s company has an office there, and I was hoping that someday he might have the opportunity to meet them. Two weeks ago, he did. He came home with stories that broke my heart and healed it, all at the same time. There are countless things I want to share with you, and I will at another time. But for today, here is Matt’s story.
As I thought of the 17-year-old boy, I cried. I cried tears of sadness for his circumstances, and tears of joy for his ability to rise above them. As I thought of the 7-year-old’s mother embracing me and expressing heartfelt gratitude on behalf of her family, I felt a wave of emotion. These boys and their families were now real. A small act of compassion on the part of my family was making a difference and bringing them hope.
Two years ago my wife encouraged our family to sponsor a child through Compassion International. We chose two boys in Colombia, one a teenager and the other a young child. I’ll admit, though, that my support of those children was largely support of my wife. It wasn’t personal for me. I hadn’t felt a personal connection to them and their families.
Last week, though, I traveled to Colombia for work. And at my wife’s urging, I arranged to visit the two boys, John and Jhonathan.
I flew to a city called Cali. John (age 17) lives in a neighborhood just outside of Cali and Jhonatan (age 7) lives in mid-sized port city two hours away. Both live in difficult circumstances. John’s neighborhood is plagued by violence, gang activity and drugs. He’s watched as many of his friends and family have fallen victim to those scourges. At 13 he was beaten nearly to death by a gang, simply for wearing the wrong color soccer jersey.
Jhonatan lives in city that’s so violent that most Colombians won’t travel there. The city is run by drug traffickers, who battle over control of the port and its drug export channel. Murders, kidnappings and disappearances are a common phenomenon.
But despite their challenging circumstances, these boys have something else: hope. They’re happy. They have faith in God and can see a way out of poverty and out of a life of insecurity and violence. These boys are part of Compassion International’s child sponsorship program. Through the efforts of Compassion and local churches, these boys and their families are given the support to make sure their spiritual, physical, emotional and mental needs are met and are climbing a ladder that will enable them to escape poverty.
With Compassion’s support, John recently completed high school. He’s now enrolled in a nursing program and wants to work in the emergency department of a hospital. John has confidence that he can become more than his circumstances and surroundings, and is on a path to get there. I was touched by his confidence, strength of character, and faith in God.
The Compassion sponsorship program changed John’s life. It saved his life. I remember when we chose to sponsor John two years ago. Compassion shows you how long a child has been waiting for sponsorship and, as I recall, John had been waiting for over a year. I remember that something about his profile touched me—the one time sponsorship had felt personal for me over the last two years—and I felt a need to try and help this young man who was in such a pivotal period of his life. During our visit last week, John told me about when he learned he had been sponsored. He had almost given up, thinking no one would ever choose him. But our small act gave him hope. He felt that someone cared about him, that God cared about him and had answered his prayer.
Jhonatan traveled from his home to Cali by bus with his mother. We met at a mall and had lunch together. At Jhonatan’s choosing, I bought them lunch at a fast food chicken restaurant, similar to a KFC. To me, there was nothing special about the meal, but to Jhonatan’s mom, the “abundance” of food was overwhelming. It took some urging just to get her to order the meal, as she clearly thought it was too big and too much. She was so grateful for what to me was a cheap and unimpressive meal. But to her it was food and it was precious. And being the loving and self-sacrificing mother that she is, rather than finishing her meal, she packaged up a large portion of it to take home to the rest of her family.
John, Jhonatan and Jhonatan’s mother are the faces of poverty. It makes me sad to understand their circumstances and challenges, and incredibly grateful for how blessed my family is. But it also inspires me. It inspires me that these same people who deal with extreme violence and abject poverty also radiate hope, optimism and happiness. They have faith in God and see a way out of their circumstances. They know that life has greater things in store for them. And playing a role in giving them that hope is so simple. But it makes a difference. It changes lives. Now it’s personal.