Archive for the ‘Compassion’ Category

A Whole New World

Written on Saturday, September 11, 2010

Yesterday was one of the best days of my life. Spending the day with my new Compassion child, Stefanie, was amazing. I did see some hard things during the day, but I gave myself permission to feel the joy fully because I knew what was coming next on the agenda.

This morning I woke up with a bit of a weak stomach. I knew we were visiting the city dump and the people who lived and worked there. I wanted to see it – well, sort of – but I was very nervous. I had a mental image of myself wandering through the homes in sackcloth and ashes and wailing at the top of my lungs. I wasn’t sure what that was going to do for anyone. I was also a little concerned about losing my breakfast in front of the team. That was a real possibility. My mom and sister have both been down that road before and I didn’t want to complete the humiliation triangle.

Our team got on the bus and immediately started chatting away. Somehow we got on the subject of weird foods and I was repulsed to the point of nausea by something about sheep brains on toast. I could have gone my whole life without hearing that, I thought. Moments later I was asking Shaun Groves to sing along to A Whole New World, which was playing on the radio. (Remember Aladdin and Princess Jasmine?) Shaun still hasn’t blessed us with his vocal talents and we’ve been giving him a hard time.

It wasn’t long before we arrived at the settlement on the dump. Why would anyone want to live on a garbage pile? That was the question on my mind and you’re probably wondering, too. The people who live there don’t pay any kind of rent or taxes on the land. They only pay for power and water. It is very cheap, but they pay a high price in countless ways. The families who live there arrived in desperate situations. Eight years later, they are still living in dwellings made of tin, cardboard, and blankets.

We had a very tough visit with one family and then began walking to another home. On the way, I saw a light-headed girl Annabeth’s age in the alley that we were walking through. She was very dirty and was playing with a filthy plastic doll. She never turned her face to me, so of course I pictured my daughter’s. I could have gone my whole life without seeing that, I thought. Ironically, within those few minutes we heard A Whole New World playing on a radio again.

We went deeper into the dump to see where people sort through garbage to find things that can be sold. The trash went on for two kilometers. I looked up and saw one of the most horrendous things I’ve ever seen. Circling above us in the sky was a whirlwind of vultures. Hundreds of vultures. I could have gone my whole life without seeing that, I thought.

We ended up driving to a cemetery where we could look out over the dump and get a better view of the settlements where 20,000 families dwell. The cemetery itself was fascinating. All of the graves were above ground, so it was just tomb after tomb after tomb. I’d never seen anything like it in person. It was ironic that the dead were housed better than the living people we’d just met.

A short walk took us to a cliff that overlooked a sea of filth. Below us, trucks were driving in and out and men were unloading trash at a frenzied pace.

The tombs were all around us and vultures were resting in groups on top of them. Hundreds more were circling above our heads. I was so thoroughly freaked out that I hid under the overhang of a sarcophagus. I could have gone my whole life without seeing this, I thought. I feel like I’m in hell. Thankfully, because of Jesus, that was the closest I will ever get to it.

I was desperate to get back in the van. I couldn’t take any more. The smell, the horror flick reality, the freaky birds, the desperation, the children living in the dredges of a sinful world. Stick a fork in me, I was done. When we finally returned to the van, I pressed my forehead on the back of Ann Voskamp’s seat and cried.

What if I had gone my whole life without seeing that? What if I anesthetized myself so much with wealth that I was convinced this wasn’t so? It needs to be known.

My original title for this post was “To Hell and Back,” but I didn’t think anyone would stick around to read it. If you’re still here, please stay with me because I want to take you to the “and Back” part.

It was time to visit the Compassion Child Development Center that serves the children who live on the dump. We were put to joyous work right away, serving lunch to the children and workers. The children eagerly approached the serving area where Lindsey and Lisa-Jo filled their bowls with rice and soup and Ann ladled lemonade into their cups. I was in charge of handing out tortillas. Dos o tres tortillas? I asked. The tortillas were very warm and so was the atmosphere. My sadness and hopelessness began to fade as the joy of doing something to help took its place.

Our leader, Patricia, brought bags of shoes to be given to the children in this community. I had brought a few of Annabeth’s shoes from home and stuffed them in the bag with the others.

At one point I heard someone calling my name and motioning for me to come. It was a mother holding her baby girl who was wearing Annabeth’s black mary janes. Oh, thrill of my heart! She was absolutely precious and medicine to a homesick mama’s heart.

We were invited to visit each of the classrooms and interact with the students. There were boys and girls ages 3 to 16 spread throughout the building. As we walked through the halls, it was like a breath of fresh air. The church was clean and spacious. The children had room to play in safety, under the watchful eye of loving adults.

We entered the room with the teenagers. Most of them were boys. I was thankful to see that because boys in these neighborhoods are very likely to join gangs. The child development program is a HUGE deterrent for them. We had met a handful of strong, godly fathers during this trip and seen a big difference in the disposition of their children. I have hope that these boys will grow up to lead their families in strength and godliness.

Before we left, we had the pleasure of hearing the pastor’s testimony. He said he had lost seven years of his life to drugs. When he was 21 years old, he came to faith in Christ. He sought out a church and during the altar call, he laid on the floor and surrendered his life to God. When stood to his feet, the need and desire for drugs had been completely taken away. Now he only needed and desired God. He has been a pastor for ten years. His wife is a doctor. Can you imagine what a great team they are? The pastor has a heart for the people of this community because he knows what it’s like to live in desperation. He knows what it’s like to live in redemption.

God is at work in the desperate situations. Honestly, when we were in the dump today I couldn’t see Him. I was blinded by buzzards as Satan hissed in my ears that God is not powerful enough to deliver these people. That He must not really love them. But when we walked in the doors of the church the lies were dispelled. We saw the salvation of our God.

Did you know that on average, 500 Compassion children around the world give their lives to Christ every single day? Isn’t that mind-boggling? You can be a part of giving spiritual, physical, and emotional hope to a child living in a desperate situation. Please consider supporting a child through Compassion International. If you’d like to change the life of a child from Guatemala, click here.



Joy is stuffing toys, clothes and school supplies in a backpack for a four-year-old girl. Joy is filling a gift bag with household items, toiletries, a Spanish Bible, an Esther book, and a Texas A&M ball cap for her parents. Joy is going to visit my new Compassion sponsor child today.

Joy is being so nervous to meet little Stefanie, but being greeted with big hugs and smiles at the door.

Joy is finding a baby doll at Target that speaks Spanish.

Joy is seeing a little girl so eager to share her new things with her baby sister. Joy is being told that Stefanie is a girly girl who dreams of growing up and wearing beautiful dresses. Joy is telling her that I love beautiful dresses too, and one day we can twirl in them together for Jesus.

Joy is Stefanie’s mother asking me to pray for her as she prepares to enter school next year. Joy is telling her that I’ve been praying the same thing for my son.

Joy is a having abuelitas who care so much.

Joy is meeting Stefanie’s big brother who is dressed up like a cowboy. Joy is telling him that I live in a place known for cowboys and teaching him to say “Howdy, partner!” Joy is showing the kids a picture of an armadillo.

Joy is Stefanie’s mother telling me that in our family photo, my son looks just like my husband. Joy is spending the whole day with a little girl who will grow dearer and dearer to me through the years. Joy is seeing that she’s a daddy’s girl.

Joy is now having family in Guatemala.

Joy is eating Dum-Dums together in the bus. Joy is being given a Guatemalan headband and wearing it right away. Joy is Stefanie’s father saying that we are two peas in a pod. Joy is him saying that I look happy.

Joy is Spanish coming back to me after a long time. Joy is feeling like I would take 7 more years of Spanish classes just to get another day like this.

Joy is visiting the student center where Stefanie and her brothers are nurtured by godly men and women.

Joy is drawing pictures of rainbows.

Joy is playing with balloons. Joy is missing my Jackson but having tons of little boys to play with.

Joy is meeting several college students in the Leadership Development Program who have had the same sponsors since the age of six.

Joy fills my prayers for God to give Stefanie the grace to do well in school and enter the LDP program one day. The ultimate joy would be to continue sponsoring her and attend her college graduation.

Joy is the promise of writing letters. Joy is having to say goodbye to Stefanie, but knowing she will continue to be taken care of in Jesus’ name.


A Tale of Two Hurricanes

The city of Houston will mark the two year anniversary of Hurricane Ike this weekend. Our family chose not to ride out the storm in our suburban Houston home. I tend to be very dramatic (like physically ill and crying) during severe weather events and I wanted to get as far away as possible. I was also pregnant. Pregnancy is a wild card that you can throw out for anything, and I’m obviously doing that now.

We evacuated to my parents’ ranch two days before the storm hit. I packed our wedding album and the computer with all our pictures on it just in case our home was destroyed by the storm. That wasn’t a likely scenario, but hurricanes spawn tornadoes and you just never know. Our neighborhood has large trees and they were a real concern. Thankfully, after the storm cleared we returned to a home with absolutely no damage. Our power was restored before we even made it back home.

Friends have told us that Hurricane Ike was the scariest night of their lives and that they wished they had left. They described it as being terribly loud. They could hear things hitting their homes, but they couldn’t just look outside and see what it was. It was completely dark. Some people in the Houston city limits did lose their homes. Many people were left without power for two weeks. Gas stations ran out of fuel and grocery stores were very low on food. People were acting panicky and it was very scary to see. The damage and loss of life on the coast was shocking. Hurricane Ike is something Houstonians will talk about for years to come.

One of the few concerns I had about coming on this trip was the fact that Guatemala is so vulnerable to hurricanes at this time of year. I wondered where we would take shelter if one came and we couldn’t get home in time. It actually rained so much last week that the country had devastating mudslides. Nearly 40 people died under the mud and rubble.

Last May, Guatemala took a direct hit from Hurricane Agatha. Today we visited some families who were traumatized by the storm. They live in a neighborhood built on a hillside. They cannot afford to live anywhere else.

The first woman we met lost her home. She was very lucky to have escaped in time. Because her three little boys are enrolled in Compassion’s sponsorship program, she had a place to seek help when it was time to rebuild. Through their Partners of Compassion fund, she was provided with building materials that her father used to construct a new home for her family. Her children have suffered with post traumatic stress and now they receive counseling at the child development center once a week.

Another precious mother welcomed our whole group into her tiny home. She showed us how the back porch had collapsed down the hillside as water poured through her house.

By the grace of God, the rest of it remained standing. She wept as she told us about the night she and her family escaped. Now she can’t sleep when it rains because she is so afraid. She is oppressed by the fear that she will hear the screams of those whose homes are slipping down the hillside.

From the story she told through sobs, this is what I gathered that night to have been like. Picture it with me. It has been raining and raining and it only seems to be getting worse. You finally get word that a hurricane is coming and you need to get out of your very vulnerable neighborhood. You discover that the one and only path up the hill has already been washed out from the water careening down the hillside. It won’t be long before the water begins dragging homes down with it. Your only way to escape is to climb the steep, muddy hill in pounding rain. Imagine that the only things you have to hold onto as you climb uphill through a hurricane are unstable trees. Now consider that your three small children are with you.

I could only think of how my friends told me that riding out Hurricane Ike in their very well crafted and sturdy American homes was the scariest night of their lives. I could only consider that I hadn’t even been brave enough to try. And here I was in the most vulnerable neighborhood I’d ever seen. It was God’s grace that any of these families made it out alive.

I was listening hard to try to understand this mother’s story without the translator’s help. One thing I know for sure was that she constantly said “I’m so thankful.” She was thankful to be alive. She was thankful for the support of her children’s Compassion project. She was thankful for our prayers for her family’s continued safety. When we took a moment to pray for her, she simultaneously prayed for us, saying “Gracias, Senor.” She literally could not wait to express her thanks to God.

I’ve come to the point where I need to tie a nice bow on this story. I don’t have it. It must have been swept away in the hurricane. What I do have is this. Compassion International is helping some of the most vulnerable children and families on earth. Their intervention is not just an idea – it is concrete. I saw it today with my own eyes. If you have a heart to help these vulnerable children, I would like to invite you to join me in sponsoring a child in Guatemala for $38 a month. I promise you that his or her life will be changed. And so will yours.


You’ll Never Guess Where I Am

Curtis and I live about 30 minutes from our church, so we have a lot of time to discuss our Sunday school lesson and sermon notes as we drive home. There is a certain point on the Katy Freeway feeder road that always reminds me to encourage my husband about the lesson he taught. Last Sunday we were rapidly approaching it and I had nothing. Stink! It wasn’t because his lesson wasn’t great. I honestly did not hear a word he said. Neither did I have any idea what our pastor’s sermon was about.

I flashed back to February 1, 2009, which was the Sunday before Annabeth was born. I remember wondering why I bothered coming to church because all I could think, talk, or pray about was giving birth. Last Sunday I was completely consumed with thinking about an upcoming trip to Guatemala and I was literally good for nothing else. I realized it had been almost exactly nine months since I had been invited to join a group of bloggers on a trip to see Compassion International at work in Guatemala. And it was finally my due date! I was not getting a baby out of this experience, but I hoped I would be born new.

Curtis and I picked up our first Compassion sponsorship packet after a By the Tree concert when we were newlyweds. We have been blessed to partner with them in serving Marlon Alexander in Honduras for about seven years. Through his letters, we have been able to see him develop into a thoughtful and faith-filled young man. We were already fans of Compassion before I was approached about this trip, but I knew from my sister’s experience with them in India that I would be blown away by how truly excellent it is.

In a nutshell, Compassion International is a child development organization that serves over one million children worldwide. Six hundred thousand sponsors are currently partnering with this organization to rescue children from poverty in Jesus’ name. Compassion’s aim is to be an advocate for children, to release them from their spiritual, economic, social and physical poverty, and enable them to become responsible and fulfilled Christian adults. This is largely achieved through monthly financial support from one sponsor to one child.

Our team arrived in Guatemala City last night. I’d never met any of the other travelers in person, but after only 36 hours, I already think the world of them. The bloggers are Lindsey Nobles, Ann Voskamp, Lisa-Jo from The Gypsy Mama, and myself. The Compassion staffers are Shaun Groves, Dustin Hardage, amazing photographer Keely Scott, and my lovely roommate, Mrs. Patricia Jones! My sister called me right before I got to the airport to tell me how much she had loved Patricia on her Compassion trip to India in April of 2009. She is a wonderful lady with an amazing family. I’m hoping some of her mothering skills will absorb into my being while I sleep six feet away from her.

Our day started off with a trip to Compassion’s office here in Guatemala City. We got to see the various departments and meet the ladies and gentlemen who run the hub of Compassion’s activity in this country. There are 142 child development centers here that serve a total of 35,000 children. One of the most striking things about the office was that many of the desks were empty. The workers were busy out in the field! They did not have time to sit at those desks. I loved that.

If you already sponsor a Compassion child, you can probably appreciate that my favorite part was meeting the correspondence staff. They were working hard at translating stacks and stacks of letters.

I took some of Mom’s Esther books in Spanish to give to the Compassion ladies.

Later, we arrived at the Dios Habla Hoy (God Speaks Today) Student Center. All of Compassion’s student centers are hosted in churches. Curtis and I are passionate about the local church and this aspect really appeals to me. More on that to come.

As we started filing into the church, the deafening cheers of one hundred and fifty kids filled the air. There was a sea of beautiful smiling faces, wide eyes and waving hands. It was very humbling to be shown such love. The children performed songs and recited memory verses they had learned. One by one, all the adult church members who volunteered in the program were introduced on stage. There were twenty of them.

The presentation ended with a rousing rendition of a song you and I know as Lord You Are Good by Israel Houghton. Oh my word, I was doing everything humanly possible notto fall in a heap on the floor in full-on ugly cry. The kids were dancing their hearts out and singing these words in Spanish: Lord you are good and your mercy endureth forever…People from every nation and tongue, from generation to generation…We worship you for who you are…And you are good! Mom, I know you are reading this and I need you to know this was possibly the highlight of my life. Aside from my wedding and the births of my children. But it was high up there.

We enjoyed getting to serve Pollo Campero to the children for lunch. It’s like the Chick-fil-a of Latin America. I finally got brave enough to try out my rusty Spanish on some of the kids while they were eating their chicken sandwiches. They just grin at you whether you say something right or not. After lunch the children went to their classrooms and we went around visiting each one. The kids seemed very happy to be there.

Soon the children went home and we gathered with the project coordinator, the pastor of the church, and all the volunteer workers. The pastor spoke of how much the children meant to the church. The program is relatively new at only 16 months old. The church has eleven new families that became members after their children entered the program. A man who I believe worked as a tutor stood up and spoke with tears in his eyes. His older children serve there with him. A precious woman who is in charge of serving the food also spoke through tears about how much the children meant to her. She, too, serves there with her older children.

I think the most profound thing I saw today was the beautiful relationship between Compassion and the local church. I expected to see the benefits the child development program on the children. I did not, however, expect to see the children having such an amazing effect on the church members. The children are served there twice a week and the volunteers admitted it was hard work. But the joy, fulfillment and energy that their presence brings to the church was palpable. It was clear that the children were highly valued. I was so moved that families were serving God there together.

We have three more days to experience the Lord’s work through Compassion here in Guatemala City. Please pray for our team to be a blessing to the children, to the workers, and to the families. Pray that we will allow God to have His way with our hearts. Pray that hope and new life will be born in the poor and the rich. Gracias, hermanas!

Con amor,