Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Five years' worth of letters and love, support and encouragement, prayers and praises... five years that had changed our lives completely.
I had always prayed we would someday meet any of the children we sponsor, and here we were, across from the one we had sponsored the longest. A mere twenty steps would close the gap and allow me to wrap my arms around her and tell her how much she is loved.
Our team was standing off to the side of the water park entrance, and the kids came in and stood off to the side across from us. I saw her as the children were brought in, but I was somewhat unsure at first. Although I knew it was her, it was hard to reconcile the solemn photos I had stared at for years with the radiantly sunny face I had a glimpse of that morning. The photos didn't do her justice, she was a stunningly beautiful young lady, so tall, so... real!
We were all beside ourselves with anticipation, it could tangibly be felt. What would this be like, would it be awkward or would it feel as though we'd known each other for years? Would they be shy or excited?
Once we were all ready, the leaders would call out one sponsor's name, and then the sponsor's child would be called and the child, along with a family member, someone from Compassion and a translator would join the sponsor. That meeting spot, the big blue star on the ground, that was the spot where prayers were answered.
When my name was called, I wandered over to the meeting spot and waited, and the world around me completely faded. A few more seconds, and I would be able to wrap my arms around this girl whose family we had prayed for and loved for over five years, this girl God had used to change my life...
The only thing missing was my mom, who sponsors Bessy with me... she would have loved to be there in that moment.
I've been compared to Tigger a few times, so I did my best to put the Tigger side of me into a virtual straightjacket so as not to overwhelm her... I gave her a big hug, hugged her mom and her Compassion rep, and we stepped off to the side to get to know each other a little in person.
After a bit of an introduction, I explained that I was here on behalf of both my mom and I, told them what had led me to Honduras, and how hard it had been to not let her know in advance that I was going to meet her. I recounted the story of how the sponsorship started, the day I first saw the photograph of a sweet and solemn three year old girl in a pink shirt, jean overalls and the longest, most beautiful pigtails. That's when I knew... that was our Bessy... and here she was, sitting beside me, with her mom across from me. What an amazing gift.
Her mother had heard the story in our letters, but it was worth recounting again, this time she could hear my voice, hear the emotion as I recalled what had joined our families together.
She told me how much she appreciated our letters, she felt the love we had for the Lord and for their family, and that it had really touched her heart to get to know us through our letters. She explained that Bessy was normally really shy, but she had been so excited about this trip she had been sick to her stomach from the anticipation.
I learned that they embarked on a bus the previous morning around 8am, and only arrived in the city around 6:30pm. It was hard to imagine the lengths they went through to share this day with me, I was so thankful for this precious gift.
Bessy gave me three crafts she had made at school for my mom and I, and I gave her a bathing suit to use for the day. I learned that she had never owned a bathing suit, never been swimming or been in a pool. She was ready to experience it all!!
We went and changed, found a table in the hut to put our stuff, and she and I ventured out into the pool. The weather was perfect, not too hot, perfect sun, perfect weather for a pool day.
Our translator, Daniel, was a lot of fun. He helped break the ice as we all played with a beachball. Bessy was a bit hesitant to venture out further in the pool at first, so she held my hand and we wandered off to explore the rest of the pool area. I loved that she held my hand, she held it so gently, but so full of trust. She didn't say much, but she was smiling from ear to ear, it was such a beautiful sight.
We talked, I asked a bunch of questions, she answered them, and once in a while would throw me a question. In no time, we got some quiet giggles, then a few hearty laughs. It sounded like heaven.
We took a break for lunch, and she was almost too excited to eat. I got to spend some more time with her mom, as well as with the Compassion rep. That's when I learned about her village's transformation from the church's Compassion program. I was in awe... I had no idea!
I also had a chance to talk to the Compassion Rep by herself when Bessy and her mother excused themselves to use the washroom. I told her a little more about my life, my story, my faith, and invited her to share it with Bessy's mom at a later time when the opportunity arose.
We had brought gifts for the children, as it was our only chance to bring something for them beyond what we could normally mail to them. I had brought a backpack filled with stuff for Bessy and her sister, Evelyn, as well as a suitcase full of stuff for them to bring back and give to the Compassion project.
The first thing I gave her was her Bible and her doll. She grabbed the doll, hugged her and a smile that rivaled the sun shone across her face... I looked at her mom, and her mom had tears in her eyes. I couldn't understand what Bessy was saying, so I asked the translator, and he explained that Bessy had always believed in God, but now she believed in miracles and answered prayers, she was holding the proof in her arms... Bessy's mom explained further by telling me that Bessy had prayed for a doll from the time she learned how to pray, and this was the very first doll she had received. An answer to prayer.
I tried to hold back the tears, but I'm not sure I succeeded. Eight years old... first doll... most toddlers in North America had more dolls than they knew what to do with. I knew this was different, that this child would appreciate her doll and take great care of her.
I showed her the rest of the things I brought for her, including a skipping rope that she had just told me she wanted, and a large box of Crayola Pip-Squeaks for her and her sister to share. Her mom was so excited as it would give her daughters many options for activities to keep them busy and give her some rest, especially the markers, which would lead to some quiet time. Apparently, her youngest daughter Evelyn is, shall we say "very rambunctious"? I understood -- some things are universal :)
Bessy's mom talked some more about the benefits of the Compassion program, beyond the entire community having been positively impacted by the departure of the gangs. When Bessy started to come to the project, she suffered from asthma and was very sick. In little time, her asthma symptoms completely disappeared. She was healthier than she'd ever been, and has been perfectly healthy since.
I learned that her younger sister, Evelyn, also has a sponsor. Her father is not a Christian, but he is a great father and loves his family very much. He was worried and called earlier that day to make sure that they'd gotten there safe, and that Bessy had finally gotten to meet me. So sweet. Evelyn was sad about not being able to come too, but was so happy for Bessy.
I was glad that the clothes I brought, including a smaller bathing suit, would fit both Bessy and Evelyn, that was a sweet surprise.
After a while, we headed back to the pool area to take advantage of some sun and some fun, and the rest of the day seemed to fly by. All too soon, it was time to wrap up the day, get changed, and gather up in the meeting area.
It was hard for my heart to feel heavy with sadness when it also felt so buoyed with joy. I had been so incredibly blessed. Still, I warned them that we had been told that it would be best for us not to cry, so as not to alarm the children or make them think that they'd done something wrong or that we were disappointed. Bessy's mom and I laughed, telling each other that there was little chance that the two of us wouldn't cry! Ahhh, no wonder we got along so well! :)
As we prepared to say goodbye, I asked Bessy's Mom and Maria, the Compassion rep, to each take a turn to pray out loud. I had expected the translator to translate, but he didn't, and I don't think he could have... it was a God-send, because the Holy Spirit translated it for me. I have never, ever witnessed a more passionate, spirit led, beautiful and awe-inspiring prayer... It was an experience that touched me profoundly and one I will never, ever forget. These women were prayer warriors, and I felt once more humbled to be in their presence. Powerful moment... words won't do it justice, it had to be experienced.
I asked Bessy what she'd like in her letters, and she asked if I could send her a photo of a bunny, maybe a white bunny if I could... and another Cinderella coloring book. I promised that I would try.
I walked side by side with her as we went back to the gate, carrying her backpack while she carried her doll, and with each step, we were closer to saying goodbye. After many hugs, photos and valiant attempts to hold back the tears, I told them how much I had appreciated the time God gave me with them, how much I appreciated the blessing of sponsoring this amazing little girl, and how blessed I felt to consider them all family. I told them I would continue to pray, especially for the salvation of Bessy's father, and they promised to pray for my husband as well. Another international powerhouse of prayer...
I managed to hold it together, I don't know how... especially when she blew me a kiss, and blew one while I photographed it for my mom.
All too soon, I found myself on the bus, completely in awe of the time He had given me to spend with them.
The doll wasn't the only proof of answered prayers.