Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Power of the Written Word

Typical day in North America:

It’s 6a.m. You hear the alarm go off, it’s another work day. After hitting the snooze button a few times, you get up and shower, grab yourself a coffee, and while you wait until you’re awake enough for breakfast, you log onto your computer to check emails, Facebook, blogs or even Twitter.

While you’re checking your inbox, you receive a text from a co-worker, last minute details about a meeting later today. You text back.

Back to your inbox. You had a few new emails since the night before, so you quickly respond to them before heading to Facebook. Your mom is on Facebook too, so you chat with her for a few minutes while checking through statuses and responding to comments and notes.

You read a few of your favourite blogs, leaving comments in response to the posts.

Someone comments on your blog, you respond via email.

A tweet or two, and your well connected morning has been off to a great start.

The pattern repeats itself throughout the day. The phone rings, you answer it. It rings while you’re on the phone, the caller leaves a voicemail, you call them back.

Typical Day in Honduras:

Your name is Wilson, you’re 15 years old, and you live with your mother and your sister in a little seaside village where poverty permeates the neighbourhood. You get up and head to school, looking forward to your favourite classes... Math, and Bible Studies. Something special is happening today at the Compassion center after school – it’s letter writing day.

You see, Wilson is part of the Compassion program at his local church, and a minimum of three times a year, he has the privilege of writing to his sponsor.

Wilson stares at the stationery in front of him, and reflects as to what to write.

It hits him all over again.

He has never received a response to any of his letters.

There are so many things he’d love to know about his sponsor, but none of his letters have received a response, therefore all his questions remain unanswered.

Foremost in his mind are the biggest questions:

“Does my sponsor love me?”

“Will my prayer to receive a letter ever be answered?”

“Why doesn’t he/she write?”

“Do I matter?”

You see, one of the most crucial aspects of sponsorship is relationship. The relationship that is built through communication with the sponsor is a lifeline, if you will. It sends a clear message to the child that he/she is loved, is significant, and it encourages them to know that someone halfway across the world, someone they’ve never met loves them and cares about their wellbeing. That’s a powerful opportunity to change a life. It has been documented that children who regularly exchange letters with their sponsors see a marked improvement in their schoolwork.

There is a story of a sponsored child who told his sponsor that he was sorry that he wasn’t good in school, and his sponsor wrote to him to tell him that he had other gifts, that God would show him that he was very special in other ways. The next letter, the child told his sponsor that he realized that he was good at running. He was the fastest in his class! The response from his sponsor was that God had answered the boy’s prayer, He had shown him how special he was... the boy responded that he was not only the fastest in his school, but in his village too. The letters were exchanged back and forth for months and years... and finally, years later, they met.... as the young man flew to the sponsor’s home country to give her the silver medal he had won at the Olympics. I am not sure I have all the right details, but stories like this are everywhere throughout the Compassion program.

All because of the power of a letter.

Someone believed in this boy, and cared enough to write to him to let him know.

Imagine if your emails, blog posts, phone calls, Facebook messages, and texts were met with absolute silence? Day in, day out, months upon months, years upon years?

How would that make you feel?

That’s the reality for too many Compassion children. The message they hear in this powerful silence is : “You don’t matter. You are insignificant.”

I met Wilson on Sunday. He’s a humble, gentle hearted, very intelligent boy with so much love to give...

When I asked him what was the one thing he wanted his sponsor, and ALL the sponsors to know, his response was:

“I’d love to get at least one letter...”

My heart broke.

I made a promise to Wilson that I take very, very seriously. I told him that I would tell his story to the world and have his experience be the catalyst for change, and that I would ask people to pray for his relationship with his sponsor, and for his prayer to be answered. At least one letter.

If you are a sponsor and you have struggled with writing, or you haven’t written yet... grab the closest piece of paper right now, and write. Simply write “I just want you to know that you are loved and that I am praying for you.” It doesn’t have to be elaborate or eloquent, just something to let him know you’re thinking of him. Those words will mean the world to a child like Wilson. Those words could change his life.

If you find writing traditional letters awkward and inconvenient, here’s a suggestion you may not have considered... Compassion’s website gives you the option of sending your sponsored child a message electronically through their network. Think of it in the same sense as writing an email. The Compassion office will translate it and deliver it to the child.

Last but not least, if you are a sponsor and you struggle to write, have you considered continuing to sponsor the child financially, but assigning a correspondent sponsor for your child through Compassion? Our family writes to two little boys whose sponsor asked for assistance in writing the letters. If this is something you’d be willing to consider, there is a waiting list of sponsors eager to write to children on your behalf. Call Compassion today to discuss this option.

Imagine sitting there, month after month, year after year, when all those children around you are receiving letters from their sponsors, and although you’re sponsored, you receive nothing, time and time again?

Imagine the day when Wilson receives his first letter?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Honduras, Day Two

Early this morning, we made our way to a nearby project located in a dangerous inner city slum. There are 192 children in this project, 18 of whom are not yet sponsored. The pastor and his wife, along with the staff of this project, are absolutely passionate about their ministry to children. It is the heart of their church.

The children were thrilled to get some visitors, and they swarmed around us with hugs and giggles. They are so beautiful and so full of joy.

There was little in the way of language barrier -- love is universal.

We split into three teams, and each team took turns playing with the children, visiting the project's administration office, and helping in the kitchen.

On the way to the administration office, I tripped on a wire anchored into the ground and made what was probably one amazingly ungraceful tumble. The kids got to see the whole thing unfold – way to leave an impression, eh? No worries, I managed to protect my camera and not land on any little children :)

The administration office was something I had looked forward to learning about in greater detail. This is where all the behind the scenes work is done. There are files on each child, and we were invited to look through a child's file to see the records that are being kept, how their development and progress is tracked, any correspondence they've received or sent, a record of any gift they've received. Their health and dental care is noted, every home visit is tracked, every bit of information on a child can be found in these files. The records are impeccably kept. I was impressed.

We saw a large stack of letters that were prepared by the children to be sent out. It's exciting to see this side of it. I learned later that day when talking with my mom that we had just received a letter from Bessy, our sponsored child from Honduras. Having seen the letter writing process from the Compassion project side, this made me smile. At some point, her letter was in a stack similar to this...

I loved how the toothbrushes are kept for the children!

The advocates and our Compassion tour guides worked side by side, interacting with the kids.

One of the Compassion guides, Ayax, was such a great sport... he allowed the little girls to paint his fingernails. I love that guy!

The children were so eager to play with us. No matter where we go in the world, the joy of children is so universal. They love to laugh and to play, and no one in the world makes a friend easier than a child.

The kids went across the street into a makeshift soccer field, and many of the boys from the project played along with the neighborhood boys. Carson, one of the advocates on the trip, along with Christian, the son of one of the leaders, played with the local children. How they played in the heat is beyond me, but they were having so much fun. While they played, the kids gathered around to watch.

Melvin, one of the boys from the neighborhood watched from afar. Melvin does not attend the project. He is not registered in their Compassion program. When more of the children currently waiting for sponsors are sponsored, children like Melvin will get a chance to start attending the program. Until then, they are at risk for gang recruitment, as gangs pray on those who feel as though they don't belong anywhere, or aren't valued by society.


I found that there was such a drastic contrast all around us. At first glance, you see children playing soccer together, such a typical North American scene... until you looked past the soccer game and saw the surrounding reality. They were playing barefoot in a field littered with garbage, bordering a very polluted river along which the dangerous slums were built. The slums are where these children call "home".

Nearby, a boy played soccer in his backyard.

Back at the center, we played with the children some more, and walked to construction site where a new facility is being built to accommodate more children. We prayed for the new construction and the fundraising needed to finish it. They are $7000 short of what they need, but have faith that God will provide in time to finish the structure by the end of July. If your church is looking for a project to support, this is a phenomenal opportunity to bless the children of this area, and the local church that supports their holistic needs – contact Compassion today!

We walked back to the center and then settled for lunch. Lunch was a traditional Honduran bean soup with rice added to it. It was incredibly tasty!

After lunch, we presented the project gifts that we had collected back home to the project leaders, and we prayed for their project ministry to be blessed and fruitful.

For the afternoon, we split into four teams for the home visits. These are powerful opportunities to witness firsthand the family situations we represent through our work with Compassion.

The first home that our team visited was the home of Isabel, a married mom of two little girls. Her youngest daughter rested in a relative’s lap in a second hammock. Her oldest daughter, Emily, was sleeping peacefully in the hammock as we spent time with the family.

Their home was situated along a very busy and noisy street. Children could be seen crossing this dangerous street or walking alongside of it without adults. Back home, this would be unimaginable. Their home is not situated on their own land. The entire slum comprises of squatters on government owned land, and they face eviction at any given moment. They tap into a source of water and electricity that is not their own, therefore they do not have monthly utility bills or a mortgage, and still, they struggle to put food on the table. It’s a one room house, with a double bed and a twin bed, with only about 10x5 feet of space left for food preparation. There was no bathroom.

Isabel’s husband was at work while we were at their home. He recently got a job as a welder, but the pay doesn’t reach the Honduran minimum wage. He makes $35... a week.

Aside from the extreme financial hardships, Isabel personally struggles as the sole spiritual head of the household. Her husband, like many Honduran men, does not have a relationship with Jesus and share the faith of their wives and children. This leaves the entire responsibility of the family’s spiritual leadership to the mothers. That hit home for me. Hard.

We may be from different countries, in different financial situations, but our faith and our marriage situation is strikingly similar.

At the end of our visit, we presented her with some food and necessities as a token of our appreciation for opening her home to us, and we gathered around the hammock where I led the team in prayer as we watched Emily sleep, unaware of the love being poured into this family.

We had gathered a group of onlookers as we visited.

The onlookers followed us down the alley toward the next home we would be visiting.

They loved having their photos taken, and kept asking for more, more, more, doing sillier faces each time.

There were multicoloured baby chicks wandering around. The green one started following Tracy and Christian. It was hilarious!

The next home we visited was one of the most difficult home visits I had personally experienced to that point, from a poverty level perspective. I wrote about it here... please keep this family in your prayers, along with all the families we serve as Compassion Advocates. There are twelve people living in this tiny home measuring at the absolute most, perhaps 12 feet by 12 feet. Most bedrooms in North America are roughly similar in size... and yet three families live here; Two couples and a single mom, with 7 children amongst them. There were only two double beds. In fact, I'm not all that sure they were double beds... I think they may have been single beds. My heart hurts...

Their kitchen... wasn't a kitchen. It was merely a "hot plate" setup on a little stand by the front door.

Neighborhood children watching as we visit with Karen and the children from that home.

The makeshift electricity set up in the home was a bit frightening. This would never pass North American safety standards. It’s a choice between safety and survival, and in these parts of the world, survival is their only choice.

The only adult at home at the time of our visit was a 21 year old mother of three, Karen, who was in charge of watching a handful of the other couples’ children while they worked. The children are all 6 and under. Such a heavy responsibility for this young mother. She feels the burden of it.

We left them a gift of food and supplies, and prayed with them. As I went to hug the mom before leaving, she grabbed a hold of me and held on for dear life, and we both started to cry... she kept holding onto me as I prayed with her, while the translator let her know what I was saying. It was a powerful moment... there are no words that can give it justice.

So difficult to say goodbye.

Back at the center, I took the opportunity to look for an unsponsored child for my mom. I needed some help to find the ones without a sponsor, since there were only 18 out of the 192 that attend this project, and not all of them were necessarily there right at that time. That being said, I have gotten quite good at asking “Tiene Patrocionador?” I haven’t gotten quite so good at understanding the answer unless it’s a clear yes or no. There were a few little girls without sponsors, but there was one in particular that stood out for me. Her name is Jeisy, and I got to spend some time with her. She was, in one word, delightful. In two words? Sweet and spirited. In three words? Full of joy. She had just lost her two front teeth, and her smile was infectious. She has older siblings, but they’re much older, so she’s the only one in her age group at home.

Someone may have actually sponsored her online or through a child pack somewhere else and the center hasn’t received word yet, so there is no guarantee that we will be able to sponsor her. My mom is calling Compassion on Tuesday to find out... I’m eagerly anticipating the outcome. It would be so sweet to have had such a personal start to a sponsorship. (Note: I just learned tonight that Jeisy has indeed found a sponsor – praise the Lord! We won’t be able to sponsor her, but it was still such a blessing to spend time with her and love on her. If her new sponsor ever reads this, I hope she/he will drop me a note so that I can send him/her the photos!)

Jeisy started introducing me to all her friends as they were gathered around the table doing crafts. She and her best friend gave me the craft they had worked so hard on – I’m going to bring them home. Can’t think of a better souvenir!

(Jeisy is on the left)

All too soon, it was time to go. We climbed back on the bus, and I realized that I still had a small backpack of things to leave behind at the center in case we were able to sponsor Jeisy. In the end, it ended up being a project gift, but I know it will bless the children who receive it. God will know just who needs it.

We drove back to the hotel and had some downtime. I showered and headed down to the lobby to work on some photos. The highlight of the afternoon, other than everything we experienced at the project, was to get a chance to talk with my mom via MSN. She’s been one of my biggest supporters and prayer warriors for this trip, (and in life!), and being able to connect with her was priceless. It was very encouraging. It was just the boost I needed. We met in the lobby before supper for our “share & debrief” time. I love hearing about everyone else’s perspectives, wisdom and experiences.

We had special guests for supper, the staff of the Compassion country office. It was so interesting to hear them share how their side of the organization operates. They were so kind and passionate about what they do, and how important it is to support the church. It was so important for me to hear that Compassion doesn’t control the church’s project, they support it. Just as I support my own church by volunteering and tithing, I support worldwide churches through my Compassion volunteer work and financial support, as well as through the sponsorships. That’s why you’ll never see a big “Compassion” sign on a church/project – the church is the heart of what we do and the heart of the community, and the children and families are those who directly benefit.

Back at the hotel, I stayed up quite late writing, processing, praying, and worshiping. It was worth it – I know there was little chance that I would have slept anyway, the adrenaline was flowing a little too freely.

All in all, another great day here in Honduras. The more time I spend here, the more I fall in love with the people and the places we see.

Doris, the pastor's wife, said something that touched my heart. "Blessed be the feet of those who bring the good news." Our feet have been blessed to have walked through this area where the Gospel is being carried out so beautifully.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Honduras Update

Difficult day in the urban slums of San Pedro Sula... I pray to have the opportunity to share the day's recap soon.

We are heading to the Copan area tomorrow, famous for the Copan ruins. We will be visiting another project here, and staying overnight.

Much love, and gratefulness for your support and prayers. Please continue to pray.
Monday, June 28, 2010

Glimpses of Honduras

Seaside village of Pueblo Nuevos, Honduras. June 27, 2010

Monday, June 28, 2010

Powerful Reminder

In one of the homes we visited today, the men had rigged up a makeshift electrical system that enabled them to have power to their small home. How exactly they did this, we're not sure. I can't imagine how dangerous it would have been to do this without the safety precautions we take for granted back home.

Why would they risk their lives for this? One reason. Survival.

Survival, in this case, also means "fire hazard".

It's a powerful reminder of what we're here to witness, to see, to understand. The reality of what extreme poverty is like for these children, these families.

The sponsorship photos aren't just photos... they are real children. Real children with real needs. Children like Justin, who lives in the home we visited today. This little boy's somber countenance matched the seriousness of the situation in his home.

Twelve people live in this home, two couples, one single mom, and seven children in total. Two beds. Twelve people... two beds. At most, this home may be 12 feet by 12 feet, with a dirt floor, a wall that is pieced together at best, and two mattresses raised on bricks to avoid the flooding that often happens in this slum. They do not own the land or have running water. They are squatters facing eviction at any time.

Justin does not yet have a sponsor. Sponsorship would provide so much for this child and this family. To say their situation is desperate would be an understatement.

He is not alone. Of the 41,000 children registered with Compassion in Honduras, he is one of 6000 children in Honduras still awaiting sponsorship.

Making a difference in the life of a child like Justin IS possible. Perhaps you are the sponsor he has been waiting for... a sponsor who is a powerful reminder to Justin that he matters, he is loved, and that there is hope for him. That God knows his name.

When the mom hugged me before we left, she hung on to me for dear life and started to sob... we were both in tears... I explained via the translator that she was not alone, that she was a great mom, to not be discouraged by the world around her, but to place her hope in the things that were unseen... I told her we would never forget her, and that we loved her and would pray for her and her household. I reminded her to stay strong, but to keep her heart soft.

Powerful hug.

Powerful prayer.

Powerful experience.

Powerful reminder.

For sponsorship from Canada, please click here, or email me at JD (at) .

For sponsorship from the U.S.A., here is a link from my friend Kristen, a U.S. advocate for Compassion.
Monday, June 28, 2010

Poverty On The Line

When I was a little girl, I loved hanging up laundry on the clothesline with my mom every summer. Those are some of my most cherished memories. The smell of freshly cleaned, sun-dried laundry was unlike anything else. In the winter, we relied on the clothes dryer, not quite the same, but something we appreciated.

I appreciate it even more now.

Here in Honduras, clothes are hung to dry throughout the yards. Some were hung on fences or barbed wire, the only wire they had available. While the sun does dry the clothes, the feeling of freshness isn't what we're used to. Many of the neighborhood we visited today were strewn with garbage and animal droppings, there were flies everywhere, and the lack of proper sanitation left a smell that had to be experienced to be understood.

Sometimes, the clothes are washed in rivers that aren't fit to even touch.

And yet, somehow, in the midst of such extreme poverty... there is beauty to be found.

In the people... and in the clotheslines.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Honduran R & R

The heat of the afternoon sun makes hammocks a favorite spot for a little R&R in the shade... I asked this woman if she would allow me to photograph her, she graciously accepted. She was very, very kind.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Honduras, Day One

I am sitting in the hotel, at the end of a day packed with the sights and sounds I had longed for since getting involved with Compassion years ago. Especially here, in Honduras, where we first began to sponsor a child through Compassion.

After breakfast and briefing, we drove an hour and a half from San Pedro Sula in the direction of the Honduran coastline, to the village of Pueblo Nuevos. The Compassion village would be the first Compassion project we would visit on this trip. We know it as project “HO-311”.

We had been invited to attend church at this project and to spend the rest of the day with the project leaders and staff. What a genuine and warm welcome they gave us. From what I have witnessed, this is very typical of the people of Honduras. They are so welcoming, humble, and kind hearted. We felt at home.

The pastor gave a passionate sermon which spoke straight into our hearts.

The experience of hearing worship songs in a language we didn’t understand brought us even closer to God as we relied on the Holy Spirit to interpret what He would have us hear. The voices of the local people were strong and powerful. The mother sitting next to me nursed her baby during the service, right beside me – as though it was the most natural thing in the world – because... it is. Where did North America go wrong? I love that it was so full of worship, yet so completely down to earth.

The children at the church service were charming. This is Victoria...

And Daniely.

After the church service, our team of 19 was split into 4 teams so that each team could take part in a home visit.

People with children sponsored through project HO-311 had agreed to open their home and their hearts to us, and help us understand firsthand what it is Compassion does for the families, what their experiences have been like working with Compassion, what they need from us in our role as advocates and sponsors... and simply getting to know the families that Compassion serves here in Honduras.

Our team was welcomed into the home of Leslie, a single mom of two children – 15 year old Wilson, and 11 year old Jasmin.

Wilson loves Math and works hard in school. His favorite things about the Compassion project is to study the Bible and learn scriptures. Jasmin has been learning hairdressing skills, and her hair was beautifully done. She will be a great stylist someday!

They live in a simple but well kept house with a backyard orchard of coconut, avocado, grapefruit, lemons and more, with hens and chickens roaming freely through the yard.

In Honduras, the lemons are green. We thought they were kidding us... but they are really green. This one isn't ripe yet...

Coconut, anyone?

I don't recall what these are...

The bedroom in their home was too small to photograph, but big enough for two mattresses.

This was their kitchen food preparation area:

And the place where they store their kitchen necessities.

This reminds me of the Chicken Chalet in Ohio!

Leslie’s brother owns the property. Wilson and Jasmin are both sponsored, Wilson’s sponsor is Canadian, I believe, and Jasmin’s sponsor is from Australia. They have both been attending the project since it opened 9 years ago. My heart is heavily involved in the letter writing portion of our sponsorships, it’s integral to building the relationship between the children and their sponsors, so I was bracing myself for the inevitable – asking whether or not their sponsor writes to them. Jasmin showed us a Christmas card sent to her by her sponsor. She brought it out to show it to us.

Sadly, Wilson hung his head and explained that in the nine years he has been sponsored, he had never received a note, a card, or a letter from his sponsor. There has been no communication to tell him that he is loved, to encourage him to keep working hard in school, to ask him what his dreams for the future are, and to share the love of Jesus with him.

This broke my heart... the pain and longing in his eyes said it all.

As the rest of the team entered the home with Leslie so that she could show them the living quarters, I asked our translator to tell Wilson that I will be praying for him to receive a letter from his sponsor, and that I will hold his personal experience with the lack of letter writing in my heart, as a sponsor and as an advocate, and that I will use his story to tell people how important letter writing is for a child like Wilson. I told him that even if he never receives that letter, that I want him to know that he IS loved, that we do care, and that I want him to keep being encouraged to work hard in school and to do his best in everything.

I have learned that many children who are not encouraged by their sponsors through letters sometimes drop out from the lack of connection and relationship. Children who receive regular correspondence see a marked improvement in their schoolwork. These letters mean everything to these children.

We prayed alongside of Leslie, Wilson and Jasmin, and when we were finished, we were all overcome with emotion, especially Leslie, who seemed to understand the impact her family was making on us advocates, how much significance she had in teaching us today, and how much we truly care about her and her children, that we will be praying for them often.

After tearful goodbyes, we headed back to the project, and talked about the visit while waiting for the other teams to arrive. One of the teams, led by Tracy Smith, was visiting the home of her sponsored child, Felipe. We were so eager to hear about her experience.

When all the teams returned, we walked through the neighbourhood and down to the beach. It was my first time putting my feet into the Caribbean sea... it’s very, very warm. Not like the near freezing Bay of Fundy back home!

We spent some time playing with the kids and getting to know each other, and putting our feet up in the sand. Some of us were journaling, others were taking photos and exploring, but we were all enjoying the moments, regardless of what we were doing.

Teresa had a chance to spend some time at the beach with her sponsored child, Lillian.

After the beach, we walked back through the neighbourhood and made our way to an outdoor kitchen area and had a feast of fried fish, Honduras style. I felt like I was back home on the north coast of New Brunswick, having an Acadian style lunch... there wasn’t much left of the fish when I was finished with it!

(Tia, I did wonder what you'd eat if you had been there! :o) )

We gathered around after the meal and gave the project leaders the gifts that we had collected for them back home. They were so grateful, you could see it in their faces. During prayer time, they asked God to bless us many times for what we had done for them, for visiting them, but already, God has blessed us beyond a hundred fold, it is them that teach us, it is them that bless us by who they are, by what they do, and by witnessing their faith in God. We are family.

When I went to hug the women from the project staff who had spent the day with us and made our lunch, the last two hung on a little longer, hugged a little tighter, and although the language was a barrier, I knew all over again that love and gratitude were a universal language.

We took a tour of a Spanish Fortress on our way back to the hotel, it was amazing. It reminded me of Louisburg in Cape Breton.

The view from the roof was incredible.

Julia, a fellow photograher...

One of our highly spirited tour leaders, Kayla!

Even though it was very hot, and my blood pressure was giving me some issues, I still thoroughly enjoyed my time there as I let the sights and sounds of the day soak deep into my heart. What an amazing experience... and it was only the first day.

Back at the hotel, we showered, changed, and met for supper on the 7th floor restaurant, which had no windows in the dining area... the breeze was wonderful. I loved getting to know the rest of my team members -- the more I get to know them, the more I love how God put this team together, knowing just who we'd need to meet and work with. Amazing... absolutely amazing.

The internet connection here isn't great at nights, so I worked on my photos and writing, and will be posting this in the morning. That will likely become the routine while I'm here.