In 2010, I took my first trip to Ecuador with Compassion. I went to visit our Kassandra, who, at the time was our only sponsored child. That trip changed my life. Literally. My heart and mind were transformed in ways that turned my life upside down. I was hooked. And I knew that this trip would not be my last.
On this trip, we went to a CSP where we had the opportunity to see the work Compassion does with pregnant mothers and their babies up until the age of 3. It was at this project where I met two sweet littles named Jennyfer and Julio. There was something special about these two children. Their presence was a bright spot in my day. Without much talking, we had a connection that couldn’t be denied. Jennyfer and I were pretty much joined at the hip for the day,
Leaving them that day was hard. I checked into the need for either of them to have a correspondent sponsor, to no avail. It was then that I knew that my relationship with them was a one-day deal that would lead to adding them onto my Compassion kids prayer list, as if they were mine.
When I returned from this trip, my heart yearned to do more with the ministry of Compassion. I had seen firsthand the benefits of child sponsorship and the realities of the lives of those living in poverty. I became a volunteer Child Advocate for Compassion, and we added another sweet Ecuadorian child to our Compassion family, along with two correspondent children. Within a few weeks, we added two more correspondent children! It was crazy…the passion that was born in my heart from one “simple” trip. As I spoke about my trip, I had so many stories of my time with Kassandra and her family. I spoke about all of the children I had met, but especially about Jennyfer and Julio. They were part of my heart.
The new boy we had added as a sponsored child after that trip was chosen by our son, Noah. Noah would be Ismael’s sponsor, which included regular letter-writing. In 2012, Noah & I had the opportunity to travel to Ecuador again, to meet his Ismael, and to see our Kassandra . The trip was scheduled for February of 2012. We were so excited as we prepared for it. Noah was only 12 at the time, so it was a pretty big deal for him to be going out of the country for a trip like this. In November of 2011, we received news that Kassandra’s mother had pulled her from the program. I was devastated. The connection we had formed over the last 7 years, including meeting face-to-face, was pulled out from under me. I felt like I had lost a loved one. I even considered pulling out of the trip. But then I remembered that Noah had the opportunity to meet Ismael. Did I want to pull that away from him? Absolutely not.
I must confess though, my heart was strained and hurting going into this trip now. I felt it was not going to be the same. I realized how selfish those feelings were, and really tried to pull up my big-girl pants, and do this for Noah. I reasoned that it would be easier for him if I wasn’t preoccupied with Kassandra. I would be able to help him connect better. This trip became about him. About him having me “all there” to help him understand how God had broken and filled my heart the first time around.
Another confession: deep down, I was feeling the pain of the loss of not seeing Kassandra. I was feeling like there was nothing in this trip for me. I was sinking into a silent self-pity because my heart was not being filled the same way it had on my first trip.
We went through each day of the trip with the usual activities. And I seriously did enjoy each one of them. My time with Noah was wonderful. Meeting Ismael and his family was a blessing. So many good things. But silently my heart ached.
On the last day of the trip, we pulled up to a project. The last one for this trip. And suddenly, my eyes were opened. I knew this place! I had been here before! Could this be? YES! It was the same project Jennyfer and Julio attended! I could barely contain my excitement! Again, we went inside and listened to the CSP mothers’ program that they had prepared for us. And I enjoyed it…but my eyes kept searching the building for those two familiar faces. Then it was time for our home visit. That home was such a blessing to visit. The mother and her children were so beautiful in so many ways. On that visit, we had the privilege (or was it God’s design???) of having the project director with us. At one moment, I had the opportunity to ask him the question that was on my mind for the last 2 or 3 hours!
“I was here in 2010. I met a little girl named Jennyfer and a little boy named Julio. Do you know if they are still at this project?”
The director thought for a moment, and said, “How old are they?”
I said, “Maybe 6 or 7? I’m not really sure.” (I had never asked!)
He answered, “Yes. I will find them for you.”
I could hardly believe my ears! But inside, me of little faith was thinking, “Yeah right! How many Jennyfers and Julios could there be in this place? After all, this man is responsible for over 430 children. There is no way he will find those two for me!” However, my outward response was, “Oh thank you!”
So, we finished our visit and began the walk back to the project. I was busy talking with my friends, when suddenly, we stopped in the middle of the road. I asked what was happening, and the translator said that this was Jennyfer’s house and the director was heading up the stairs to see if she was home. In a minute or so, this sweet little girl came tentatively around the gate and looked at all of the sponsors standing there. When her eyes met mine, there was this sweet recognition! She remembered me! And I had no doubt in my mind that this was my sweet angel from the first trip!
After a glorious reunion, and many hugs , we walked hand-in-hand back to the project.
As we stood there holding hands, I told the story to those who were not in the same group as me. They were blessed and amazed. Then the director came with a little boy by his side, tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to the little boy with the question, “Julio?” My eyes met with Julio’s and it was another sweet reunion! We had some time to talk about his life a little bit, and then it was time to say good-bye. As we pulled away, I realized, my heart was full. God had blessed me for giving Noah the opportunity to really experience this trip, but He felt the ache of my heart and filled it with hugs and kisses from these two precious children.
One of the things that really amazes me about this story is that the director KNEW those children well enough to know exactly who I was talking about. It made me see the truth, once again, of how Compassion works. The children registered with Compassion are not a “number” they are a name. They are known personally and cared for deeply. And isn’t this what we all want? To be known and cared for? For someone to know our name? For our aching hearts to be filled just because He loves us?
He knows my name. He knows your name. He knows each name of every person on earth. Wrap your head around that truth!