Mission Trip Reflections by Linda Anderson

I thought I knew what Compassion did.  I had no idea, really.

In June, when Mike Schuster represented Compassion at Bow Valley, Jim and I felt moved to sponsor a child.  We chose Manuel Gonzalez from El Salvador, an eight year old boy, who lived with his dad, but had no mom in his life.  He did not attend school.  We hoped we could help give him a better future.

In September I was flying to El Salvador with our mission’s team to see firsthand how Compassion influences the world for Christ.   Compassion began its ministry in El Salvador in 1977. Today it serves more than 59,000 children through more than 268 church-operated child development centers.

We visited four Compassion centers, and each time were met with a fanfare that was quite frankly embarrassing.  There were horns and decorations, balloons and drums, musicians and dancers, actors and speakers, even miniature ushers with a single rose for each of us.  There were children with smiles that melted our hearts and hugs that melted our souls.  It was uncomfortable only until I realized that each of us nine ladies represented the sponsor for each and every child (and there were over 200 children at each center).  Most of the children correspond for many years with their sponsor and never meet them.  Many have every letter that was ever written and every photo that was ever sent, but they will never meet them in person and be able to say, “Thank you”.  We had the honor of receiving the gratitude in their stead and we had to set our discomfort aside to allow them to do just that.

If that wasn’t enough, I actually got to meet Manuel at his home.  Our Compassion van drove through a rural community past homes that looked more like sheds and past armed guards protecting the entrance to the project.  Many homes had been recently flooded by rains.  The grey-green water of fresh sewage slimed the ditches and puddles.  But when we arrived at Manuel’s’ family home he was freshly showered and curious to know what these white women were all about.   Their two roomed cinderblock house with a dirt floor was basically a shell for sleeping.  The kitchen was an open-fired hearth in a shed that also housed two very large, very pregnant sows.  They also raised chicken and turkeys who roamed freely in the yard.

The family group that we met were his grandmother, his aunt, and his cousins.  His dad was working (away from the community, we think).  His mom is not part of the picture.  His grandmother (bless her faithful soul) is raising him.  She was making tortillas in the kitchen and I was encouraged to try my hand at it.  It was harder than it looked.  We all laughed at my distorted shapes.  Manuel was easily convinced to show me how to wind up and throw a top, a popular past time for him and his cousins. And he showed off how he was an expert tree climber.  He is a soccer fan and the Canadian soccer ball I brought was a hit.

At the project Manuel will have the opportunity to have a tutor to help him catch up at school.  He receives a Bible and attends Bible classes.  His health is monitored and he will have access to clinical services as the need arises.  He will be fed on the days he is at the projects.  He will have the opportunity to attend workshops of his choice that will add value and opportunities that he would never have had.  He might learn English or computers.  He might learn how to cook or bake.  He might learn agriculture, fish farming, carpentry, or iron work.  Community volunteers, under the direction of the project coordinator, offer their time and gifts to shepherd the children to a better future. These volunteers are the heart of the projects.  Many were sponsored children who are now giving back.

Compassion believes that poverty is not a lack of resources, but a lack of HOPE.  Sponsorship allows these kids and their families to dream a bigger dream for their future than was ever possible before.  And all the glory is given to God.  El Salvador is one of most dangerous places in the western world, but Compassion is working with the local church to raise a nation out of the darkness, one child at a time.

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