I woke up yesterday after only two hours of sleep. I’d been up until 5 a.m. trying to find words to tell you about Tuesday… about hanging out with the sweet moms and babes who are served by Compassion’s Child Survival Program, about sharing a meal with them, about winding our way across roughly paved streets and uneven, disintegrating sidewalks, to even more unsteady ground, twisting between narrowing alley ways to visit them in their homes. I was way more tired than I wanted to be because this was THE day I wanted to be most fresh–when tears would flow free, and sponsor and child would come face to face, when they would give and receive.
Over 40 of us have traveled here to the Dominican Republic to learn more about Compassion International’s work with the least of these, including three bloggers and Compassion staff on an “exposure” or “anniversary” trip. Most of us, though, are part of the 1% of sponsors who ever meet their children skin to skin. The air on our bus quivered with a mix of emotions.
We drove an hour and a half to Club Fiesta Campestre for a fun day. Children traveled from all directions. One told me she had to leave home at 5 a.m. to arrive four hours later. They arrived before we did, and our leader told us they were all about beside themselves with excitement or apprehension. Many had trouble sleeping the night before. Most of them came with their tutors. One teen’s mom came with her.
The sponsors lined up in a single file to wait until they were called one by one. Some passed off their cameras. I tried to read the emotions on their faces. Excitement? Anxiety?
There’s a mom and her kids, a son and daughter–two-thirds of a set of triplets–on this trip.There are couples, a mom and daughter, halves of married couples, single women–both younger and older. And there’s Luke. Let me tell you about Luke.
Luke is 45, single, and lives in Maryland. His parents, as well as his twin brother (with whom he’s run a landscaping business since they were 15) live nearby. He has a kind and gentle spirit.
Luke first learned about Compassion three years ago when the ministry was presented at his church. He purchased and read Wess Stafford’s book, Too Small to Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most, and was inspired to sponsor a child for the first time.
He looked through hundreds of photos–kids from India and Africa and Central America. He decided to choose a child close to the United States because it would be an easy flight if he ever wanted to visit. He kept coming back to Aury, a then 11-year-old girl from the Dominican Republic.
“Why her?” I asked.
There was just something about her, he said, that seemed to call to him.
He didn’t know then that Aury had had a sponsor who’d dropped out of the program after four years. He didn’t know she had received no–or only rare letters–and was so sad about that. She’d been praying for a long time for s new sponsor.
Luke takes the winter months off work and was excited to discover a sponsor tour was offered this month. Aury told him she was very nervous about meeting. She’s 14 now and in the ninth grade. Luke described her as very sweet and very humble. She lives with both her mom and dad. Dad drives a truck when he can find work, and Mom stays at home to care for her 4-year-old brother and 11-year-old sister. Aury loves to cook, and she helps care for the family when needed. She brought Luke a mug with “Dominican Republic” printed on it. Luke told her he’d remember her and pray for her every morning when he drinks his coffee.
Luke took gifts, too. He gave Aury a gold cross on a chain and a bracelet with an angel on it and the words, “My guardian angel protects me.” He said her eyes “popped.” He also gave her school supplies and some other small things, as well as a soccer ball and matchbox cars for her brother and earrings for her sister. (Yes, he brought gifts for the siblings, too. I don’t think I would have thought of that.)
They shared photos of their families and took photos together. They talked with the help of an interpreter. They swam and played volleyball in the pool. She was afraid at first to go down the long slide because she was afraid of the height, but had the courage to try after Luke went down first.
“Vamoose, vamoose!” she laughed. And slid down a couple more times.
“How have you changed because of this trip?” I asked Luke.
He said because he’s had the chance to see first hand how Compassion works and to get to know some of the employees, he’s more confident about their work and integrity. He wants to build a relationship with Aury and her family–to invest relationally as well as financially. He said he might even sponsor another child.
Aury wants to be a movie actress or a model. Luke’s determined to cheer her on and encourage her in whatever path she chooses for her life, to help build her self-esteem, remind her how much she matters, and perhaps come back sometime if another tour is planned for the winter months.
Luke is making a difference in the life of this girl. And not just Aury’s life, but in the lives of her family. Who knows how many other lives Aury will touch because of him?
Who knows how many lives YOU can touch through sponsoring just one child? Especially if you write that child often. And if at all possible, put some skin on your relationship and spend some time face-to-face.
In the stillness,