Several of my prior posts have talked about the nature and importance of bridges. A friend of mine recently introduced me to Compassion International. It’s an organization that helps us (to whom much has been given) to connect with some kids who don’t even have the basics. Here are some highlights about it:
ABOUT COMPASSION INTERNATIONAL
- Founded in 1952, Compassion International (www.compassion.com) is a child development organization committed to releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name.
- Compassion has worked with over one million children in 24 countries through one-on-one sponsorship.
- Compassion has received top marks for financial integrity and accountability from numerous organizations including Charity Navigator, American Institute of Philanthropy, Ministry Watch, Smart Money Magazine, Forbes Magazine, and the Evangelical Counsel for Financial Accountability (ECFA)
- To sponsor a child or to learn more about child sponsorship and Compassion, go to www.compassion.com/ibc or contact John Alagood (214) 263-6659 firstname.lastname@example.org
John shared his personal experiences with Compassion International and I want to share his article with you. Be careful, it’s motivational and may move you to take action on your need to demonstrate compassion.
Too Small to Ignore
The van kicked up clouds of dust as we drove away, obscuring our view of small hands and arms waving goodbye. We had done eternal work – a Vacation Bible School for the poorest of the poor near Juarez, Mexico. With songs, hugs, crafts and love, we had gently introduced these impoverished children to our savior. But the VBS was over – the children’s laughter fading behind us. Soon the absence of crosses lining the road, even more than the U.S. border guard, told me we were back in the States.
As we drove back toward home, family, and jobs, (and for me a nearly new marriage) I thought of the kids we left behind. Many of them now knew Jesus, and all were made in God’s image, but each returned home to a cardboard shelter. I earnestly wished better for them, but even the sentiment stung as James’ words came to mind “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”
That was the year I first heard the dissonance – a faint, grumbling counterpoint to my privileged, protected life like an off-key note playing just loud enough to make life’s music a little uncomfortable. Busy years of work, school, and relocations passed, but that soft, dissonant note never stopped . . .
It was seven years later when impending parenthood brought children back to mind like nothing else can. At a kiosk in our church we discovered Compassion International. We learned that for a dollar a day we could release a child from poverty and help introduce him or her to Jesus. We were going to have a daughter, so it just seemed right to sponsor a girl. We picked one from Peru named Zully.
Life went sideways from there. We never expected the roller coaster of emotional and health issues that would be triggered by pregnancy and parenthood. We had thought we were ready for kids. Now, we wondered if our marriage would survive, let alone be the tranquil nest for young lives that we had hoped. More out of desperation than inspiration, we decided to make some changes. Our lives, it seemed, were full of urgent emails and business flights and fast food and late nights and mortgage payments and credit card bills and none of the things we really needed. Our lives were so full we were empty. So we decided to simplify … ruthlessly. We emptied our lives of everything from church to friendships and evaluated what to let back in.
Our rebuilt life turned out to look a lot different than the one we abandoned. We discovered Dave Ramsey and began to follow the biblical financial principles he helps make practical in his Financial Peace University. While following his “baby steps,” – eventually becoming completely debt-free, including the house – our relationship with Zully helped to remind us of the difference between a want and a need. We need clean water, food, clothing and shelter – we wanted a million other things and had bought many of them.
I was determined to simplify and reduce. I had seen such positive results from simplifying our family life, I wanted more. We had discovered the truth of Less is More – a small cup more quickly “runneth over.” With how small a cup could we be happy? How much was “enough”? We decided to find out, moving to a home half the size and ten years older. We went through everything we owned, then did it again, asking ourselves what we really needed versus what we could give away. We gave away or sold so much Sarah was afraid she was next, to paraphrase Dave Ramsey. We went from busting at the seams to half-empty closets yet lacked for nothing and life felt even more abundant.
I discovered a simpler life to be emotionally quieter, making the dissonant note stand out more. Debt no longer demanded to be serviced. Our greatly reduced collection of things no longer called out for constant cleaning, organizing, and insuring. More than any time in life I felt master of my time and resources. But wait – not master. Steward.
I was bought at a price. How would the Master have me use His resources? We had taught our daughter how tithing helps reminds us that all of it belongs to God. It was only after we were free from financial bondage, however, that we began to understand the extent of our opportunity and responsibility as stewards. I thought back to the children, years ago, returning to their shacks as our van drove away. That dissonant note was – had always been – the Holy Spirit, constantly reminding me of God’s heart, that poured from His Word, for the poor and for the children. My poverty of abundance had made my heart thorny soil, choked by what Jesus called “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things.”
Nearly twelve years have passed since the van pulled away from the kids in the cardboard shantytown near Juarez and life, for me, has come full circle. Last Thanksgiving, my wife, daughter, and I traveled to Toluca, near Mexico City, to visit Nadia, our newest sponsored girl through Compassion. Together with her parents, Elisabeth and Juan Carlos, Nadia thanked God for his blessing. I looked around the cinder block shelter and realized that, although not a holiday in Mexico, we were witnessing a more earnest Thanksgiving than we ever could have had at home. A bunk bed divided the single room into bedroom and kitchen. Blankets on the floor helped with warmth, since the nights were cold and the “doors” were plastic flaps, draped to block the wind.
Elisabeth was crying. She told us about how, a few weeks before, Nadia had spoken God’s truth into her life. She and her husband, Juan Carlos, had been fighting – frightening for any child but especially for a little girl in poverty whose whole life revolved around this one room. Nadia had run to her mom – a small tract in her hand: “Mommy,” she said in Spanish, “you and Daddy don’t have to fight. Jesus loves you!” Stunned, Elisabeth and Juan Carlos stopped and looked at the small booklet entitled “The Greatest Gift.” Nadia was almost four.
Feeling a sense of pride, I looked out the window at Nadia, playing with our four-year old Sarah and several neighborhood children. In a real sense Nadia was ours too – a little girl who, through Compassion, we were releasing from physical, spiritual, economic, and social poverty in Jesus’ name. At barely four years of age, Nadia already knew where to turn when life went sideways.
I was humbled to realize God had chosen me to help protect and develop this faithful little girl and to speak out for others needing help. Every five seconds a small child dies needlessly – but not this child. As God is our witness – not this child. It was then that I realized the dissonance was gone – the note was still there, but the music of my life had changed, creating a harmony.
The questions started on the way home from Toluca.
“Daddy, why is Nadia’s roof made of plastic?”
My eyes moistened. Maybe God will use the needs of Nadia to build in Sarah a heart of gratitude and generosity, shielded from materialism. Maybe Sarah will discover service and simplicity earlier than I did. Maybe she’ll avoid the dissonance. I suppose that’s in God’s hands. For now, I’m just going to enjoy the harmony.