Sunday, July 19, 2015

My Compassion Story

My family started sponsoring a little girl in Mozambique in 2010 through World Vision, a company very similar to Compassion. That was the first time I had ever really had any knowledge or experience of the fact that people could sponsor children in other countries. During the next several years I heard many "Compassion talks". I even heard a few by the lead singer (Mike Donehey) of my favorite band Tenth Avenue North. His talks were compelling and got me excited for the time when I could sponsor a child someday on my own. Then in June 2013 while I was at Joyful Noise I heard Mike give yet another "Compassion talk". This time, however, was different.

As Mike finished his talk volunteers came around with packets which had pictures of children from all around the world that needed sponsors. I raised my hand and a volunteer handed me a picture of Jose Aldair, a little boy from Honduras. I filled out the paperwork and went to the Compassion table. That is where my journey with Compassion International began.

Over the course of the next two years I wrote letters to and received letters from Jose Aldair and his family. Through those letters I was able to learn a lot about Aldair and he was able  to learn a lot about me. I even got letters from his pastor Carlos, tutor Carmen, and project director Becky. I got an updated photo of him and many wonderful drawings from him (seriously that little boy draws better than me). Each note I would receive would bring me such joy. I will share just a few quotes from his letters and you will quickly be able to see why I loved them so much. One of the notes that his sister wrote out for him said this: "He says that when he grows up he wants to be a person like you to help other people." His mom wrote me and said "I'm very happy because you chose my son and he has learned a lot in the project." Another from his mom said "he thanks God because he can count on you". Those simply notes showed me something important. They showed me that one person can make a difference and if you ever doubt that you can change someone's life then I challenge you to sponsor a child because you will find out the truth. I've never missed the $38 a month I send to Aldair because I know what the money is doing is much better than anything I could ever spend it on here. His letters said some of the most touching things I have ever heard. Just about every letter ended similarly to this one: "God bless your life and that of your family. Aldair says that he always prays for you and asks for your prayer. Aldair says goodbye with much love and care, hoping that you will write to him soon."

Sponsoring Jose Aldair was a huge blessing and privilege but that fall after I started sponsoring him I suddenly wasn't having any tutoring business. So from September 2013 to February 2014 I watched my savings dwindle and I began to wonder what to do. I knew I wouldn't give up on him - that much I was sure of. And I didn't want to put the burden of paying for him on my parents. So I began to talk about getting a job but my parents didn't want me to because I was going to start PSEO the following fall. I felt completely stuck and one Sunday I was just felt so helpless I cried about it. Three days after that God totally stepped in. I got a call from a girl I knew from school asking if I would be interested in  being a personal care assistant for her sister. I met with the family and did some research on what being a personal care assistant actually meant & I started with her a few weeks later. God stepped in at a time I was desperate to continue His work and He blessed me even more by providing me with a job that was flexible, paid well, and was one that I loved. I could talk forever about how being a PCA has blessed me but I will save that for another blog post. Anyway because of that job I was able to continue sponsoring Aldair.

I sponsored Aldair for two years. This past May, however, I got a letter saying that his family pulled him from the program. I don't know the reason. Most likely they simply needed him to work at home. Whatever the circumstances I pray his two years in the program will benefit him in life. I continue to pray for him and will do so for a long time to come. Just because I don't monetarily sponsor him anymore doesn't mean I can't spiritually sponsor him.

However, this did mean that I could monetarily sponsor another child. And I have started doing so. When Aldair left the program I got word they were sending me information about another child. About three weeks after Aldair left the program I was at Joyful Noise yet again. They had the Compassion Experience there and so I decided to go through it with my friends. It was amazing. At the end of it they had a room filled with pictures of children that needed sponsors all around the world. I had never really gotten the opportunity to look at all the Compassion kids so I decided to look around. When I was looking I came across a little girl in a red and white dress named Esther. She stuck out to me. Probably because the girl that we sponsor as a family is named Esther. I picked up her packet and looked it over for a while. I set it down after a few moments and continued looking at the rest of the children but I ended up coming back to her. It was as if God was saying "pick her". I didn't know whether the information about the other child was coming or not but I decided to start sponsoring her. Of course, when I came home that evening the packet with the other child's information was there. I hated having to say I couldn't sponsor him too but I hoped someone would sponsor him. I recently looked online to see if he was still waiting to be sponsored and thankfully he is not. Someone has started sponsoring him!

My journey with sweet little Esther has just begun but I am looking forward to sponsoring this little one for a long time to come. I hope to sponsor her until she graduates the program. In fact, someday I would love to visit her in Haiti.

If you have never heard of Compassion before now I would encourage you to look it up. In fact I will help you out, you can find out more here. There are currently over 1.5 million children sponsored through Compassion but there could be more. So what about you? Do you have your own Compassion story? Or is this the story of your own story?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Chicago: Because We Don't Want to Say "Tomorrow" Today

I left the Blaine campus of Eagle Brook Church at 8 a.m. on  the morning of June 22, 2015 for Chicago, IL. I didn't know what God had planned but I was excited to see what it was. Life with God is like a good book - there are always grand adventures. Life with God is much like life with Ferris Bueller - not all at what you expected it to be. The next few days were a whirlwind of an adventure and I want to share with you some of the observations I made, things I experienced, and things I saw. The way I will do this is take you on the trip by telling you a little about each day.

Monday: Keep a Mission Trip Mindset
When we arrived at North Park University late in the afternoon we knew the drill: get your room key and bring your luggage to your room. So we did. It just wasn't quite as easy as we expected it to be. For one thing, it was dreadfully hot outside and surprisingly, nearly as hot inside. We were all banking on the expensive private school in Illinois to have A/C. Apparently not. Secondly, the line to check in and get our room keys was quite long. So not only did we have to wait in line but we had to do it with all our luggage piled on us while we were dripping with sweat. Then when my roommate and I got our keys we discovered that the elevator we assumed was down the hall didn't exist. And our room was on the fourth floor. Most people would complain to the management after an experience like that but we didn't because we were on a mission trip. So we got a better hold on our luggage and said "mission trip" and lugged our things up to the fourth floor. Throughout the week we used that phrase "mission trip" as a way of saying "okay, let's do this". And it got me thinking - what if we did that all our lives? Instead of complaining and wishing things were different what if we just pulled up our boot straps and did what needed to be done? We would be lights to the world and we be happier at the same time.

Tuesday: We Need Fun As Much As We Need Work
I did not plan to enjoy the sightseeing part of this trip at all. When I am on a mission trip I want to work. But I truly enjoyed seeing the sights. Not just because it was fun to splash through the fountain although it was. Not just because it was cool to take pictures of ourselves in the Bean. Not just because it was awesome to buy Ferris Bueller merchandise in Chicago. And not just because it was epic to take a picture of myself staring down at the ground from the top of Willis Tower like Ferris and his friends do in the movie. It was because it was with people that I love dearly and I often forget I need fun even more than I need to work. Working is vital to our vitality but so is play. We remember this when it comes to animals and kids but forget that even when you grow older you still need time to relax and have fun too.

Wednesday: Listen to God's Promptings
That evening we went to Navy Pier. Now that was a very interesting experience but one thing that stuck out to me was the prayer walk. I am a big fan of prayer walks and my favorite parts of the past two trips were (you guessed it) the prayer walks. So at first I was pretty discouraged by our results. We had talked to several families but we only got to pray with one but even then it wasn’t a very long or touching conversation. We were getting to the end of the half hour the pastors had asked us to pray with people and the others in my group seemed to be getting antsy to do the “fun things at Navy Pier”. But I didn’t feel like God was done with us yet. So I asked for one more group hoping that God would intervene. We went to pray with another group – rejection. Still, I was unsatisfied but I had made a promise to my group members that I would finally shut up about praying for people for the evening. About twenty minutes later a couple asked me to take a few pictures of them so I did and as I did a light bulb went off – pray for them! So after I took some pretty awesome shots of them with the city in the background I jumped into the Zone of the Unknown. I started talking to them and found out they had just moved to Chicago from Egypt and were getting married in the fall. They said they needed all the help they could get and let us pray with them. That encounter with them stuck out to me. In fact a week after I returned from Chicago I started reading “Just Walk Across the Room” by Bill Hybels (you should definitely read it – I mean, I haven’t finished reading it yet but so far it is great and Bill is great so just trust me on this) and this one line stuck out to me as well. I think that encounter at Navy Pier and this line from the book go quite well together actually. (Are you mad I haven’t told you the line yet? Are you dying of suspense yet?) Either way, the line is “life’s greatest moments evolve from simple acts of cooperation with God’s mysterious promptings”. That is so profound to me because that moment was not one I will ever regret and it was led by a prompting from God. Come to think out nothing God has called me to do has ever been anything I regret in life. It’s only when I don’t listen to Him that I fail. I think Bill is right. Life is best when we let God in the driver’s seat. Now once you know the circumstances of this encounter it gets better. This moment would have never happened if we hadn’t lost my friend. She disappeared and the only reason we were there when that couple was is because we were making phone calls looking for her. It just goes to show that sometimes the greatest moments of your life can happen in the middle of mess and just when you are asking God where He is He is waiting to show you His presence.

Thursday: Love People
Thursday was the first of two days we did VBS. It was much different this year than previous years though because we were serving on the south side of Chicago. We consistently had to break up fights. We heard a kid (who shouldn't have even known what rape was) say that another boy was trying to rape him. We also heard a little girl tell us how her daddy threw her sister against a wall. We didn't have to be told about the gang wars and violence and poverty and constant shootings that happen in that neighborhood to understand what these kids were coming from. The kids told us and showed us what they were growing up in. Things like that break your heart. One of the girls from my small group told me going into the week that she was terrible with kids but by the end of our second day she was crying because she didn't want to leave them. She was experiencing the mission trip pain of not being able to stay. I know it because I've gone through it before. I hate trying to answer questions like "are you staying?" and "when are you coming back?" because there is no good answers to those questions. You can't lie to them and you can't tell them what they want to hear. Still, you want to say "yes, I'll always be here for you". You want to save them. But instead you are reminded how powerless you truly are. You can choose to do one of two things - you can either wallow in grief or you can just choose to love people as much as you can for as long as you can. There is a quote that is so accurate it's scary and it says you can't save people, just love them. No matter what we cannot truly save anyone, only Jesus can. We do, however, have the ability to love people and that is powerful all by itself. I think we should choose to love all our lives. Everyone we encounter will have their own struggles and they need to be loved. As much as we want to save them we can't. But no one can take away our ability to love people.

Friday: Choose To Thank God For the Good Rather Then Be Angry About the Bad
We left the Willis Tower around 4:45 in the afternoon. It was raining - not sprinkling, raining. And I had taken my poncho out of my purse that morning before we left. The bus did not pick us up for an hour. At first I had nothing but my purse which I over my head to shield myself from the rain. Thankfully, I have got connections. Just kidding, thankfully I have friends and one gave me his poncho. There are two ways to look at this situation - just as there are two ways to look at any situation. I could look at the bad and be upset. After a full week of work we were all tired and we wanted to get back to campus to relax. We didn't want to wait around especially in the rain when many of us did not have ponchos. Even those that did were still cold. One girl was visibly shivering. We could have said that was a terrible experience but I want to choose to see it differently. For one, when I looked at the weather before we left it said there was at least a 20% chance of rain. Two of the days were 50% or over. Yet not once did it rain when we were serving. That is incredible. And I was lucky enough to have a friend that offered me a poncho. And we could have been homeless people who just had to deal with it. Instead we were waiting for a Coach bus to take us to a private college where we were staying. You could look at everything in life through different lenses, You could look and see the bad or you could look and focus on the good. It is your choice but you will always be happier if you chose to see the good.

Saturday: Remember to Invest in People Because They Bring More Meaning to Life
Looking back it is interesting to think that people who I didn't know on Monday could became my friends by Saturday. People who you swear you have never even seen at your campus are now someone you've shared dance parties and unforgettable moments with on mission trips. That's just the way a mission trip is. It's a beautiful thing to see - it really is. This is the 4th time I have seen it happen - strangers become inseparable friends on a mission trip. When I think back to the early part of the week I am struck by the fact that people I didn't know made my days so much better simply by being there. Two girls in particular I spent a lot of time with. Before Monday I knew neither but now I consider them to be friends of mine. I also met a lot of other girls from my campus who I want to get to know better next year. In fact, it has inspired me to really try to meet new people at Revolution next year. As much as I love my friends from small group I want to invest in others - others who are new or just need a friend. Not only that but people I already knew become even more important to me. I experienced a lot of that this year. In fact, on Friday night during our debrief session we spent time breaking down our week into definable themes. Out of the six choices the category 'people' stuck out to me the most. It's not that people haven't been important in previous trips but for some reason they stuck out this year. I grew a lot closer to my small group leader and the three girls from my small group who accompanied me. I'd known two of the girls for nearly three years and the other for a year but this trip really bonded me to them even more. We have so many more adventures and memories we now share. We know more things about one another than we did before. We are simply closer and I am extremely thankful for that. I trust those three very much and am blessed to go through life with them.