When our group arrived at the Compassion Child Development Center, we headed straight upstairs for lunch. We’d spent all morning visiting homes, so we understood the reality of what it looks like to live in extreme poverty. Without a doubt, one of the most humbling gifts that comes from a trip to visit your sponsored child is witnessing joy and hope amidst extreme poverty.
We were told to find a table and seat ourselves next to a mama and her precious babe. Most of the tables were already full, but as I entered, I noticed a seat available next to a beautiful mama and her sweet baby girl. I sat without hesitation.
Mama’s smile was radiant. Her skin, dark ebony. Her eyes told the story of her life. And as far as I was concerned? She was glowing with love and authenticity. This was going to be amazing.
We went around the table and made introductions. Dominick translated for us. I told her about my family, that I had a husband and three children, 12, 9 and 3 years of age. She smiled warmly and told me that she, too, had three children, a 10-year-old, a 5-year-old, and 2-year-old Megan. Sometimes as mamas, we just need to know someone understands our life. Anna recognized herself in me, and I recognized myself in her. The connection was obvious from the start.
Anna and her daughter, Megan, participate in Compassion’s Child Survival Program. Compassion International is passionate about ensuring childrens’ well-being, even before they enter the sponsorship program. So mamas and babies receive support as they journey through the reality of parenting and living in extreme poverty. Anna and her daughter have been the recipients of this great gift. Anna knows this is “substance to get through.”
Throughout the meal, Anna shared her story of everyday life in extreme poverty. It was humbling to be in her presence.
Anna had the opportunity to take a nail painting class that Compassion offers for moms. So Anna paints nails and cleans houses as a way to generate income for her family as she’s able. After her 10-year-old daughter heads to school in the morning, Anna brings the two youngest children to a friend’s house where they’re cared for while Anna works. Anna pays for the child care, but can’t afford all-day care.
So mid-day, when the 10-year-old is done with school, she walks to the friend’s house, picks up the 5-year-old and 2-year-old, and brings them back home. From then on out, the 10-year-old is responsible for watching the younger two. There’s no one else to watch them while Anna’s at work. Anna’s family lives far away, and her husband’s family is “not aware when she needs help.” So Anna has to “figure it out on her own.” She taught her three children from a very young age to take care of each other. When they’re home alone, Anna locks the door and gives her oldest daughter the key. She tells them to stay inside, and they do. This might sound risky to us, but this is the day-to-day reality of surviving in extreme poverty. Anna loves her children and does her best to provide what they need.
Anna’s baby, Megan, isn’t in the sponsorship program yet. She’s only two. But Compassion provides food and medicine for Megan. They offer wisdom for Anna’s parenting journey, as well as as education and encouragement so she can provide and be the mama she wants to be. In another year, when Megan’s old enough to enroll in Compassion’s sponsorship program, she’ll be in a much better place than she would have been otherwise. Living in extreme poverty is more bearable when you have hope for your child’s future.
“It’s good,” said Anna. “It’s just good.”
Anna revealed much of herself during our two hours together at lunch. We smiled. And we laughed. We discussed the hard realities of life in extreme poverty. But most of all? We felt joy. There was great peace in that place, at the table that day.
It didn’t take long for me to recognize that Anna was one of those rare people I’ve found in life that I know, without a doubt, could be a best friend – if only we lived closer. I sensed it in the deepest parts of me. This brave, beautiful woman living in extreme poverty was best friend material.
I imagined Anna and I chatting over lunch, with the kids running and playing. I imagined us at church together, singing together. I imagined this woman, with a life so different than mine, being my best friend.
I knew this was true. I knew this was right.
Anna lives in extreme poverty. I live in relative wealth. The reality is, we won’t ever be best friends here on earth. But God made us friends. He brought us together for one day on earth, so we could recognize each other as best friends in heaven. He promises unity in eternity, together forever, in heaven.
Then, we’ll know.
Then, we’ll go.
It’s time friend. It’s time to fellowship. As friends, best friends.
I could barely contain my tears as I sat at the lunch table next to Anna that afternoon in the Compassion Child Development Center. I took it all in. God’s love washed over me. His vision for His people was clear. This is what heaven looks like. This is what heaven feels like. Moments later, Amanda, another sponsor on the trip, approached and shared quietly “I’m in heaven. I always loved Compassion, but now I’m sold.” I sat in wonder, tears readied to burst free.
A sentence came to mind as clear as day. I broke out my journal and wrote it, right there at the table as I sat next to Anna and Megan, so I wouldn’t forget.
This is a constant joy and grieving of what we see could be and will be, with what is.
Anna and I got up from the table, walked down the stairs of the Compassion Child Development Center, and strolled slowly down the street to her local church. I soaked in the moment once more.
We sat next to each other in a big circle of chairs at church. I was one foot away from Anna as she shared how Compassion has helped her so much. I was there to see little ones run wild and free, just like our littles back home. I was there to witness her friendship with other mamas and babies served by Compassion.
We were there to hug good bye. We were there to bid farewell with love. We were there to go with hope.
We’re all living in poverty, really. We’re all in need of something greater to hold us together, to give us hope, to give us a reason to keep on living. For me and Anna, it’s God, sweet Jesus. Our love for Compassion International unites us. Compassion gives us “substance to get through.”
Between now and heaven, I’ll wait courageously, knowing God will reunite us someday. Between now and heaven, I’ll rest in peace, knowing Anna and her sweet girl, Megan, are in good hands with Compassion International. They’re in God’s good hands. Before long, Megan will be eligible for a sponsor. I pray her sponsor will fully grasp the gift they’ve been given. I pray her sponsor will know the beauty of child sponsorship, so it won’t be as much about the financial support as it is about the sharing of hearts through letters, love and friendship.
Will you sponsor a child today? The impact you have when you sponsor a child is incredible, immeasurable. Your sponsorship means so much to those living in extreme poverty. We can’t imagine what it’s like to live in such poverty, but we can extend a hand and say “I’m here. You can do this. We can do this together.” Let’s give. Let’s receive. Let’s live as friends, united with one purpose. To love one another. Click here to sponsor a child.
This blog post is part of a three-week series I’m writing about my journey to the Dominican Republic with Compassion International. Click here to read all the posts from my series!
Be sure to check out my fellow travelers’ most recent blog posts! Kris Camealy wrote a beautiful post about hospitality amidst poverty with “Generous Hands Are Blessed Hands,” and Sandra Heska King wrote a sweet post about a 45-year old single man, Luke, who visited his sponsored child, titled “What Happens When Sponsor Meets Child.”
If your heart has been touched by the words in this blog post, would you be so kind as to share it with friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, and via email? I would be oh so grateful. The more we spread the word about Compassion and the great work they’re doing, the more sweet children will be released from extreme poverty. Thank you, friends!