Letter from Luna

I got a letter from Luna late last week that had been in translation for just under a month. I was thinking for sure I’d have to ask for it to be manually unstuck, but it made it through all on its own. I absolutely love hearing from Luna, my very bubbly young teen girl. Every letter from her is a joy.

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Luna is 13 and lives in Colombia.

“Dear Alisa, Hello Godmother. May God bless you abundantly. May God’s grace always be upon you. I am very happy to write the letter and tell you that the project’s name where I go is Hombre Nuevo CDC. The number of children in my project is 364. The days that I go to the projects are on Wednesdays and Thursdays. I also want to tell you that my favorite activity at the project is classes. Godmother, let me tell you that the staff that works there is very friendly and they are respectful. I want you to know that the cooks that work at the project prepare delicious foods, such as rice, beef, chicken, and natural juices. School is going very well for me, even my teachers always congratulate me. Godmother, I tell you that everything is thanks to God, who gives me wisdom. Godmother, I am very sad because my grandfather passed away and that was very hard for me. Thank you very much for all your letters and gifts. Kisses and hugs. Goodbye, Luna

‘and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men, as we do to you,’ 1 Thessalonians 3:12”

 

Let me tell you, that if Compassion were to offer a summer tour to Colombia, I would figure out a way to be there to see this girl, without a doubt.

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Guatemala Day 5- A Bright Future

What goes up must come down. Just like we made the four hour journey up the mountains to Quetzaltenango, this was the day to make the journey back down to Guatemala City for the rest of the trip. A little more aware of what the roads were like, I made sure I had my ginger chews accessible with me when I packed everything up in the morning. However, with a stop part of the way through to break things up at a Mayan ruins site on the schedule, I felt optimistic that this bus ride wouldn’t be as bad as Sunday’s, and thankfully I was correct. After a nice breakfast, we left our lovely little Grand Santa Maria Hotel for the last time.

We saw some gorgeous views on the drive. We even made a stop to take pictures with a huge volcano in the backdrop. There was also a sweet little girl there selling something who loved the doting attention of a group of Americans. As pretty as the pictures may be, they still don’t do any justice to seeing it in person, sprawled out for miles upon miles. I should give a shout out to our superman of a bus driver, Jorge, who obliged to all of our requests and navigated us safely through not only the winding mountain roads but also the narrow cobblestone streets and the busy traffic of the city roads, always with a smile.

We arrived late morning at the Iximche Mayan Ruins. This is a smaller ruin site in Guatemala. The largest and most well known one is Tikal, which takes at least a full day to get through due to the size. But Iximche was on the way, and we loved it! I learned a ton. We broke up into two groups and I can’t speak for the other group, but our tour guide, Melvin, was awesome. He spoke English, which let our translators take a break, and he’s a volunteer, but he was very knowledgable and had a great sense of humor. We got to do a little climbing up and down the steep, skinny steps, journeyed from plaza to plaza, learned about the Mayan families that lived there, their rituals and customs, the Mayan number system, and lots more!

There was also a place for sacrifices which is still actively used for Mayan rituals, and we did see one going on when we arrived. Although I did hear “Gracias Papá Dios!” in their chanting, so maybe they were Mayan Christians?

For a late lunch, we ate at this restaurant called Katok, which seemed to cater to tourists. We actually weren’t the only American group there eating at the time, the menu was in Spanish and English, and they had souvenirs and things you could buy. It was a fun little place to eat and a good meal!

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We arrived at the Mercure Hotel, the same place we stayed on Saturday night when arrived, in the early evening. We had just enough time to check in and rest/freshen up a little before our special dinner in the hotel. My room this time was even bigger than the first night, which I didn’t think was possible!

So as much fun as we had this day, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the experience of visiting a Compassion project, after having visited them the past 3 days. There’s really nothing that compares to connecting with the children, families, and staff. That’s why I was really looking forward to dinner, where we were going to get to meet some Leadership Development Program (LDP) students. I knew from following the Compassion bloggers trips each year how powerful LDP students’ testimonies can be, and I couldn’t wait to meet some of them in person and talk with them.

I was one of the first ones to come down to dinner, and I found a seat at an empty table. Soon after I sat down, one of our translators came by and introduced me to Ana, one of the LDP students. They sat down together with me, and we started talking. Soon others joined us at the table. Other tables had other students and translators sitting at them. It was great to get to know some more about her before we officially started. Ana is 24 and she is studying education management. I had to laugh at the “coincidence” that of course she would end up at a table with me, a current teacher, and another sponsor who is a retired teacher. (And a further not-so-coincidence God placement: another LDP student who is studying to become an accountant was at a table with a sponsor who works in finances.) I was impressed with Ana’s heart and her determination. She clearly loves children, and her dream is to open her own school, which would also have education for parents and a daycare where children would have a safe place to be while their parents worked. She has several siblings, and she and one of her brothers were the two that were registered at her project. She giggled as she shared that her child number was #1; the first child registered there. Her mother would help the pastor at the church, which is how she got this spot. Her brother was #2. Ana teared up a little when we asked her about her sponsors. Her first sponsors only sent her one letter. But, she said through tears, she was so grateful to them, because she knew that they loved her and supported her. Then she received a new sponsor, who only sent her one letter, as well. However, she currently has a sponsor through the LDP program who writes her all the time. Her face just lit up whenever she’d talk about this sponsor, and the great relationship that they have. Her sponsor is a teacher, too, so they each share about their experiences with each other. How I wished in that moment that her sponsor could have seen how lovingly Ana talked about her!

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Our conversation was interrupted as all three of the LDP students were called up to the front for a panel. We, the sponsors, each had our own headsets, on which we heard simultaneous live translation, provided by a Compassion Guatemala staff member, so it helped by not slowing down the conversation too much with all the pauses for translation. David and Emily, our Guatemalan leaders, had composed a list of questions that they went through and asked the students. I was thoroughly impressed by how eloquent and well spoken each of these young adults were, and how much thought and detail they gave to each of their answers. In addition to Ana, there were two young men, one studying to be an accountant and the other studying to be a physiotherapist.

The boys spoke very candidly about how different their lives would be if they weren’t involved in Compassion, telling us, sadly, how few of their friends from childhood actually remain. Many of the others have succumbed to gangs or drugs or have died. The ones that still remain, and are making great things out of their lives, are the ones that were Compassion kids. Once again, more proof that Compassion saves lives. The first young man, on the left in the picture, told us that one of his tutors at the project told him to apply for the LDP scholarship. He said he didn’t think he’d get it, because his grades weren’t good enough. But thankfully he applied, and he did get it! Want to know why he is becoming an accountant? It’s because that’s what his sponsor was, and he wanted to be like him. He’s also very active in working with the younger boys at his project. I’m sure they love looking up to him as a role model!

The young man in the middle told us a story about his childhood and when he had a significant tumor on the back of his head. Thanks to Compassion’s financial help and prayers, he was able to get medical intervention, find out it was benign, and get laser treatment for it to fall off. Imagine if he didn’t have access to this. But when he started sharing about what he does now, I was truly moved. He started a group of family members and friends that visit family members of patients staying in the hospital, bringing them food and other things and spending time and ministering to them. Well, others heard of this ministry and wanted to be a part of it, and he now has around 200 people helping him! He also shared how his sponsors asked him about his hobbies, and he mentioned that he likes photography. They sent him money for a camera, so he was able to go pick out a nice one. And now he’s able to share the pictures that he takes with them- how cool!

As David said, none of these students said “now I’m done with poverty and I never have to deal with it again.” Each of them want to give back and help others in their community out of poverty like they were helped out. And that’s what’s going to change things in this country for the better- young people like them. We presented gifts to these amazing young people, and then it was time to eat. I got to talk a lot more to Ana during dinner and after. Part of it was because I was sitting right by her at the table, but we also had a lot in common with our love of the field of education. I always love talking to and encouraging young teachers, in general, because I was there not too long ago, and I had some great mentors that encouraged me. So it was my absolute pleasure to talk to Ana, show each other pictures of our students and our families, and make sure she knew how special she was. Even though it was late, I was reluctant to leave when it was time to say goodbye, because I could have easily talked to her for another hour (although I’m sure the translators were exhausted!).

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And just one of the many benefits of traveling with lovely Compassion staff members? One of them had the excellent foresight to film the presentation of each of the gifts. And her job allows her the power to look up who the sponsors of these students are and send them the videos. Can you just imagine what an incredible gift that will be to them??

Click here to read Guatemala Day 6- Meeting Evelin!

Guatemala Day 4 part 2- Even More Love… and introducing a new child

This is the second part of Day 4, since it would have been an incredibly long post all in one (part one is here).

When we arrived back at the project, GU943, we were given a tour. We first got to see the amazing greenhouses, which our Guatemalan leaders had raved about on our bus ride that morning. The greenhouses were purchased with Complementary Interventions Funds (CIV Funds), which are provided by large donors and allow for, well, complementary interventions at projects aside from all of the amazing things Compassion provides that are standard at each project. The greenhouses are run by two men, gardeners, who teach the teenagers how to grow plants in the most effective ways. The kids are learning skills that will help them in future careers while also learning a lot about science- which is so cool! They had amazing looking tomatoes, peppers, and flowers inside. My tomatoes at home don’t look as big and round and wonderful as these did. The men clearly take pride in keeping everything clean, as we had to sanitize our hands and the bottom of our shoes before entering.

 

Then we got to see some more of the vocational programs. Here’s what makes these programs so awesome. They’re not just classes for the teenagers in the program to learn more about areas that interest them. They are actually certified instructional programs so that when these teens complete them, they get a certificate necessary to get a job in that area. They can graduate from Compassion already certified for a great, educated job! How great is that?? First we saw the baking program. I think we all watched in awe as one of the boys started mixing the sugar into the butter by hand. They don’t have any kinds of electric mixers, like we are so used to cooking with and don’t even think twice about using, but it works for them. They use what they have. And they made some beautiful cupcakes for us!

 

Next, we also got to see the manicure program and the sewing program. The girls who did nails had some beautiful samples on display that they were very proud to show off. They painted the nails of some of the ladies in our group, while the guys sat as far away as possible. They did a great job! The girls from the sewing program weren’t there that day, but their teacher was, who talked to us and had their work out on display. Each girl gets her own manual sewing machine in the room to work on. They started out by learning to make aprons, but now are starting to make more complicated garments, like pleated skirts. The girls use their own measurements and make clothing for themselves, which is very cool, but the teacher said that a lot of them have been getting orders from neighbors who want some of their work, too! They’re already beginning to build up little businesses as teens! After seeing the poverty in this rural town, I can’t rave enough about how amazing these programs are.

 

Finally it was time for the all exciting PLAYTIME! And it was so much fun! I felt so in my element, sitting on the floor surrounded by kids who swarmed around, all wanting a part of making pipe cleaner beaded bracelets with me. I’d compliment kids on their bracelets as I helped fasten them on little wrists, and their big smiles were everything. I loved it here and loved these children. I had amazing experiences all week, and fell in love with everywhere we visited. But my connection to this center was different, deeper. It’s hard to put into words, but I felt it in my heart.

 

Click on the images to see these ADORABLE faces larger 🙂

Near the end, after I had run out of beads, little Ezekiel found me. He told me he wanted an apple, as apple bobbing was one of the project set up activities. He was apprehensive and wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to leave him. He tried so hard, again and again, to bob for one of those apples. We left for a little bit, him taking my hand, but it wasn’t long before he was asking to go back to the apples again. Finally he was able t outtake out with his hands to eat and he was so happy! “Delicioso?” I asked? “Si!” he replied.

 

Then I had to say goodbye to Ezekiel, because we all visited the project office where the director proudly showed off their files. They were immaculately organized, and she clearly takes a lot of pride in that, as she should. I hung back after, while everyone else was drifting off back to the barn-like building we started in, to ask if they had children in need of sponsors. “Yes, 50,” she replied. That was all the confirmation I needed. I told her I was asking because I wanted to sponsor a child from her project, since I loved it so much. She thanked me multiple times. The translator I was with asked if I had a specific kid in mind. I told her that honestly, I had met so many kids that day and I had no clue who had a sponsor and who didn’t. I knew I’d be happy to sponsor any child there as it would be an investment in the work they were doing in the project as well as the individual child.

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It was time for our final goodbye. We entered in a small room and the staff passed out very special gifts to us. They were hand-sewn and hand-embroidered pillowcases, made by the girls in the sewing program! Each one was unique, and I can’t wait to get mine on a pillow and display it.

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Soon after our arrival there, as we sat waiting for the preschoolers to perform, our tour leader had asked if I would present the gift to the project when the time came and thank them. I said I would, at that point having no clue as to the extent to which I would connect with this place. But God did, of course. After a powerpoint with even more awesome information as to great things they do, I let God speak through me as I thanked the amazing people of this project and gave them a bag of things we had brought in our suitcases as gifts. We all joined around the staff to pray over them, and then we gave hugs. When I got to the project director, she hugged me so tightly and didn’t let go for awhile. Her tearing up had me tearing up. I was so glad I could be a part of acknowledging all the wonderful hard work she and everyone there were doing for these kids.

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The pastor, who can be seen in the above picture, was an integral part of our day, too. He gave a speech in the beginning and said a special prayer at the end. He went with on one of the home visits, the one where they were helping to work on the roof of a home, and he rolled up his sleeves and got to work alongside the members of our group happily. Most impressively, though, we learned that this pastor, when given the choice, decided to expand the project buildings rather than expand his church. That is complete dedication and investment, and it showed through from him all day. He has such a wonderful heart for the project, and I’m certain they wouldn’t be where they are today without him, too.

We returned to the museum/restaurant that we ate lunch at on Sunday for dinner this day. We got to eat in a different room this time, also gorgeous, and the food was very delicious. I had tangerine chicken which was my favorite meal of the trip. The stark contrast from the projects and home visits to our hotels and restaurants was definitely not lost on us. I understand the need to stay at and eat at nicer places, because of safety, but thinking that those families will never be able to afford meals like this can be heartbreaking.

 

 

So… that night back in the hotel room, I searched by center number on the Compassion site for children waiting at the project we had just visited. There were several children on the website. I didn’t know how I was going to possibly choose one. I certainly couldn’t that night. I decided to leave it to God and pray on it, which I continued to do for the rest of the trip.

I went into this trip open to sponsoring another child, knowing I may make a connection. Several of the toddlers we met the day before were sponsored by members of our group who made connections. Others made connections with different children or places. Still others weren’t called to add any new children this trip, which is also perfectly ok. I think it’s great that God drew us all to different children/places/needs and we all listened. As far as I know, I’m the only one who had this deep of a connection at this particular center, but I thank God for it.

Fast forward to when I arrived home, and God put a child on my heart. If only I could have sponsored them all, I would have. But Ingrid was the child on my heart, and I felt sure about my sponsorship of her. I clicked to sponsor this beautiful 6 year old girl with a smile filled with hope and promise, and I couldn’t wait to start writing to her. Ingrid lives with her parents and grandmother and both parents are sometimes employed; her father in construction and her mother in day labor.

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After I sponsored her, I looked back through my pictures from that day, just in case, and I discovered a striking resemblance between her and the tallest of the children who performed for us that morning. It’s hard to tell for sure, but I’m pretty sure that it’s her. I asked in my first letter to her, so hopefully I’ll get answer and know for sure! What do you think? Feel free to tell me if you think I’m totally off.

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Click here to read Guatemala Day 5- A Bright Future

Guatemala Day 4 part 1- Love

In order to make reading about this day a little easier, I decided to split it into two posts, since there is so much to share. This first post will talk about our home visit, which deserves a post alone, because of the sheer emotional experience.

This morning, after a nice buffet breakfast at the hotel, we journeyed to the town of Cantel. We were told lots of good things about the project we were going to be visiting, GU943, and that it was highly rated by Compassion. We felt the love immediately as we stepped off the bus, were greeted with a warm welcome and lots of decorations, and stepped inside a barn-like building. The project was rurally located, away from the town streets, and it felt very calming, surrounded by nature. It really was a sanctuary there.

Well, we got into this building, where chairs were lined up along the perimeter, and saw the cutest preschool aged children waiting to perform for us. After shaking their hands and giving high fives, we took our seats. The project director said the performance was “so we would feel like we were with our families.” Dressed up, they did a dance with some of their tutors to a song about when the children wanted to get close to Jesus and were told no, before Jesus said ‘let the children come to me’. I loved it! If you want a surefire way to my heart: preschoolers are always an answer. Even after spending each school year with 40 of them every weekday, I still adore them.

After taking some pictures with the kids, we had to split up for home visits. Our groups were different this time, because there were 3 homes instead of 4. My group was split between two pickup trucks to ride to the home we were visiting. Some of us squished inside a back seat of one truck. Others stood in the bed of the other pickup truck, in a sort of cage-like structure with bars to hold onto. Only in rural Guatemala! They let us off on a very steep incline of a cobblestone road. We entered in a path that you’d miss if you weren’t looking for it, up a little hill, into the area of the home of Elvira. She wanted to change her clothes for us, so we waited, taking in the amazing mountain view in front of us. Her two sons, Gabriel and Ezekiel, 6 and 5 years old, appeared. Gabriel started swinging on his “swing”, which was really a rope tied onto 2 tree branches. When Elvira and her youngest daughter, Estrellita, appeared, we entered in.

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Elvira had set up the room with two uneven tables, covered in tablecloths, surrounded by a variety of plastic chairs and stools. It had been set up for our arrival. She told us that Gabriel and Ezekiel had been so excited they could barely sleep the night before. We learned that she had 6 children and a 7th one on the way. Her two oldest girls weren’t home. Then there was Heidy, who joined us a little later. The boys and Estrellita (“little star”) were the youngest. Her husband, the father, wasn’t in the picture anymore. Elvira was a seamstress and proudly showed us some of the beautiful work she’s done. However as she’s progressed further into her pregnancy, the manual sewing machine has become too demanding physically to operate, so for now, she is doing work that pays much less, cutting loose threads from others’ work, to make some kind of little income for now.

Elvira’s parents had been supporting her rand had taken her and her children in. Her father, especially, had been providing finial support essential to feed the many growing children. But then, through tears, Elvira told us that her father had passed away just a week before. The project staff with us were shocked and cried with her, as she hadn’t told them. The family had to sell a lot of their furniture to pay for the funeral, including beds. Many of them were now sleeping on the floor. The staff told her to please tell them these things so they could help. They have paid for the funeral. But Guatemalan people are very proud. Her mother came to join us, and we prayed over the family while they sobbed. We though this would be the saddest thing about the visit, but little did we know…

Elvira’s mother had to leave for work and at this point we decided to give the gifts we brought in order to bring some needed smiles and happiness. We had 2 bags of groceries purchased in Guatemala, along with a bad of gifts for the family that was made up of things sponsors had brought in their suitcases. Estrellita fell in love immediately with a little soft doll that was all hers. Gabriel and Ezekiel were beyond excited by the package of two toy cars. I had some star-shaped plastic sunglasses in my backpack, so I pulled a few pairs out for the kids, and we smiled as they happily put them on. Elvira was overwhelmed and grateful, and her demeanor seemed to be a little less burdened during that time. It wasn’t everything, but we had brought a little bit of light and hope in a home that desperately needed some.

As the boys played with their cars, Estrellita played with another sponsor’s camera, and Heidy returned with some paper and and a pencil case of art supplies, Elvira opened up more. It’s not my story to tell, to share personal details, but she has been through things so tragic and horrific, concerning her former husband’s behavior towards her, and in her own personal struggles and battles, that it’s impossible to imagine someone suffering any more than this woman has. We may think we have a bad day at work or drama with our family, but it is nothing. Not compared to the battle Elvira and her family have gone through and are still fighting, along with countless other families like them living in poverty in Guatemala. By this point, everyone in that tiny room was an emotional mess, except for the children, the faces of hope, who kept playing. I watched Heidy closely during all of this. At 8 years old, she was definitely listening to all her mom was saying, and I know she was bearing a huge burden. She concentrated so hard on her picture that I could tell it was her way of releasing her emotions. She’d look at me and we’d smile at each other. Finally, she finished, and she walked over to me to give me her completed picture; her treasured masterpiece. I was so touched. I asked her, in Spanish, if she was an artist, and she just gave me a shy smile. I told her she was and how much I loved it, giving her a big hug.

Everyone came out of that home visit having slightly different experiences and perspectives depending on what and who they focused on, along with their own past experiences. I wished so badly there was some way that I could have sponsored Heidy. I wanted to encourage this girl so badly, to take her under my wing and walk with her down the path of God’s love, so much more so than what I could do in one visit.

We prayed with Elvira and her family a lot more, and lunch, that was cooked by the project staff, was brought to the home. They actually had to bring more chicken because the first batch had fallen over on the ground and the dogs outside at it. There was something really special about breaking bread with this family in their home, especially getting to see them get t have a much heartier meal than they’re used to. We made sure there were plenty of leftovers for them to keep, and we had even eaten on new reusable plastic plates so these could stay with the family, too. It was time to say goodbye. I pray that Elvira knows more how worthy she is and how much God loves her. We know He sent us to tell her that, and we were more than honored to be used in that way, but I do really hope it was heard by her.

Gabriel and Ezekiel got a ride back to the project with us for the afternoon’s activities. I think, at least for those boys, what a blessing it is to be able to get away from the hard realities at home, escape to their beautiful sanctuary of a project, and just be regular kids when they’re there! I think that as they grow they’ll have so many vocational training opportunities and be able to be educated and work in good jobs that will provide for their own families one day. And these thoughts alone make my heart full.

Click here to read Guatemala Day 4 part 2- Even More Love… and introducing a new child

Letter from Rikelme

I received this letter from Rikelme last week, and it was great to hear from him!

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Rikelme is 14 and lives in Brazil.

“Greetings! I am super happy on writing this letter again to say thank you for the beautiful letter and wonderful present that you gave me. I’m very happy for your love and care that you have with me and I have no words to say thank you. How are you and family? I hope you can be okay and healthy with our Lord Jesus’ love. On my vacation, I want to go out with my family and I also want to go out, go to the cinema and also play with my friends and it’s very good. I also go into my father’s house and speak with him, there is very nice. I always pray for you and family to the Lord be blessing you more and more. I am wishing you peace and health. Until next letter. Be with peace. With love and care, Rikelme”

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Guatemala Day 3- Starting Young and Strong

I got a little time this morning to appreciate the beauty inside and out of the hotel before the activity started. The views were gorgeous, and there was a beautiful, glass-walled pergola room on the second floor that made you just want to live there. We used the room later in the week for devotionals, and this morning to sort and divide all of the gifts we brought into enough family and center gifts for the week!

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The town we were visiting was about an hour away and called Totonicipán. It took me a little while to get the pronunciation down, but since I did, it’s pretty much my new favorite word to say. We were going to visit a Child Survival Program (CSP), which works with mothers and babies from pregnancy through 3 years old, until the toddlers join with the older children of the project. Driving in Guatemala is scary if you look out the windows at what’s going on. All of the rules seem to be more like suggestions. And then you enter these narrow cobblestone streets that don’t look like they’re for driving, let alone a big bus, but somehow we would barely squeeze through. At one point, though, the streets kept getting narrower, so we had to get out and walk a few blocks on foot. When we reached the student center, GU819, which is also a school, we were greeted once again with firecrackers.

As we entered through the doorway, children were lined up on either side, cheering, shooting confetti, and giving us embroidered bracelets with the name of their town. We walked through streamers and confetti-filled balloons as we entered. They also gave us small, handmade painted pottery that is really special. To go in, being so so excited to see them, and then to be welcomed to this degree and see how excited they were to see us, was very overwhelming. It feels like being treated like celebrities. However, as David our Compassion Guatemala leader told us on the first day and we definitely found it to be true, they saw us as their sponsors. It’s an honor to represent their sponsors for all the children we met.

We talked to some of the students and sat down. They had decorated the chairs, tables, tents, the ground, display tables, and basically everything you could possibly decorate. It’s so clear the staff really takes pride in their center, and they did a beautiful job. We got to hear from the pastor, a testimony from a former sponsored child who is now a mom and had to have her leg amputated due to cellulitis, and some of the Compassion kids did some traditional dances for us!

We split up into our four family groups for our first home visits. This was the first time in Guatemala they were doing home visits that lasted hours instead of like 30 minutes, like they usually do. We were the guinea pigs, as we were lovingly told! My group, along with Byron, one of our translators, and some of the project staff, hopped in a van and traveled a good 15-20 minute ride to get to the home. Outside of some larger homes, we walked through a narrow passageway between some homes, on loose rocks, and entered a very different world than what could be seen from the road. Here, the houses were made up of a few very small, unconnected rooms, with no real doors. Beyond the immediate area, you could look out and see hundreds more homes like this one lining the small mountain. We were visiting the home of Teresa, her husband (who was at work), and their 2 year old son, Brandon. She apologized as we ducked our heads to enter into their tiny bedroom.

Teresa and Brandon sat on the bed and we sat on plastic chairs that barely all fit inside. We complimented her on her home and her plants, and she apologized for it being simple. This young mother was nervous at first, as was Brandon, but the longer we were there, asked questions, and made them feel at ease, the more comfortable they felt. She showed us her papers from all of the education the program and CSP has given her. The pages were made into a book, and each month had a header page with a cartoon image, colored in. Brandon loved flipping through the pages and naming each image. We found out that his father drew all of them and Brandon helped color them in. On the front was a really well done and detailed pencil drawing of Brandon, done by his father. We could clearly tell this little boy is their whole world. He showed off how smart he is with his books, naming more than most 2 year olds know. Teresa was very patient with him and asked him prompting questions as they went through the book. She is doing a great job with him, I told her.

And the end, one of the CSP tutors came to show us how she works with the families. Today was an art lesson, and Brandon got to finger paint, which he loved! The tutor also gave a lesson about doing art with toddlers to Teresa, giving advice like not telling the child how to color something, having paper on hand so he doesn’t color the walls, etc. Brandon also got to make and decorate a drum, which he was more interested in putting stickers on than actually playing.

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It was time to go back to the center for lunch, so we got back in the van, along with Teresa and Brandon, and had lunch at the center with the moms and their toddlers/babies. Then we got to see some demonstrations of how the CSP works. Not all centers have CSPs, but this ministry is HUGE for starting to make an impact at the earliest and most important years in terms of development. A nurse demonstrated a gross motor type session with two moms and their babies, and then some toddler girls raced each other as they did a fine motor activity and we cheered them on, moms right there helping them.

We also got to go upstairs and see what some of the moms, how have been taking baking classes, had baked for us. This is a skill they can use for an income. Teresa had shown us baskets she learned to make there and told us that she sold 2 blankets she made in classes because they turned out really well. So awesome! Finally, we listened to the testimonies of two young moms. Compassion truly is the difference between life and death many times. One mom almost lost her baby, had a stroke, and had her husband have a heart attack. Each time, she went to the center. Each time, the center got them to the hospital, paid for the treatments, and this family is still all around today as a result. Without Compassion, they probably wouldn’t all be.

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It was then time to say thank you, goodbye, give our gifts to them, and pray together. Along with the other gifts this loving center already gave us, they had one more generous gift for us, too. The staff passed out bags, each with different colorful woven Guatemalan patterns, and embroidered on them are the name of their center. The generosity of people who have so little themselves means all that much more. And it shows just how much they truly value sponsors. These people are doing the hard work day in and day out to take care of these children, yet all they want to do is thank us. It’s hard to fully process sometimes.

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And in an extra happy ending, one of my family group members decided to sponsor Brandon!

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Click here to read Guatemala Day 4 part 1- Love

Letter from Oxford

I received this letter from Oxford last week while I was in Guatemala.

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Oxford is 6 and lives in Ghana.

The letter uses the My Christian Learning template. Oxford says his favorite thing he learned about Jesus is how He cares for children. He learns most about Jesus from church and school. His favorite Bible verse is Acts 18:9 “‘Don’t be afraid’ said God to Paul”. His favorite Bible story is Paul and Silas in prison. When he prays to God, Oxford says he always prays a long life and love for his friends. He forgives his siblings when they offend him and he tells his friends about Jesus’ love. The letter says: “I pray for safe and successful trip towards you and I also want God to guide my family as usually, says Oxford. Am doing very great with the protection from the Almighty, says Oxford. Oxford says thank you for the gift you sent him!”

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Guatemala Day 2- Hope in the Mountains

*Click on any of the images to view them larger.

I woke up before my alarm went off, out of excitement for finally being in Guatemala, rearranged some things in my suitcase, went down to breakfast, and at 9, we loaded the bus to depart for a 4 hour drive to Quetzaltenango. We knew it was going to be a long drive and that we were going to a higher elevation, but going up up up up the bumpy, winding mountain roads on a bus is enough to make anyone queasy. I was barely hanging in there near the end and SO glad when we arrived.

We ate lunch at a beautiful restaurant that was also a museum. We had a room to ourselves: a very fancy dining hall. The food was family style steak, chicken, sausage, potatoes and vegetables, and it was delicious! We also got some time to look around outside in the beautiful courtyard and take in the gorgeous mountain weather.

We then met the Compassion regional facilitator of the area and headed to a local church, GU438. She is in charge of 14 churches in the area, and she doesn’t just pop in and out, but really supports each one. It’s a tireless job, but you can tell how much she cares.

Getting off the bus, we were startled to be welcomed with firecrackers. But once we went inside, the celebration was even bigger. Children and adults were lined up on both sides to make a pathway, where they clapped, cheered, and gave us all necklaces they had handmade by burned their center and church name into slices of wood. It was overwhelming and humbling and very emotional that they were this excited to see us.

We went out to a patio area, where the children in the music program, of all ages, played songs for us. They did a fantastic job, and it was such an honor. When they started with “Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord”, I think it was hard to find a dry eye among us. After, we got to spend a little time with them before we headed down to church. I asked some of the girls how often they practice, and they said only on Saturdays. I loved seeing all ages represented in the group, because the older children could be role models for the younger ones.

The church was downstairs, and painted very colorfully and decorated very pretty. There were reserved seats for us in front. The service was very long, about 2 hours or more, but that’s because there were a lot of extras because we were there. We even had to get up and sing a song ourselves! We sang “God of Wonders” and thanks to our musically-talented group members who shone, it was painless. There was also a baby dedication ceremony, which was cool to see, because there was so much hope by these parents for their infants.

After the service, we went upstairs for some fellowship and some homemade hot chocolate and bread. David, our Compassion Guatemala trip leader, had told us this area is known for their chocolate, and it was very delicious. I couldn’t have the bread, but it also looked wonderful. We spent some more time with the people up there. They all wanted to meet us and give us hugs or shake our hands. It hit home during the week that less that 1% of sponsored children ever meet their sponsors. That is so few. So we really did represent sponsors of Guatemalan children as a whole, and that’s how the people of the country saw us all week. They thanked us for our support, even though we weren’t supporting them, exactly. But they saw us as their sponsors, just as we saw them as our kids.

They then presented another gift to us, beautiful pen holders that looked like xylophones. They’re hand-crafted and clearly took a lot of time and careful artistry to make. It was an honor to be so welcomed there.

We said goodbye and headed to the Grand Santa Maria Hotel, where we checked in. We still hadn’t eaten dinner, so we had a quick, light meal in the hotel restaurant before going up to our rooms, as it was about 7:30pm by this point. The rooms were, of course, much smaller than the Mercure Hotel in the city, but beautiful and very authentic to the Quetzaltenango area. They felt like a little retreat in the mountains. The whole hotel had a lot of white and dark wood paired together, which is very pretty. And the bathrooms were yellow, which made me extra happy, since that’s my favorite color.

Click here to read Guatemala Day 3- Starting Young and Strong

Letter from Elvis

I received a letter from Elvis earlier this month about his medical checkup.

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Elvis is 6 and lives in Bolivia.

Elvis received his last medical checkup in May at the project with his mother. At the checkup, they said he has caries and must brush his teeth every day. The letter says: “Dear Sponsor Alisa, It’s a joy to write you this nice letter. I greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus. Elvis is really happy for having news from you, he thanks you with a nice hug. He wants to tell you that he’s learning too much of the word of God. His family is well. He sends you many greetings, with love, may God always bless your spiritual life. Till another chance, with love, Elvis, and his tutor, Eva. Prayer request: He asks you with much humble prayer for his mom”

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I had to look up caries, because I hadn’t heard the term, and it is tooth decay.

Guatemala Day 1- Arriving

I started Day 1, Saturday, by waking up at 4:30am to take a quick shower and get ready. I had just come off of a 4 day conference for work the four days before, where I had been getting up at 5am, so I was used to it, but I was exhausted. I hadn’t slept much the night before out of excitement, though, so it wasn’t too hard to get going. The O’Hare airport in Chicago was easy to get to through security, buy a bottled water, and find my gate. Before I knew it, I was on my flight to Miami.

I had never been to the Miami airport before, but it’s huge. I had to go get my suitcase from baggage claim, since the flights were not connecting, and then find my terminal to check into my next flight. Thankfully I had about 4 hours between the flights, but was quite a journey to get where I needed to go. I started out by terminal A and had to get all the way to J, rolling my heavy suitcase and carryon bag along as I went. I also seemed to be swimming upstream, and for some reason, everyone was going in the opposite direction as me, which left little room for me to get through sometimes. I was so glad when I finally found Avianca airlines, that I was eager to check in and get through security. Once I got near my gate, there was really nowhere to eat. I filled up my water bottle, had a protein bar and some nuts for lunch, and headed to meet my fellow travelers at the gate.

It wasn’t a big flight to Guatemala, and thanks to our Compassion name tags, we were all able to find each other very easily. We had a unique trip in that there were quite a lot of Compassion staff members on our trip. And since almost all of them had a spouse/family member with them, most of our group of 21 was from Colorado Springs. I loved getting to spend time during the week getting to know some wonderful, hard-working, huge-hearted people that work for Compassion. And they brought unique experiences and perspectives to the trip that were really valuable.

The La Aurora airport in Guatemala City is small but nice. They have been doing a lot of work and adding on to it, so soon they can have more international flights. We got our bags and went through customs. We then had to push a button that would randomly trigger either a red or green light. If we got red, our bags had to go through another x-ray scanner. Of course, I got red.

David and Emily, our Compassion Guatemala leaders, met us at the airport and we boarded the bus to the Mercure Hotel in downtown Guatemala City. Our hotel was amazing, and our rooms were small suites! It had a kitchen, a living room, 2 couches, 2 TVs, a bedroom, and a bathroom. We ate dinner at the hotel and learned a little more about Guatemala and Compassion’s work there. They brought me a different dinner so that mine was gluten free. I have celiac disease, which means I can’t have gluten. I let our trip leader know this ahead of time, and she was very knowledgable as her daughter is also gluten free. I have to say that the Compassion Guatemala staff was amazing at making sure I had enough to eat at every meal and that everything I was served was safe for me to eat. Having been on other trips in the past not with Compassion, but with other tour groups, this experience far exceeded any other by being so accommodating to my dietary needs. I truly believe that with a Compassion tour, you get what you pay for and so much more, and this is just one example of that Compassion experience! By the end of dinner, we were all very tired after a long day of travel.

Click here to read Guatemala Day 2- Hope in the Mountains