Wednesday, February 3, 2016

On Seeds & Growing

Yesterday we rose in the middle of the night and boarded a last-minute flight to the coast of Ecuador. I saw a new shape of poverty, one built of bamboo walls, brightly lit from the same spaces between the poles that leave everything soggy (or worse) when the rains of El Nino sweep through.

We heard about gang activity thick in the hills. A sweeping culture of addiction, alcoholism, incest and abuse.

But the kids I met had eyes much brighter than my own. I ran around with them playing duck-duck-goose and hide-and-seek until I was good and sweaty. I fished the tiny bottle of perfumed oil from my pocket and dabbed it on the girls' (and a few boys') wrists. "En mi mano!" They held out their hands, too, so I swiped it across, then watched them furiously rub their palms over their necks, shirts, hair and face. These were Compassion kids, and it didn't matter that they were poor. They had dreams. I watched their mothers speak words of love and hope over them. They had a future and trusted God with it.

Before we left the center that day, the director of the program, Maritza, prayed for us. "Open the window of the Heavens and please, God, pour out your blessings on these special people."

Feeling the kids' presence buzzing around me, having walked into some of their broken places, I couldn't bear the burden of her blessing. Humility hurts going down. It was the second time I teared up.

And then there was today.

They said we were going to the highlands. For whatever reason, I thought we were already in the highlands. Beyond that, my Americanized mind interprets any representation of "up" as being better and besides, we'd already seen the worst.

After a bumpy bus ride, a quaint country stroll and a steep hike up a dirt path carved into the side of a mountain, we found ourselves in what turned out to be the borrowed home of a family who belong to the indigenous Quechua people group.

Thirteen people live under the tin roof, eleven children in total, three of whom are sponsored by Compassion. Dressed in their everyday attire of hand-embroidered blouses and long, dark skirts, they took my breath away.

{three sisters, with their beloved Compassion program teacher behind them, also present at the visit}

Their mother showed us how to help with one of their daily chores, removing kernels from cobs grown in their yard. Their main source of nutrition is a thick soup of cooked corn. When they can, they add a few potatoes. They love chicken, but can only afford the heads, which add no sustenance but a bit of flavor to their soup. Rice is a luxury they cannot afford, along with breakfast.

The depth of their material poverty was clear but it wasn't what made me hold back sobs in the bathroom of a restaurant, a couple hours later.

"What do you dream for your children?" we asked the mother.

She sat quietly, her face lined with the pain of lack. "I wish I could have big dreams for them, but I cannot. I have no hope."

I've asked this question in every house. But this was the first time we heard this response.

Across from me sat a young boy playing with a torn, dirty Bible while his mama said, out loud, that she has no dreams for her eleven children. No hope. Two feet away stood his sisters, stunning in their beauty, eyes bright.

The thin air thinned again. This cannot be.

My trip-leader, Bri turned the question to the girls, "What do you dream for yourselves?"
They want to be a doctor, a teacher, a fashion designer.

"What gives you that hope?" she asked.

Without a beat, living water spilled from their lips. "Jesus."

I wish I could end the story there, but the truth is, I left their home shouldering a burden I wasn't created to carry. Given the choice, I sided with their mother.  

The enemy was in Ecuador today, working hard on my heart. He saw the redemption I was seeing. He saw the way my soul was believing God came for all of us. And he hated it.

He would like to convince us some people are beyond hope, and for a couple of hours today, he met me half-way there. They will never make it out. They live miles from civilization. They climb mountains for dirty water. They eat nothing but corn. 

I could blame exhaustion or the altitude for my unvarnished thoughts, but when I said these things out loud to Bri, she gasped. "No, Shannan. No! They are Compassion girls! Maria is already in high school. This is a big deal!" If you know Bri at all, you can imagine how wide her eyes were. She didn't indulge my faithlessness for a minute. She knows what she has seen, and she believes. She continued. "This is what Compassion does! They've introduced them to Jesus and He is all the hope they need. They are being fed two meals a day at their program, but they are given a future. They have sponsors pouring into them. They truly believe they can go to college because they can. When Compassion says they release children from poverty, they mean it. They will not give up on them."

I nearly ran to the bathroom, then I lost it.

High in the Andes mountains I discovered the cliff-edge of my faith. Conditioned to track potential and success by American, middle class parameters of opportunity, money, and luck, I faced their absence and jumped.

Ana, Maria, and Ashley's faith is so much greater than my own. Jesus, who offers eternity in the span of a seed, grows hope in the smallest spaces. They know He holds them, too.

A former Compassion child, now the Project Facilitator of the center the sisters attend, stopped me in my tracks two days ago with this, "It's so important to plant the seed of a dream in their hearts." Compassion had encouraged him to dream, then helped him hold those dreams in his hands.

Friends, this has to be our problem. It's time to own up. I don't want to side with apathy or despair. I don't want to sit this out. I want to stand with these young ladies in their ruffled blouses and cheer them on, and I want to do it with you.

If we want to abide nearer to the heart of God, we have to move closer to His forgotten people. He couldn't have been more clear.  We would not stand for this reality for our own children. The best news ever is that this is a mission our kids can join us on. We can teach them early to walk towards the pain of another and lighten the load. They don't have to wait so long to receive the gift of learning from the overlooked.

I know these posts might be uncomfortable to read. I know I am, in some ways, repeating myself. I know I'm a little in your faces. But I cannot stop. I'm asking you to sponsor a child through Compassion. Today.

Our goal is to have 200 children sponsored during this trip. Tonight, we're almost half-way there.

The window to the Heavens is opening and it's starting to make sense. Loving our neighbor. Choosing worthier treasure. Actually trusting in God. These are the key to God's blessing. Do you feel the breeze?

{Follow along and read Ashley's heart here, Bri's heart here, and Ruth's heart here. These ladies are dream heart-companions!}


  1. "Compassion had encouraged him to dream, then helped him hold those dreams in his hands."...this is why we sponsor several children through Compassion! Keep telling His story, Shannan!

    1. Your encouragement on this journey means SO much to me, K! xo

  2. I think your writing is fantastic! Very clear, complex yet simple. Most of all, it has flavor....Jesus favor. I am traveling to Santa Elena, Ecuador this summer with my church. My family currently sponsors 2 children and I hope to meet them when I'm there. Your pictures and journey are only reinforcing the call that God has placed on my heart to go. Keep writing sister!


  3. Sis... I'm tearing up again. No surprise of course;)
    God has taken us down a near parallel journey through the years and as I read your article, your hopelessness tuned upside down after the Holy Spirit reminds us of HIS power and purpose for ALL. I was reminded of similar feelings I've been chased and bested down by Satan while living in Africa.
    "Compassion International" hold and give (through our willingness to sponsor another children created in His own image) the key to those lives who know Jesus now. The giver of Hope and so much more. What a joyous celebration. 100 sponsors - this far!! 100 more dreamers and families filled with hope.
    Love you.
    LOVE seeing Little C beside you!! Xoxixo

  4. Hi Shannan, Our family sponsored a little boy last night with Compassion. I went to the site and the first child I saw had been waiting nearly a year. My maiden name was Olivia Maurice so close to little Mauricio from Bolivia. The coincidence of similar names made me smile and feel an instant connection. I don't think I went to Compassion from your blog even though I've been following along with you each day - so add little Mauricio to your list of dreamers!
    This week I've also been home with my 12 year old who has the flu, he's been so sick it scared me. As I offer him honey for his sore throat, gatorade to rehydrate, chicken broth, ginger ale to settle his stomach, tea (all of which he has had in too small of quantities) I've been thinking about the mommas without access to any of these things when their children fight infections. So it's not just for Mauricio to have a dream but for his momma's hope too... Thank you for telling their stories, stories change the world.

  5. we are now proud sponsors of Emilie Abagail age 3 of the beautiful country of Ecuador. We picked the first photo to pop up. Dream BIG Emilie. we are praying for you. Cal you will never be the same, NEVER. So proud of you taking this trip with your Mama. Can't wait to hear all about it.
    Compassion, feeling the hurt and doing something about it. That is what Jesus did. And so can we.

  6. I see the little pictures of our compassion kids on the entry mirror from where I am. I've felt, "we do enough." but your post seemed to slap me in the face, "you could do MORE!!"

    following your journey.
    God is using your words.
    keep sharing, sister!

  7. This is exactly why we sponsor children through Compassion. This was so hard to read but needs to be known. Praying for your team and that lots of children get sponsored!

  8. Beautiful, beautiful! Best post of yours, ever. Gorgeous photos. I have four sponsored kids that keep me going, keep me stretching on days where I feel sorry for myself. When I take for granted a warm shower with amazing water pressure, when I have the luxury of deciding what to make for supper. When I get to dress my kids in waterproof snow clothes before sending them out into the cold. When my biggest worries boil down to getting them to the bus on time. Lord, thank you for these families that allow us to lose some of our own pride to feed their dreams. I am the richer one for it, may i never forget!

  9. Shannon, thank you for being such a wonderful advocate for these children. I sponsor 5 children, 2 beautiful girls through Compassion. Tomorrow night I will volunteer at a local event to find sponsors for more of these precious little ones. They don't deserve our pity, but our love and prayers. The smiles in these pictures tell the story - they are rich in the things that matter. I wish it were so for many of our so-called "affluent" children in America. Keep reminding the church what it means to be the church, and do not grow weary in doing good. Our time on this earth is so short. We cannot waste it either wishing things were different or giving in to despair. God bless you beyond your wildest dreams!!!

  10. God spoke through Bri, and he's speaking through you. Thank you for the words and opening your heart for us to experience this with you. I am praying for you all!

  11. Wow. We visited the Compassion exhibit this summer and brought a bunch of students/friends. Your firsthand view and words are even more moving. Thank you. Again. Shared this.

  12. Shannon, just finished Calvin's post! Sniff, sniff. I praise God for your mothering of this young soul. You are doing an awesome job!

  13. Um…this. I feel all the same conflicting emotions on a daily basis - hope for Bolivia and the extreme needs we see here and the enemy whispering that there's nothing we can do to change it. But Jesus. This story just brought tears to my eyes - because I've also seen it up close - from the infants and mothers in the Compassion Child Survival Program to the doctors, teacher, and fashion designers graduating college thanks to the Leadership Development Program. Thank you for this reminder - so grateful you are sharing your experience! :)

  14. I'm curious, Shannan, if Compassion keeps track of what becomes of the sponsored children once they age out of the program. How many of the sponsored children truly find their way out of such desperate poverty? I looked on the website, but wasn't able to find that information.

    1. That's a great question! I believe they do track this information. I'll see if I can find it. :)

  15. Shannan, I have been reading your blog for a few months and you consistently fill my well to be poured out onto others. Your posts this week have been so divinely inspired, raw love and bare truth have seeped even deeper into my soul, which makes for some radical goosebumps! I want you to know that I made the decision to sponsor a little girl in Ecuador on Wednesday night. Not yet having children of my own, I never imagined my heart could be this full. I am so honored by the privilege to pray for Alejandra by name and offer her the same hope I have found in Jesus in such a direct way. 12 days and counting feels like an eternity while I wait to receive my packet! I think we can grow insensitive and generic praying for "the bottom billion," but posts like this snap me back to the actual, the individual, the daily. Thank you for pouring your heart out and sharing your spectacular talent with us, it is so exciting to see God's radiance shine through the admittedly imperfect.

    Love, Jasmine

    1. Jasmine! I love your heart so much. Thank you for your kind words. You're down to ten days!! :)

  16. I read your post and I pray for these folks and you Shannan and Calvin and your family everyday. With NO disrespect but curiousity of the picture of you folks walking up the hill what bag is the other lady carrying. Its perfect for these types of travel. :)

    1. I meant to ask Bri about her bag ALL WEEK because it really did seem perfect. :)

  17. Hey friend, been a while but I've been trying to catch up on you. Ecuador, eh? We totally went a couple summers ago while we were home in the US. I LOVE that you're teaming with compassion. Fantastic!
    Question though- what was the name of the city/cities you went to? We went up and up again on our trip to Ecuador. Cayambe and a smaller town called Tabacundo. Would be fun if we tread the same road!

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