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!}