Greetings from Peru! I have been emailing Kevin snippets of my experiences, and he has been posting them on our family blog, but I wanted to take a moment to post them here since many of you don't have access to the family blog. I am having such a great time - there is so much to process. The team is great - there are 22 of us from all over the US and we all have great stories to share about how we became involved in Compassion, trips we have taken before, our sponsored children, etc.
Thank you for your prayers - keep them coming. I will post so much more when I am home, with pictures to show you what I'm talking about. But until then, words will have to be enough...Here are the updates so far.
we had a great day. we went to church at one of the student centers here in lima. i had a child packet for a little boy named emanuel, and i asked one of the staff workers if he was there. she looked at his picture and said, that is my son! she works for this compassion student center, working wtih the teenagers. there are 4 children in the family and they were all there...even the father had the day off and was at church. so he is our newest sponsored child. it was quite remarkable how it all came about. he is 5 years old and is such a cutie. the area in which they live is very poor. the father ran home to get me a photo of the family to take home with me - even though i had taken one with my camera.
the church service was put on by the youth and was really neat. they welcomed us with balloons, confetti and noise makers. lots of hugs and kisses too. the teens led the worship and it was fun to watch them sing - with so much excitement and sincerity. it was beautiful.
we spent the afternoon and evening touring Lima. we went to a big monastery of st. Francis of Assisi and went to see the ocean. tomorrow we will be at compassion student centers all day.
So we are off to another compassion student center today. We will see a Child Survival Program and a sponsorship program. I'm sure we will be welcomed like royalty. Yesterday as we pulled into the neighborhood where the church and student center was, there were some teen boys smiling, waving and running after our bus - welcoming us. Then as we pulled up to the church there was a big banner that said "Welcome Sponsors" and kids and staff started gathering outside...waving balloons and they had noise makers and confetti. It was so surreal and I couldn't help but cry. I was under the impression we were going to church and there wouldn't be many kids yesterday, so I don't think I had prepared emotionally. But there were about 200 kids ready to greet us! Compassion evaluates the student centers and the ones who "score" the best, get the honor of hosting the sponsors and advocates when they visit.Every single person who works at that particular student center thanked us for coming.
It was such a blessing to meet Emanuel's mother. I told you last night that she works for the center with the teens. They are so vulnerable at this age and I am so thankful we can not only sponsor her son, we can support her and the impact she is having on so many children. I do not know if she volunteers or if she is paid. Many of the student center workers do volunteer. The church was such a bright spot in the neighborhood - literally. It was painted beautifully and was well kept. They live close to the church, and the father ran home to get the photo album to show me. They gave me 3 photos to bring home - it was so sweet. As we surrounded the staff to pray for them, Elisa (Emanuel's mom) held my hand and she must have given me a dozen hugs. They have an 18 yr. old son, Pablo who was leading worship. I was drawn to him before I knew anything about this family. His face just shone as he sang and worshiped. He was fun to watch. They also have a 10 yr. old daughter named Alexa (tell Kayleigh) and a 3 yr. old daughter named Kristy.
The hotel is nice. We can't use the water in the sink for brushing teeth so that is interesting. And we aren't supposed to flush any toilet paper down the toilets - gross, I know! I would hate to be the person emptying the garbage!
How do I even begin to describe what I experienced today? I wish I could send you pictures, but I want to be able to explain each one as you look at them. We went to Peruvian slum today - squatters. This particular community is not the most extreme example of poverty as it had electricity, but it was beyond my wildest imagination. Street dogs everywhere...garbage everywhere...children running through the streets (young children - 2 years old running around alone). It doesn't really rain in Lima - just mist - so it's very dry here and there isn't much vegetation. There is some gardening in the city parks, but once you leave the city, there are just hills and hills of sand. These are where the squatters set up residence - think sand dunes with a few rocks. Big sand dunes (like bigger than Michigan). It was unbelievable. There are some rocks mixed in and that must be what makes it livable.
We went to the church that houses the CSP and CDSP. In the morning, we interacted with CSP (child survival program - babies and moms). We heard from the staff, met the moms and kids, visited the classrooms and saw what they do and then did home visits. Five of us went with a translator and a CSP workier to the home of Dina (mom) and Estefany (2 yr old). She was so gracious to have us in her home. The roof consisted a blue tarp and cardboard. The walls were very thin plywood. I can't imagine raising children in those conditions. She also has an 8 yr. old son and is 6 months pregnant.
Then we returned to the church for lunch. They served us an interesting Peruvian mail, and then we served the children their lunch. They had the same thing we had. It was so cool to watch them wait until everyone in their class was served, then they prayed and then they began eating. The kids seem more outgoing than most American kids. It wasn't unusual to be walking through the church and have a child embrace or kiss you.
We then spent some time visiting the CDSP classes (these are the sponsored kids). I had the opportunity to ask the teens quite a few questions. They all have such big dreams for their lives. It was great to be able to encourage them and hear about their dreams.
There is so much more I could tell you, but I still need to process so much. It was very surreal to pull up (on dirt/sand roads) in a huge bus...a bunch of Americans with cameras draped around their necks. As we got off the bus, it felt wrong to take pictures of their poverty. Our motivation is pure - as advocates we want to document what we see and share it with our family and friends in hopes of getting more children sponsored, but it still seemed wrong. I didn't take many pictures outside of the church and project area for this reason.
The need is so great and we only got a glimpse today. But it is such an honor to see how God is using Compassion to bring hope to these families. God is here - and the families I met today love him with all their heart. They have hope because of Compassion. Over and over and over we were thanked for being sponsors. And over and over and over, in my heart, I was thanking God for letting me be used in this way by him.
Tomorrow we head out to another church and student center. Then in the evening we will meet with some LDP students.