Sunday, January 5, 2014

What an exciting year 2013 was for me!

I flew into Toronto, Ontario a full 10 days before our departure for Bolivia, as I wanted to reconnect with many friends I had not seen in many years as well as to visit Compassion Canada’s head office located in London, Ontario. That had to be one of the top highlights of my time in Eastern Canada, to finally meet all the Compassion people I had come to know so well through conference calls and emails, to finally put a “face to a name”. I had so much fun volunteering in the letter production department for a full afternoon as well as touring Compassion Canada’s office and having the privilege of meeting Barry Slauenwhite, Compassion Canada’s President. 

The day finally arrived to meet my Bolivia teammates at the Toronto airport (March 23rd). After changing planes in Miami, we flew overnight to Bolivia, landing in the capital city of La Paz (with an altitude of 13,000 feet above sea level!!!) on the morning of Sunday, March 24th. After a quick breakfast, we left our luggage in the care of Eddie, one of Compassion Bolivia’s wonderful staff members, while we left to visit our first child development project BO173 where my sponsored child Marcelo attended. Nothing prepared me for the incredible impact of meeting 6 year-old Marcelo and his beautiful family, and attending a church service at his project. As many of our group members started having adverse reactions to the altitude, we headed back to the airport for lunch before boarding a plane to Cochabamba in central Bolivia, which has an altitude of “only” 8,500 feet!!

Led by our wonderful tour guide Raquel (a former sponsored child), the following three days saw us visiting two more child development projects, visiting the Compassion Bolivia field office and spending the afternoon with a group of incredibly-inspiring Leadership Development students, awesome young people who had graduated from Compassion’s child sponsorship program with not only top marks in school, but also with an impressive record of selfless and compassionate servant leadership in their churches and schools. This trip was starting to drastically change my outlook on life; it completely changed not only my perspective of the world, but my perspective of God. Seeing God actively at work and shining His light in the dark places and seeing Jesus in the faces of the children and families we met just blew me away. I don’t know what it was that made this trip so much more impactful than any other missions trip I’ve been on. But, on second thought, I do know why. God was working overtime to break my heart even more for what breaks His! What a privilege and honour it was to be the hands and feet of Jesus, giving hope to the beautiful Bolivian people in His name.

To finally meet my Bolivian son Heiber for the first time after 12 years of sponsorship was a surreal moment, to see the difference Compassion has made in his life, and to see what a wonderful young man of God he has become, to have a little 4 year old angel named Rossa literally fly into my arms so excited to see me, and to meet 6 year old Marcelo and his wonderful family. Then it was meeting my two newly sponsored daughters, 12 year old Maribel and 10 year old Maria to end my stay in Bolivia on a high note. Having Maria literally melt into my arms as if she had been waiting for me her whole life made me say to myself, “Now, THIS is why I do what I do!!” Why am I so passionate about being a Compassion advocate? It’s all about the kids, and young women and men who have such a heart for God, and being privileged to give them hope for a better future – in Jesus’ name!

After returning to Canada on March 31st, I stayed in Toronto for a couple of extra days and was treated to a trip to Niagara Falls for the first time by my dear friends Patty, Evelyn and Sarita. We had so much fun taking pictures in front of the waterfalls then crossing the border to the United States to do some shopping at some fabulous outlet malls. I then headed back to Calgary to the reality of work and my daily routine! But the memories of my Bolivia trip will stay with me for a lifetime, through the hundreds of photos I took and the many lifelong friendships that were made with my Bolivia teammates.

As God totally blew my heart wide-open in Bolivia, the remainder of 2013 saw me close to triple the amount of kids I sponsor, as more and more kids were placed on my heart. In honour of Compassion Canada’s 50 years of ministry of releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name, God challenged me to dedicate 50% of my salary to child sponsorship. When I showed myself faithful to His provision of my needs, He challenged me even further to increase that amount. What I have learned through this exercise in faith is that you cannot out-give God! If you show yourself faithful to His calling, He will show Himself faithful to you and shower you with blessings beyond your wildest imagination. What He has taught me through this year is that, as His hands and feet in this hurting world, it is our mandate to remove the “cement blocks” that suffocate children: poverty, abuse, neglect, and injustice of all kinds. We are so seriously blessed in Canada; we have SO much, it’s just unbelievable! It’s so strange to think of how much we have and how little others have. Why were we blessed with so much? Could it be partly because we are to be a blessing to others with what we have been blessed with? This last point pretty much sums up the state of my heart right now!

Before I knew it, I was heading to London, Ontario to attend Compassion Canada’s 50th Anniversary Gala celebration on October 26th. I returned to Compassion’s head office on October 24th and 25th for two more awesome days of volunteering once again in their letter production department, and truly experiencing the full extent of the process your letters go through once they arrive at the Compassion office to the moment they are tracked and sent overseas to the various Compassion countries. It gave me a deeper appreciation of the hard work and accountability that goes into the processing of each letter, both to and from our sponsored kids.

Then the night of the gala arrived and it was an incredible event, beyond my wildest imagination! From meeting the country directors from Peru, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, to the Area Director for South America and the Vice President of Latin America & the Caribbean, and culminating with the honour of meeting Dr. Wess Stafford, the recently-retired President of Compassion International and the newly-appointed President Santiago (Jimmy) Mellado, as you can imagine, I am still floating in the clouds.

God has been so good to me this past year, and 2014 looks to be an incredible year filled with even more blessings. I have moved off my trip to India until 2018, when I will be combining it with visits to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to visit my sponsored children in those three countries. 2014 will instead see me visiting my sponsored kids in the Dominican Republic (April) and Honduras (May), and ending with a return trip to Bolivia in October to attend the Compassion graduation of two of my sponsored sons Heiber and Aaron in La Paz, as well as visiting my other Bolivian sponsored children in Cochabamba, Oruro and Santa Cruz. During these three trips, I will be meeting 30 of my sponsored children (25 of them for the first time!!), as well as meeting a boy in the DR that my church’s youth group sponsors. I’d better think about starting to write a book about my sponsorship experience after these trips are over with!!

For more information about changing the life of a child through sponsorship, please click on: