Monday, December 26, 2016

Captivated in Colombia!

After returning to Canada from my October 2015 sponsor tour to Rwanda, I spent the next seven months working very long hours at my new job until the time came to travel to Colombia, South America on a U.S. sponsor tour in May 2016; another new country for me! Although I already have my special "heart” countries, every trip is unique and memorable, and Colombia was no exception. We had a very awesome group of sponsors on this tour and I quickly bonded with many of them. 

We had wonderful experiences visiting child development projects in Barranquilla and Santa Marta, which are in the very hot and humid northern Caribbean region of Colombia.

On May 10th, the day before Child Fun Day, one of my sponsored kids, 17-year-old Amaury, travelled north from Cartagena to spend the day with our group visiting one of the project centres as he was scheduled to write a university entrance exam the next day. My one-on-one time with him was so unforgettable, cementing the already strong bond between us built up through frequent letter writing over the past three years. 

Then came the day we were all waiting for, Child Fun Day on May 11th held at Turipaná Water Park right on the Caribbean Ocean. For many of the sponsored children, it was their first time ever seeing the ocean! I was overjoyed to see nine of my sponsored kids lined up waiting for me – Edelis, Brayan, Andrés, Yeison, Rodrigo, Keiner, Vilanis, Erika and Mishell. Brayan really worked his way into my heart that day with his outgoing and loving nature. From soccer games to playing in the pool and on the beach, many memorable moments were created.

The U.S. sponsors returned to the States the next day and I once again stayed on for a couple of extra days as I had set up individual home visits with my two Barranquilla-area children:
17-year-old Brayan and 13-year-old Vilanis (who is my birthday twin).

Friday, May 13th saw me visiting Vilanis’s project church located in Puerto Colombia in the morning where the junior worship team put on a musical presentation just for me! We then went to her home where I met her family – grandma Luz, mom Martha, and brothers Andrés and Juan. I was saddened to find out that her father had left the family two weeks before, but thankful that Compassion is there to support her family in this time of need. 

After a delicious lunch prepared by the project cooks and saying my good-byes to Vilanis, I then headed to Brayan’s project where I met his inspirational pastor Milton who gave up a lucrative legal career to dedicate his life to serve the youth of his community. I was then given another bear hug from Brayan, who stole my heart even more that day. I also met his tutor Yessenia and other project staff before heading over to his nearby home to meet his wonderful family – father Juan, mother Merlinda, sister Dayana and precious niece Bryana. After an awesome afternoon spent getting to know each other on an even deeper level, Brayan walked me back to the project where we had more time to chat before facing the tough moment when we had to say our good-byes. He told me this was the worst part of the visit, having to say good-bye. I promised him I would make my best effort to return to see him before he graduates from the sponsorship program.


These incredible experiences I have been blessed with will forever remain in my heart and mind, and I pray that God will continue to use me to fulfill His plan for my life, to reach “the least of these” wherever they may be and to release children from poverty in Jesus’ precious name!

Jesus states in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked”. Feeling so grateful for the honor and privilege of being the hands and feet of Jesus in blessing and giving hope to the beautiful Colombian people in 2016, feeling so privileged and humbled that God would choose me to be His vessel to share the overabundance of blessings He has poured out upon my life! 

As we head towards the end of 2016, December 30th will find me travelling to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, where I have arranged individual visits with nine Compassion correspondent children. I am very excited, as I will be spending my birthday (January 9th) with my birthday twin Isaías together with three other Santo Domingo children (Udi Alexander, Ruth Esther and Jesus David) at the AguaSplash Caribe water park. During the following three days, I will be travelling to individual home visits with five other children who live outside of the capital city, which visits I am very much looking forward to!

As God continues to use me to expand His kingdom, I pray for more opportunities to bless His precious children in other parts of the world.  

Touching the red soil of Africa!

Most of 2015 was spent working hard until the end of May 2015 when I was laid off from a 13-year career due to Calgary’s economic downturn. I finally landed a permanent position at a small family-run company at the beginning of September. They honored my previously-arranged trip to Rwanda in October 2015 to visit my Compassion sponsored children, for which I was very grateful. Before I knew it, I was packing my bags for my first trip to Africa – how exciting! I was met at the Kigali airport by my dear friend François and his son Yves, who is my unofficial godson. It was so heartwarming to meet this precious 7-year-old boy who welcomed me to his country with a bouquet of red roses. The following day I joined François, his lovely wife Lucie and their other son Imena at a Salvation Army church service where François and Lucie are on the leadership team. Post-service they hosted me in their home where we exchanged gifts and a lovely time of warm fellowship.

I was anxious to meet the members of my Compassion U.S. sponsor group who were arriving a couple of days later to start our tour of select child development projects in Rwanda and to meet our sponsored children. While most of the sponsors were there to meet one child, I had much more to prepare my heart for as I was meeting 11 children. How was my heart going to handle the emotion of meeting so many children on one day? God took care of that by arranging various visits for me throughout our tour with smaller groupings of my children, which gave me more one-on-one time with my kids. The second day of our tour had us boarding our bus to head three hours south of Kigali to a rural city called Butare where we stayed for three days and visited three Compassion projects.

As I had left my heart and soul in Bolivia in 2014, I thought that no other experience could match it – but then God had a different plan! He brought me to Rwanda, a country and people that forever changed my outlook on the world. From the atmosphere of reconciliation and restoration permeating their society after the horrors of the 1994 genocide to the warmth and resilience of the people, I found myself quickly falling in love with Rwanda. If I could choose one word to describe my experience in Rwanda, it would be “overwhelming”. God has an incredible way of stretching your heart beyond anything you could humanly believe possible.

Our second full day in Butare (October 14th) had us visiting a child development project in nearby Bugina where they had never received a visit from foreign sponsors. We were blown away upon entering the church to hear 200+ children singing us a welcome song they had composed in their beautiful Kinyarwanda language, followed by traditional dances and an acapella children’s choir. One of my correspondent children (Olivier) attends this project so I was able to spend quality time with him and his beautiful family in their home.

Thursday, October 15th saw us visiting a Child Survival Program (CSP) in the morning where one of my sponsored teens attends. As he was writing a national exam in the morning, he could not be there so was invited to join our sponsor group at a leadership dinner later that evening. During the afternoon, we were led on a tour of the University of Rwanda-Butare by five former sponsored children who were now completing their time in Compassion's Leadership Development Program (LDP) - Damascene, Fred, Samuel, Alexandre and Asifiwe. 

Fred and Damascene, two of the LDP students, were invited to give their testimonies at our dinner that evening. After returning to the hotel, I anxiously awaited the arrival of my wonderful 14-year-old sponsored son Blaise, who captured my heart the moment I met him – our time together was pure joy and the memory of that moment will remain with me forever. As he is an orphan, Fred and Damascene have taken it upon themselves to play the role of his big brothers!

We headed back to Kigali on October 16th, visiting a couple more projects along the way. Each project church put on their own unique presentations of cultural dances and singing, which were a huge blessing to all of us. We also learned how Complimentary Interventions are providing essential services such as clean water and toilet facilities at these projects.

On Saturday, October 17th I had the pleasure of meeting three of my older teens Yvonna, Claudine (who had travelled 6 hours on a bus to see me) and Emmanuel, while the rest of the tour group visited a nearby project centre. My three teens had to write their national exams on the official Child Visit Day, therefore had to meet me earlier than planned. It was a blessing to be able to chat with them in a smaller group setting, which lessened the amount of kids I would be meeting on Child Visit Day. Sunday, October 18th was spent at a local Kigali church who also host a Compassion project. That evening was spent preparing our gift bags for our sponsored kids.

Monday, October 19th was the BIG DAY!! Child Fun Day with our sponsored children!!! The emotions flowing through my heart were overwhelming!! We boarded the bus early in the morning and arrived at the Bambino Super City amusement park to await the arrival of our children. One-by-one the children were brought in to meet their sponsors. And I was honored to meet my children first, as I was meeting the largest group of children – 8 in all. I was overwhelmed and thrilled to meet them all (Derrick, Solange, Therese, Ruth, Emanuel, Protais, Benitha and Bryan). I prayed that God would stretch the walls of my heart to allow me to fully experience the emotion of meeting my Rwandan kids and my prayers were answered.

The U.S. sponsor group returned to the States and I stayed on for a few days and set up individual home visits with my two 17-year-old boys who live in Kigali suburbs – Emmanuel in Ndera (October 21st) and Derrick in Kayenzi (October 22nd). Words aren’t adequate to express the incredible blessing it was to meet their families and to visit their homes. In a society that tells them they don’t matter, with me being there in their homes in that moment instead of choosing to be somewhere else was so significant to them as it showed them that they DO matter and ARE important.

I will never forget the wonderful experience I had been blessed with in Rwanda, and I pray that God will continue to use me to fulfill His plan for my life, to reach “the least of these” wherever they may be and to release children from poverty in Jesus’ precious name!

Jesus states in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked”. Feeling so grateful for the honor and privilege of being the hands and feet of Jesus in blessing and giving hope to the beautiful Rwandan people in 2015, sharing the overabundance of blessings that God has poured out upon my life!