Though rather bleary-eyed from a day and a half of travel and far too few hours of shut eye (but thankfully enhanced by an amazing breakfast and stellar cup of coffee), our group headed off to the Compassion headquarters in the Philippines this first morning of our trip. The goal was to learn more about Compassion International as an organization.

I was inspired by the passion of the people working in the office, their obvious love for the children and their joy at seeing lives changed. I would love to share more of the details we learned of the intricacies of how Compassion works, how they select new areas to target and churches to partner with, how conscientiously they steward and audit every single dollar*, how they’re working to combat sex trafficking and restore dignity and wholeness to broken lives.

Have you ever wondered what it takes to make intervention in the life of an at-risk child successful? When we look at the different programs that could potentially be put into place to help those living in poverty, how do we know that what we are doing will have long-term and ultimately eternal impact?

While I wouldn’t classify myself as a skeptic, I do like to ask the harder questions. When I sponsor a child, what do my dollars do? Are they being stewarded wisely? Are they even getting to my child? Do they meet some immediate tangible needs, but without leaving a longer-lasting imprint on their life?

Compassion International seeks to meet 4 primary needs of children– physical (health and development), cognitive (education), social and emotional, and spiritual (coming to a saving knowledge of Christ and growing in maturity as a believer). Each of these elements is viewed as spokes in a wheel. When one spoke is missing, the wheel is no longer structurally sound. When all are present, it is whole and able to fulfill its purpose.

Today I was privileged to have a firsthand glimpse into the life of one sponsor child to see how those needs are being practically adressed and the difference it makes when they are.

Today we met John Mark.

He was almost painfully quiet and shy, although very polite and obviously in love with the new basketball we offered him (he said his favorite team is the Lakers and he loves Kobe Bryant). It took a while to get him to warm up to us on our group outing to a small Manila zoo. We tried feeding the carp…

They went crazy, literally crawling over and pushing each other down into the water to fight for a few pellets of food.

We snuggled up to an orangutan. (And if you want a really good laugh, check out who our furry friend really had eyes for.)

We fed some goats. (One of whom, in the word’s of Tsh, sounded strangely like “a person trying to be a goat”. Seriously.)

Gradually, he warmed up to the point of smiling (John Mark, not the goat), using a few simple English words with us, and even laughing at my husband’s attempts to play basketball with him while we waited to get on our bus.

On our way to the zoo, I had the opportunity to ask John Mark questions about his daily life with the help of an interpreter.

I was told he lives in a compound. To me, that meant perhaps a cluster of houses, a neighborhood of sorts. But no, it really doesn’t.

His family lives in one house, with four other families. Five families under the same roof. I asked how many rooms belong to their family of 6. His answer? One. Six people living in a single room. The kitchen and bathroom are shared by all. five. families.

In our home, we have 3 bathrooms for a family of 5. We certainly don’t consider that many necessary, nor do we truly even use them all, but nonetheless we have them and I’m not complaining. Some of you reading have older children or larger families and you know how easily one or even two bathrooms can feel crowded at times. I cannot imagine what it looks like for about 20 people to share what I can only imagine to be an itty bitty space.

Tomorrow, I will have the opportunity to visit this sweet young man in his own house. A small group of us will be visiting the home’s of several families with children in local projects, including his. Truth be told, I’m not sure I want to. I don’t know that I want to face the reality of seeing him in his natural habitat. Am I prepared to see how he really lives, day to day? Are you?

Ready or not, I will get to see the the kind of real life situation that a child like John Mark is coming from. Throughout this week, we’ll all be seeing the child development centers, the kids, the day to day work that is being done for the least of these here in the Philippines. I’ll have a better idea of how those four areas of development are practically being addressed.

As we sat watching father and son enjoy a restaurant meal (including his favorite food, “manno” or chicken), we asked how being sponsored through Compassion has impacted John Mark’s life. His father said how grateful he was for the health and medical care that his son receives, and how the solid education, the school supplies and more that he is receiving have blessed their family, already so strapped trying to provide for four children on truly meagre funds. His worker from the child development center that he is a part of told me how energetically he participates each week in the activities, how he loves the friendships and group projects, and how he wants to go to university one day.

We asked if the family was attending church. Although an exhausting work schedule sometimes keeps one or the other parent from attending, the entire family is growing in their faith, attends church as regularly as they can, and are grateful for having been introduced to Jesus. Before leaving, I admonished John Mark to continue to study hard, and Ryan encouraged him to keep loving God. He promised us he would.

After we said good-bye and drove away, Patricia told us that he will remember this day forever, because of the things we did and the fact that he met his sponsors.

That really blew me away. A visit from some random man and woman from another country, and a day spent doing things that my own children get to do on a regular basis– going to the zoo, eating ice cream, playing at an indoor playground. Sometimes my kids can hardly remember the fun things we did yesterday, and this one simple day will be etched forever in this young man’s memory?

We just have no idea.

During our visit to the Compassion office, we saw the place where letters from sponsors to their sponsored children are gathered and ultimately make their way into a child’s hands. Where they will be saved. And cherished. And they will tell that child that someone who lives farther away than they will probably ever travel in their lifetime is backing up the message of Christ that they are being taught each week… “you are loved, you are precious, you are forever His, you have a hope and a future in Christ.”

To my shame, I have to admit that I never knew that it mattered. Who knew that a child halfway across the world would actually care who sponsored them or think anything of a letter that comes from us, practical strangers? I honestly thought that as long as the money flowed to keep them in their program, we were doing our part. Except that I was wrong. So sadly wrong.

Because relationships with these children matter.

As Compassion International works to meet their physical, cognitive, social/emotional and especially their spiritual needs through our sponsorship dollars, you and I actually have the privilege and honor of coming alongside them in that process, imparting hope and faith and love and stability into their life in a far more significant way than I could have imagined.

Ready to learn more about sponsoring a child yourself?

* I am curious to know whether you would like to see some of the details of how Compassion functions on a financial level, how they go about choosing churches to partner with, the types of accountability that exist for staff and volunteers, etc. The integrity with which a non-profit organization handles itself is a matter of deep concern to my husband and I, and so we really dug in to further our own trust in the work that Compassion International is doing and to underscore our commitment to sponsoring through them. Is this something you’d be interested in or do you have any specific questions you would like answered?

If you’re following along with our trip, we would be so appreciative if you would help spread the word. Feel free to grab this banner and add it to your blog, Facebook page, etc.:

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All photos by the amazing Keely Scott, our team photographer.