What Does It Take to Change a Life?

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.:

<a href=”http://compassionbloggers.com/philippines” title=”Compassion Bloggers: Philippines 2011″><img src=”http://compassionbloggers.com/img/ads/cbtrip-9013.jpg” alt=”Compassion Bloggers: Philippines 2011″ width=”200″ height=”200″ /></a>

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

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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Comments

  1. Belinda Allen says:

    GIVING NOT JUST MONEY, BUT TIME TOO: How many of you know that Compassion don’t just need money, but people who are willing to write letters and befriend children who have a Rich Person sponsoring them but that person can’t be bothered to write to the child? My adult daughter couldn’t afford the regular sponsorship money, so wrote to Compassion to ask if there was another way she could help: they told her that there are many children who are being maintained but get no letters, no encouragement or mentoring from the Donor. The children eagerly look forward to letters – it makes them feel wanted and loved, so Compassion can also do with Christians who may not be able to give money but time to write. The only “drawback” is that at any time the real money-sponsor is at liberty to start writing, in which case you are obliged to stop. But at least the child will have had your input for however long that is/was. This may only apply to us over here in the UK, but why not ask anyway?

    • @Belinda Allen, Absolutely, Belinda! Thanks for mentioning this. I have a friend whose family is able to sponsor one child, but they write to 5 children.

      You’re right about the fact that it is the right of the sponsor to decide whether they want to write or whether they want to give that opportunity to someone else. But certainly it’s worth calling to find out if there are any children available to be blessed in this way! :)

  2. Drawing parallels between “their” lives and “our” lives is unavoidable; how can we not see our bounty in the face of their poverty? Yet, in the mysterious ways of God, there is purpose in it. All bring glory to Him :).

    You’ve brought John Mark into a lot of people’s lives and I know y’all will remember this day forever, too :).

    Thank you for walking these hard days, sharing light and love with those in the Philippines and those back home. Your words are making a difference and shaping the future for many.

    Well done, Stephanie!!

  3. Michelle B. says:

    Thank you for these posts on your Compassion trip. It is good to know that they are making such a wonderful impact in the name of Jesus. We sponsor a couple of their child survival programs in Africa, for pregnant mothers and children under 5, and knowing that our help is truly doing what we hope is very encouraging. I cry over the letters I get from the mothers in the programs we sponsor. There is such hope and gratefulness in their words that I can tell the program makes a difference to them and I am grateful to be able to make my small contribution to that.

  4. There is a courage in looking into something that on the outside seems dark – poverty, trafficking, etc. When we use the courage of Christ to go to dark places we find incredible light, hope, and ultimately Him.

  5. Your post makes me miss the Philippines so much – especially the people. The one thing that stuck out to me more than anything was how as a whole, Filippinos are so servant minded. Whether our servers in a restaurant or the little kids at the Bible camp we took part in – they went out of there way to serve us. I went there expecting to be a servant to them, but instead I was served over and over the whole trip. It’s an attitude I hope to carry with me.

    And I told you that coffee was awesome! We had major weight limit requirements because of the inter-island airlines but you’d better believe that three bags along with a bag of muscabado found its way home with me!!! :)

  6. You all are helping to make the unthinkable and abstract, real to us on this side. Thank you, and praying…
    Love,
    Amy

  7. Renee K. says:

    Been praying for you many times a day the past few days – so glad you are there safe and already busy!

    • @Renee K., We’re safe and definitely busy! Just got home from our second day and preparing to start writing within the hour. We so appreciate the prayers, though we’re doing quite well. The one major prayer that I have is just the jet lag. I’ve been up quite late the last three nights (two with travel, last night with writing) but my body is not on local time and I keep waking up way too early and can’t go back to sleep. After today, I’m worn a bit thin and could definitely use a restful sleep tonight. Thanks, hon! (Any chicken pox yet? :)

      • Renee K. says:

        @Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home, ha ha! no chicken pox! will keep praying you and Ryan have the energy to keep up! God got you there, He’ll sustain you! Thinking about you all day long and praying as a family for all of you too!

  8. Helpful, honest post — that is real and tender and beautiful.

    Thank you for pointing us towards Jesus and relationship…

    All’s grace,
    Ann

  9. Thank you for sharing all of this with us. I had no idea your husband was going with you on this trip but I am so glad he is there with you. Where are your children staying at this time? (just curious)

  10. Thanks for sharing with us on the other side of the world. I look forward to reading about your visit tomorrow and about how the Lord works through compassion and in your heart during your time there.

  11. Praying for you as you visit John Mark’s home today (tomorrow?). And thank you for sharing your story with us! I love hearing about what God is doing all over the world!

    a

  12. Wow! Wonderful post. Thanks so much for sharing your trip with us. We sponsor a little girl in India and maybe someday we will have the opportunity to meet her too.
    We will look forward to more updates! Thanks!

  13. Great post Stephanie and I can just imagine how hard it was for your child to feel comforable meeting you for the first time. It is so hard for us not to feel sorrow for the situations that these children find themselves in. But please try to remember…that they DO NOT know any different so having 5 families share one bathroom can be great because there are so many more families out there not having any bathrooms to share. When we lived in Taiwan as kids…we played in many family villages and compounds where they had ONE bathroom and ONE kitchen. The average compound housed 18 families and they gathered together and bathed/showered together and cooked together. They were full of life and laughter and the kids ran around and played in the mud. But they were happy because they didn’t know any better. We were just the “rich” Americans who played along with them. Perhaps remembering this when you visit their homes will help you and will keep you from being sad in their prescense.

  14. Jennifer in VA says:

    I, too, would be interested in hearing about any of the inner-workings of Compassion. We have not yet made the decision to sponsor a child but I would really like to do so. I think it would make some of the lessons we are trying to teach our own kids about wants vs needs, gratitude, blessings, etc easier if we have a more concrete way to show how most of the world lives very unlike we do.

    Blessings on your trip.
    Jennifer

  15. In the electronic age, it’s so easy to forget the simple power of a letter. The relationship that can develop between two people who have never met in person because of the words on a piece of paper. Thank you for the reminder of the power of a letter.

  16. I have not been on a missions trip myself. But there is one story that sticks in my mind — and it’s domestic. One woman my mom works with was fostering a teenage boy. He’d had a hard life, obviously — wouldn’t have been in foster care otherwise. His birthday was coming up and so she asked him what kind of cake he’d like. It’s so simple, ordinary, something that most parents do everyday. This teenager, this boy — he CRIED and ran from the room. Because no one had ever asked him what kind of birthday cake he would like before, nor even bothered to make or buy him one! Something so simple to us, was HUGE to him. I imagine that is how it is for these children you are with as well. Someday I do hope to make that sort of difference for children — though domestically (I would like to work with troubled local teens).

  17. yolanda says:

    thank you so much for the info you are sharing in your blog. I see it as God’s way of affirming for us not to be weary of doing good things for HIs kingdom, the labor will not be in vain. Praising GOD for you!

  18. Isn’t it amazing how the little we do here {letters} can make such an enormous impact on these kids? Thank you for giving us this insight, Stephanie! Wonderful post!

  19. I am so happy to see mention of the importance of letters. My passion and my blog are focused on helping sponsors with the letter writing process. It is a *crucial* part of the ministry and one that is often overlooked.

    Praying for you all!

  20. I think the work is great that you are doing. Our family is currently raising support to go to the Philippines full time. It can be heartbreaking to see the living conditions of some of the children. I would love to hear how Compassion chooses churches and targets new areas.

  21. Wow Stephanie. It’s amazing to know that random people (like us) can make such an impact on the life of a child.

    I’d be interested to know any information you can share about how Compassion works. It is always a serious concern for me to know as much as I can about a company before putting my trust in them.

  22. Look forward to following the trip. I didn’t know your Ryan was going with you. I think that’s absolutely awesome to do the trip as a couple. Almost essential.

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  1. [...] church, its spacious courtyard and laughing children, we moved on to visit the home of our sponsor child whom we met yesterday. It was a stark contrast, to say the [...]

  2. [...] changed her life. Reading their posts this morning made me so grateful for everything I have here. Read about one of the children they met there. And then, give thanks for the many, many gifts we [...]