I saw Juan Carlos' face through a gap in the crowd and I recognized him immediately. I had worried that I might not recognize him, or worse, that he might not recognize me. I squeezed past the knots of hugging children and sponsors in front of me, and knelt on the ground for my own hug.
After four years of exchanging letters, I was finally able to meet the boy I had been sponsoring in Guatemala through Compassion International.
Juan Carlos and I have written many letters back and forth. He usually includes a drawing with his letters; he draws chickens and soccer balls. He draws his house too, and mountains in the background. I have sent him pictures of myself and of my job on the tug boats. We pray for each other, and for each others' family.
Even so, after four years of exchanging letters, pictures and drawings, I didn't feel like we had really connected. I felt separated from him, as if there were a gulf between us. He often mentioned in his letters how poor he was. Maybe he felt insecure or uncomfortable to be sponsored by a rich gringo from the States?
Nine months ago I received an email about the trip to Guatemala with Compassion. God did not direct me to go on the trip with an audible voice, or even an inner sense of compulsion. I just wanted to see Juan Carlos, and I had never been to Guatemala before. (This is always a good reason to take a trip, as far as I'm concerned.)
So I prayed: "Okay, Lord, I plan on signing up for this trip in a week, please stop me if You don't want me to go. Amen."
God never did give me a check in my spirit, nor did He close any doors. Everything about the trip was positive. I now understand Juan Carlos so much better! His letters make sense! I was needlessly afraid and I was worried for no reason. We really connected in the time we had together and I feel that he and I are pretty good buddies now.
Juan Carlos came with his father and a staff member from his child development center near Coban. They rode a bus for about seven hours to meet us in Guatemala City. Juan Carlos had never been to the city before. He was a country boy, kind of like me, and intimidated by all the noise and speed and stimulation of the big city.
Juan Carlos is naturally shy, too. He didn't talk very much during our visit, but he smiled widely when we played air hockey and Foosball. I brought a soccer ball for him, and together for hours after lunch, we kicked the ball around. The harder I played, the more he liked it. I was wheezing in the thin air, and sweating in the heat, but every time I looked at Juan Carlos, I thought to myself, "Man, I love that kid!"
Our time together seemed to fly by, and I was very sad when the day ended and we went our separate ways. I was happy at the same time, though, because I feel I have a much better idea of what makes Juan Carlos tick. He's just a shy little boy! He's quiet, introverted - just like my closest friends. I have a better idea about how to pray for him now, his family, and his project staff.
I thank God for the privilege of being able to go on this trip, and I look forward to seeing Juan Carlos again and visiting the other children I sponsor.
Consider also a visit to the child you sponsor. I think only good things can come from the choice to go on a sponsor tour. You'll get to know better the child you sponsor, and you'll be more convinced than ever that Compassion is effectively releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name.
If money is an issue, ask God for a miracle. Ask Him to send you a check in the mail. Ask for a bonus from work. Ask Him to help you save a little extra money from each paycheck. Ask for a raise.
I began the trip to Guatemala without a real clear sense of purpose. I had some vague ideas about why I wanted to go on the trip, but no list of tasks to accomplish. I made friends along the way and learned more about an admirable, Christ-centered, child focused, church based ministry that is committed to integrity. And did I mention that I met the boy I've sponsored for four years?
If you sponsor a child with Compassion, would you consider sponsoring another? Will you please write them faithfully? Will you please pray for them and for their families and the staff that support them? Would you consider going on a sponsor tour? Will you tell your friends and family about the ministry and ask them to get involved?
The sponsor tour is not about having an adventure in a foreign country. It is about encouraging those who work on behalf of the hopeless, and opening your own eyes wider to the needs of others around the world. Maybe you too will be motivated to do more on behalf of those without a voice, to plead their cause where they have no access.