She vividly remembers the red socks.
When Elisabeth “Bizzy” Mellado was in Guatemala meeting Elisabeth, the girl she sponsors, she casually remarked to her sponsored child’s younger sister: “Your socks are cute.”
“My child must have heard me, and borrowed the socks from her sister,” says Bizzy. For the rest of the trip, every time Bizzy saw her sponsored child, she was wearing those red socks. The little girl wore them to the Compassion center, to lunch, to church. For Bizzy, those socks became an uncomfortable reminder.
“I just kept seeing her, wearing those socks, and knowing she wore them because of what I said,” says Bizzy. “They reminded me that she looks up to me, that she wants to be like me. And all I could think was, ‘You don’t want to be like me. I’m spoiled and I’m lazy. I should be the one looking up to you. You’re the one doing chores and taking care of your family. I should be more like you.’”
Just One of Dad's Crazy Ideas
Bizzy’s first encounter with Compassion started with what she calls one of her dad’s “crazy ideas.” Her father, Jim Mellado, president of the Willow Creek Association, had an unusual childhood. He lived in seven different countries, often surrounded by poverty. His father was an engineer who worked in communities with little infrastructure, helping to build roads and other construction projects.
“I grew up with a global perspective … we would walk as a family in the central plazas where we lived, and I saw people begging, men with no limbs, families sleeping on the ground,” says Jim. “But my children are growing up in a very different way. So we’ve worked really hard to help our kids understand that their world, their situation, is not ‘normal.’ Most of the world doesn’t live the way we do.”
As Bizzy and her siblings grew up, they went on mission trips and visited family members in other countries. Still, Jim was afraid his children were missing a key experience — a relationship with someone in poverty.
A Real Person on the Other End
Through his work at Willow Creek, Jim had learned of Compassion’s one-to-one sponsorship approach. He believed that this could be what his children needed to build a relationship with a child living in poverty.
So one night Jim sat his three children down at the computer to find a sponsored child, and after they narrowed their search to Guatemala, 14-year-old Bizzy and her siblings each looked for a child who shared their first name.
“At first, I really didn’t think a lot of it,” says Bizzy. “My parents took care of the actual sponsorship of Elisabeth, and I just wrote the letters. But when I started getting letters back from her, I began to realize that there was a real person on the other end.”
In August of 2010, that “person on the other end” became even more real to Bizzy and her family when they traveled to Guatemala to meet their sponsored children. Bizzy recalls that when they visited Elisabeth’s home, they were shocked by what they found.
Elisabeth’s father had recently had an accident and was bedridden. Nine-year-old Elisabeth had to care for her younger siblings and take on more responsibilities in the home.
“It was shocking,” says Bizzy, “but I was refueled to be a better sponsor.”
Days after returning from Guatemala, Elisabeth began her freshman year at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Her schedule was grueling, but a letter Bizzy received from Elisabeth a few months later helped put her challenges into perspective. In the letter Elisabeth revealed that her mother had died suddenly. Overnight Elisabeth was thrust into the role of caretaker, both for her younger siblings and for her ailing father.
“All of a sudden, the stress of the academy didn’t seem as bad,” recalls Bizzy. “It’s hard, but the reality is, I get three meals a day and an education. That’s not the case for Elisabeth.”
Not Mine Anyway
During Bizzy’s sophomore year, she took over financial responsibility for sponsoring Elisabeth.
“All I could think was, with all she has to do, the least I can do is support her with $38 a month.” So instead of buying new shoes and going shopping, Bizzy sends money each month to a little girl in Guatemala who has lost so much.
“It’s not mine anyway,” says Bizzy. “Wealth is a blessing. I was born into wealth, but I know it’s not a right.”
Bizzy is also determined to encourage young Elisabeth as she works to balance school and her adult home responsibilities. Bizzy says she tries to demonstrate to Elisabeth that there is more to her world than the struggles of her daily life.
“I want her to be secure enough in herself to think beyond herself,” says Bizzy.
So in those letters, Bizzy strings together phrase after phrase of hope — words that will transcend loss and brokenness.
“You can do this.”
“I care about you.”
“I think about you.”
“I love you.”
Read this Exclusive Interview with Jim Mellado, Bizzy's father >