When a squabble breaks out in the dusty streets Junquillal, Ecuador, spectators watch warily. Children stand in doorways, half hidden, watching the violence between rival families erupt.
And then, days later, in a dusty schoolyard a few blocks away, that same anger erupts again. Violence breeds violence in this small mountainous town, and for children like 9-year-old Anahi, it spills over from the streets to the playgrounds.
“When parents fight, children learn to do the same,” says Anahi. “There is a boy in the school who says he wants to grow up to be a hired thug. He fights with everyone, and he’s only 12 years old.”
Escape From the Violence
But for Anahi and dozens of other students at the Camino al Cielo Student Center, there is an escape from the violence. Here, in the safety of the church, hope breeds hope.
“They’ve taught us to love each other, and I like that, because a person should love, respect and share with others. I like what they teach us about when Jesus was a boy. I like that because I understand what a child can do.”
Even at the young age of 9, Anahi already knows what her life could have been. She knows it from the fights she sees on the streets, and even the ones she has seen inside her home.
“[Without Compassion] my life would have been different. We wouldn’t have been Christians, and we wouldn’t have been in the church.”
An Encourager and Protector
Anahi says her sponsor has been a big part of the change she has experienced. While the streets outside of her home may be filled with loud fighting, in her sponsor she finds a quiet voice of encouragement.
“She tells me [in her letters] what she is doing, and I tell her what I’m doing. I’m very happy, because I know she sponsors other children. I want to send her my photo the next time I write. I’d like for her to come here so I’d feel even more motivated.”
Because of the safety Anahi feels at the center, she has been afforded the opportunity to dream. Her list of possible jobs is long — marine biologist, TV interviewer and school teacher — but she says she traces those dreams back to the moment she accepted Jesus as her savior.
“[When I let Jesus into my heart] I felt something very special. I felt that my life was going to be different with God, that it was going to get better, that it was going to be easier with God at my side. My life was going to be happier and more worthwhile.”