Hope in the Wastelands

Hope in the Wastelands

By: Wess Stafford   |   Updated: January 11, 2011

Aury was able to escape poverty because of the support she received at her Compassion child development center and the encouragement of her sponsors.

I have hated poverty ever since I understood that it was responsible for the deaths of nearly half my boyhood friends in the African village where I grew up. I especially hate that it is most cruel to innocent, vulnerable children.

So I fight back. I cannot thank you enough for fighting alongside me at Compassion.

I wish each one of you could see how powerfully God is using you to rescue and protect "the least of these" who need your help the most.

The daily grind of relentless, abject poverty damages children's developing sense of worth, smothers their dreams, and far too often steals their health and life.

As you will see in this issue, some children grow up where no child should ever be — near the dangerous environment of big-city garbage dumps, scavenging for survival.

But Compassion is there — and so are many of you. I once took a group of Compassion supporters to Guatemala.

I knew that visiting the capital city's huge dump would be a tough experience, but I wanted them to have the opportunity to encourage the children who live there every day — the poorest of the poor.

Our van came to a stop in that miserable wasteland, surrounded by mountains of disgusting debris. The stench was overwhelming in the sweltering heat.

Hordes of flies immediately swarmed us, and we could barely hear each other over the roar of the bulldozers.

After the visitors had been engaged with the children for a few minutes, I noticed that one person in the group had refused to get out of the van, and he was fuming.

"Wess," he said, "you told me Compassion's ministry is about hope and dreams. Then you bring me here. There is no hope here. No dreams are possible. I see only tragedy and despair. Nothing good could happen here."

There wasn't much I could say in that moment to calm him down, so I left him in the van and breathed a prayer.

That evening we gathered for a small banquet with formerly sponsored children who had qualified for Compassion's Leadership Development Program (LDP). We arranged for the visitors to sit at tables with the LDP students.

During the meal, I walked around the room to greet people. I slowly approached the table of my angry friend and tentatively asked, "So, how are things going here?"

My friend, who had been so upset earlier, looked up at me with tears in his eyes and said, "Wonderfully. We have the best table of all."

"Really!" I replied. "Why is that?"

"Because of her," he answered, pointing across the table to a radiant young Guatemalan woman. "She is amazing," he continued.

"Ask her where she grew up."

She smiled at me and said, "I grew up on the city dump you visited today."

My eyes welled up with tears, and I thanked God for His divine orchestration of the seating arrangements. I asked her name.

"It's Aury," she replied. "I have been accepted at the university as a business major." Amazing indeed.

"Aury," I asked, "what do you know now from having grown up in that awful place?" I will never forget her response.

"I know two things. First, I know what it feels like for people to look at you and think you are garbage.

"When I was very small, the dump trucks wouldn't even swerve to avoid hitting me — the drivers thought I wasn't worth the effort.

"If I had been killed out there among the dogs and vultures, probably nobody would have even dug a grave for me.

"I was already where I belonged — garbage in the trash heap." It broke my heart to hear that.

"And what else do you know, Aury?" I asked gently.

She beamed and said confidently, "I know that nobody is garbage. We are all loved by God and He has a perfect plan and purpose for every life. That's what I know."

By now, everyone at the table was in tears. My friend, his anger transformed to awe, whispered to me, "That's not all. She doesn't have an LDP sponsor yet."

By the end of the evening he had sponsored her. Aury has since graduated from college and started her own business. She owns a store not far from the dump where she grew up.

When she's not working, she often gives back at the Compassion child development center she attended, on the dump's edge.

Because of her childhood sponsor, she went to school, received health care, and had a safe place to play and grow. She became a Christian and began to dream of a better life.

Her LDP sponsor made it possible for her to attend college, where she developed skills to be self-supporting. Poverty was defeated in Aury's life because people who cared stood up for her.

Now she loves the children at that same center, and to them, she is a beacon of hope.

Some people don't want to know that children live in wretched conditions like these. Thank you for not looking the other way.

Together we are doing heroic things to serve the local church in these desperate places, enabling them to lovingly intervene to save children's lives and change their futures forever. If you doubt it, ask Aury!