By: Brandy Lovelace   |   Posted: March 04, 2020

When a U.S. family travels to El Salvador to visit their sponsored child and her mother, they discover a common connection more powerful than any differences.

Unforgettable Family Trip

When a U.S. family travels to El Salvador to visit their sponsored child and her mother, they discover a common connection more powerful than any differences.

Written by Brandy Lovelace
Photography by Casey Scofield
Grace and Gabriela meet

Grace, left, and Gabriela meet in person for the first time.


The Farrell family’s 3,739-mile journey from Washington state to El Salvador began with one simple idea. 

Life is not the same for everyone in the world. 

Not all children get to go to the doctor when they get sick. Or have running water and electricity in their home. Or have parents who take care of them and protect them. 

“We shouldn’t feel bad for having the things we have,” says Carrie, mother to Grace and Alex and wife to Justin. “It’s a blessing to be born in the country we’re born in. But when we’re called to help others, it doesn’t just mean handing out food or clothes. It’s about connecting with people.” 

Sponsoring children through Compassion was just one of the ways Carrie and Justin connected their kids to the rest of the world. For years, that connection was built through letters and daily prayers.

Grace writes a letter to Gabriela

Grace loves to write letters to Gabriela.

Gabriela draws a picture

Gabriela draws pictures and writes letters to Grace's family.


But in 2018, the Farrell family had a chance to travel to El Salvador and visit Gabriela, the 10-year-old girl they sponsored there. 

“I think our kids have received a good foundation of serving through our church community,” says Justin. “But something like this … to be able to be the hands and feet of Christ, firsthand … how amazing is that? One of my hopes for them is that this trip just really encourages them to keep dreaming and keep having wild, ridiculous ideas that you might think there's no chance that something like that's ever going to happen. You just never know. You might end up in a hotel room in El Salvador!”

Gabriela and mom start a fire to cook
Gabriela and her mom, Mayra, start a fire to cook a meal outside their home in El Salvador.

While the visit was a surprise to Gabriela, the Farrell family spent weeks preparing — praying, researching and considering the best way to bless Gabriela and her mother, Mayra. Eventually, they decided part of their visit would include giving the family a gift of a dining room table and chairs. 

“The staff in the field that knows Gabriela’s family told us they didn’t have a kitchen table in her home, and that stood out to me,” says Justin. “We thought that it would be a wonderful gift for them to be able to experience that intentionality of being together, sitting around the table. It’s also as a way for us to remember as we sit around our table back home, as we gather around the Communion table weekly, that we're really sharing the body and blood of Christ with other believers around the world. I think that table really represents that.”

The Farrells wait for Gabriela

The Farrells — Carrie, Justin and their children, Alex and Grace — wait at a park in El Salvador for Gabriela to arrive with her mom and a worker from her Compassion child development center.

Grace and Gabriela hug

Longtime pen pals Grace and Gabriela hug after meeting.

Families eat dinner
The families eat dinner together at Gabriela and Mayra's new table, a family gift from the Farrells.

The Farrell family was able to visit Gabriela’s home, and even to share a meal around the family’s new table. But perhaps most impactful was seeing the small bedroom Gabriela shares with her mom — and seeing their own smiling faces and words of encouragement hanging on the walls. 

“Walking into Gabby's room today was the deal-breaker for me,” says Carrie. “I wish that all sponsor parents could see, walk into their kiddo's house and go, ‘Holy smokes. These are my children’s pictures? Plastered all over a wall.’ It helped me to just see the joy that we can bring into her life. She’s surrounded by it, every day.” 

After spending the following day with Gabriela and her mother at the zoo, the Farrells finally had to say their goodbyes. Hugs and prayers were exchanged, and more than a few tears, and soon Justin and Carrie sat on a bus heading back to their hotel. They looked at their children, looked at the gift Gabriela had made for them, and thought, “None of us will ever be the same.”

Gabriela and her mom
Gabriela and her mom smile while standing outside their home.

“I really hope that this trip, along with the work Compassion is doing every day, will really instill in both Gabriela and Grace the confidence that they can do whatever they want to do,” says Justin. “I think there's such an amazing thing that happens in children when they are told that. We told that to Grace when she wanted to host a Compassion Sunday. And we’ll tell Gabriela that in each of our letters: ‘Gabriela, if you want to go to university and be a kindergarten teacher, then there's no reason why you can't do that. Think about it, dream about it, and pray about it, and trust that God will lead you where He wants you to be.’”

Read the story of how gregarious 10-year-old Grace got 26 kids sponsored by hosting a Compassion Sunday event at her church when she was only 9!