When I came across this story it was different than most, and I really have not been able to stop thinking about it. It truly has stirred something in me, and so I really wanted to share. I asked permission of Julie Berger to share her story, so I could share my reflections a little better:
Letters to Survive...
I have waited over a year now, not knowing how or when I could ever share with you what I was told in Guatemala on the Compassion trip last August.
As a sponsor myself, but more importantly as an advocate for Compassion, I felt this responsibility to protect all the amazing other sponsors out there who put their heart and soul into writing letters and didn't ever want anyone to hear this story and stop them from writing again. Let me explain...
Any of you who have known me now for quite awhile, will remember the story I shared about the day we visited Compassion children in their homes. Not our own children, but others. It's a day I will never, ever forget. I had already been to Haiti doing medical missionary work there. I thought I had seen poverty and was confident after that, I would not be affected. God didn't agree and set me straight. Literally 15 minutes from when I was discussing with another team member that although Guatemala has extreme poverty, I wasn't sure it could be worse.
The "home" was no home but two pitch dark wood sheds. It was pouring that day and seemed to just add to the feeling of despair that surrounded us. What hit me more than the physical structures they were living in, was the emotional wreckage I saw and heard as we asked them about their lives. The mother alone, unable to speak now after being raped by Guerilla soldiers years ago, 2 of the children gone to gangs never to return again or they would themselves be killed for leaving, and 3 small children looking up at us with such hallow eyes and empty hearts.
I always make a point to ask Compassion children in any country I meet if they receive letters from their sponsors. I think it's important for many reasons. To hear their feedback, know what I need to do to get the word out to others that they must write more and to hear out of their precious mouths why it's so special.
So, I asked, but the response hit me like a knife going through my heart,,,literally. I guess that's just one of the reasons I burst into tears and felt so completely foolish. What right did I have to cry when they were the ones living like this?
The oldest little guy still at home, was maybe 8 or 9 years old I'm guessing. He responded. "Yes" he says " I have sponsors." He shows me only 1 letter. I ask him," Only one letter?" He replies, "This one is newer. I did have more but not now". Now? Why not now I'm wondering? "They did send me letters, but my dad was an alcoholic. He died. After that, my mom had no money, no food. So we had to burn my letters to stay warm"....
I felt this rush of pain travelling from my brain down every nerve ending to my heart. It was so profound. At first, I just couldn't stop the emotions as I hugged him and he was crying. We cried together. But then, my own selfish fears kicked into gear silently like a train hitting me at full speed. What did he just REALLY say? Wait...what about my letters to all my children. What if?...
I have thought and thought about what I saw and heard all this time, not sure if I should share. Thinking it could be so irresponsible of me as an advocate, to tell sponsors this, knowing how wrapped up into letters everyone gets, including me. After awhile, we begin to crave those beautiful cream envelopes. Think of them so often, almost wanting to tackle the mail people before they even fill our mailboxes! We are sincere in our love, truly giving to our children that which brings us closer together when distance separates us. The question I kept asking myself was, how can I relay this in a way that others can see the much, much more inportant message in this rather than focusing on how the letters were burned and what if that happened to mine or yours.
Just as in our own families, yes, we treasure photos and letters of our time together, but ultimately it is the memories of those events that no one can ever take away from us. When we receive a letter from a loved one, sponsored child, friend, we don't forget...ever. We hold the memories inside us like a time capsule and nothing can change that, not even a fire to stay warm.
What the sponsor family of that sweet little boy don't know, won't hurt them. You know why? Because not only have they been supporting their little boy each month, but they also provide something they never could have guessed. They sent survival for a family, literally.
God protects and God provides, always. We really have no idea how much we are doing each and every time we send small gifts in our envelopes, letters, photos. I never, ever, ever want this to deter anyone from writing more. Instead, I pray that it will in fact do just the opposite. When you send a letter, realize that you are doing so much more than simply writing because you are completely attached to sharing your life with your child or, in some cases, doing it just out of obligation I guess. We cannot control what God plans and shouldn't even try to. What we can do though is understand and allow God to use what we give of ourselves to help our children in ways we could never imagine. God bless :)
My heart did sink as I read what this poor young man had to do in order to proved for his family. I'm amazed what how much this boy gave in order for his family to survive. He, at such a young age, became the man of the house and gave so sacrificially. Some may say those were just letters, but I know how much I treasure my letters from my sponsored children, I can only begin to imagine a boy with so many fewer physical possessions, how much he's letters mean to him.
Then this post became more personal. I started to look at my children, half of whom life with only one parent or neither parent. Shoa lives with a brother and his kids, Sheena lives with her elderly grandmother, aunt and her kids, Sarah lives with her mother and 2 sisters, Zaira lives with her grandmother since she lost her mother last Christmas, Tekalign lives with his mother and 5 siblings, Mame Abe lives with her mother, and Karabukirwa who lives with her mom and sisters. And despite having more than one parent, my other could also be at risk of being in a serious situation, requiring more of them. As dreadful as it first sounded to me, I want to make sure not only are my words of encouragement coming frequently to uplift their spirits, but often enough to sustain their physical needs. And that may not mean my letters would provide the worth of a fire, but maybe paper to practice their school work on, so they can succeed to the next grade level. Or maybe the paper will be used for making beads, like they do in Uganda. Or maybe they will sell or trade the stickers, bookmarks or cards do something of greater need like food, soap, school supplies.
While my kids almost always thank me specifically for the little things I include with letters, and sometimes they even tell me about decorating their school folders or sharing with friends or siblings, I can't help but wonder now, for those who aren't very specific, if there was a greater family need, tha may have needed to be fufilled. I know I also have a greater desire to send family gifts to my children, as I'm able to, because you never know what God can do with a small gift.
Look how Jesus fed the 5,000 plus with the five loaves and two fishes. Jesus also turned water into wine. What more is He doing with our small gifts of letters? What more can he do with our monetary gifts?
Please don't ever underestimate the power of your words, but try to imagine the physical potential and hope your letters might also bring. And never stop writing, encouraging and bring hope to children. They are our future and hope!