It has taken me a few weeks to reach this point -- the point at which I can maybe begin to describe our meeting of Jeanci. It has been a struggle to process our El Salvador experiences, and especially coming face-to-face -- in her very own world -- with the little girl we've been sponsoring for seven years. I've been wrestling with what God wants me to do with it all. I can totally relate to Kat, one of the Philippines Compassion Bloggers, and her unflowing fountain of expression -- I've wanted to write, but the well of words has been dry. I'm still not sure they'll spring forth . . .
Perhaps I should begin by simply describing the day -- like a narration of events. We (as a missions group with King's Castle Ministries) had been stationed at a little church in Candelaria, two hours away from Jeanci's community. We were driven by Joe, one of the King's Castle workers, to meet our Compassion translator and driver on the side of a highway because they didn't know how to get to where we were. The thought of waiting on the side of a highway in El Salvador was a little nerve-wracking -- but absolutely unnecessarily so because Joe took impeccable care of us. He even insisted that the Compassion people show identification before he let us get out of the car.
Being an incredibly supportive and safety-conscious mission, King's Castle also sent a Master's Commission national with us for the day. As she snoozed and plugged herself into her ipod, I was concerned that it would be a boring day for her, and felt badly that we were taking her from the team in Candelaria. But as we travelled, she suddenly perked up and asked where exactly we were going. As it turned out, we were going to her home town!!! She was able to call her sister, who met us for lunch! So, God had in mind to bless yet another person with our trip.
When we arrived in Jeanci's town, we were taken first to the Compassion project. That was a challenge in itself, as the driver didn't know exactly where it was, so the translator (Ruth) hopped out and knocked on a barred door to ask someone for directions. The owner of that house ended up getting in the van -- holding a toddler -- and accompanying us to the project.
Upon arriving at the project, I tried to turn on the video camera we'd brought especially to record the day's events -- and it refused to power on. The battery was dead. Was the loss of our gift for Jeanci not enough of a frustration and disappointment? I had my still camera with limited video capacity, but DD14 had left her camera back at the castle. What could we do?
In actuality, it was very difficult to take pictures/video AND be engaged in meeting people. So I was happy to hand my camera to Carla, our Master's Commission national, who took pictures for us. In addition, the sponsorship co-ordinator at the project took a gazillion pictures and sent them to us via our translator. So kind and thoughtful!
|The children who were in attendance at the Compassion project when we arrived were all ready with a grand greeting! They are dressed for their afternoon shift at public school.|
Once we had been welcomed by the attending children and introduced to the Compassion project staff, we were taken to Jeanci's home so that we could bring her back to the project for a tour of the facilities in her company. Seeing the road down which Jeanci travels by foot to engage in project activities -- and anything else outside of her immediate community -- was moving in itself. There were piles of garbage and debris -- huge mud puddles -- and rocky obstacles to navigate the whole way. Eventually, we had to leave the van and travel by foot.
We arrived at her back gate, which she wrestled to untie. It's good that I couldn't really see into her yard or home -- I was able to concentrate on meeting her and her parents. It was awkward and sweet and wonderful all at the same time. I managed to smile lots and not cry.
Back at the project, we had a tour of the classrooms and learned about all the activities Jeanci has been able to participate in over the years. Ruth sat me down and gave a thorough explanation of the seven years' worth of reports on Jeanci's physical, emotional, developmental, social, and spiritual growth while DD14 played soccer and volleyball with Jeanci and some of the other children. I also learned that part of the reason Jeanci qualified for the Compassion project was that her family earned $82.32 per month. Per month. Mind-boggling to me.
|I didn't notice the great playground reminder until after I posted this! See the words on the cement? Jesus is Lord!|
One of the things that impressed me most about the information session with Ruth and the other Compassion workers was the fact that our support of Jeanci is not limited to just her. In order for their child to be sponsored, her parents are required to participate in monthly meetings geared to educating and supporting them in their role as parents. As someone who recognizes the value of support in the hardest job in the world, I think that is awesome. And of course, Jeanci can only benefit from this support.
As we chatted about Jeanci's sponsorship, I told the story of how we had been praying for a missions trip and God had provided the opportunity to go to El Salvador with our church, which meant that we would likely be able to meet Jeanci. As soon as we committed to the trip, we received a letter from Jeanci saying she would like for us to visit -- something she'd never expressed before. The workers teared up with goosebumps on their skin and told us how Jeanci had flitted around like a butterfly, so excited was she when our letter arrived telling her we were coming. It was my turn to tear up then -- and even now -- as I am awed by how much our visit meant to her.
After our time at the project, we were taken back to Jeanci's house to meet her family and see her home. Walking down the lane to the front of her house, it was a struggle for me to hold back the tears. Part of the struggle came from the knowledge that Jeanci is one of the "lucky ones" -- she has a government-funded home with cinderblock walls. It, like so many other homes in El Salvador, is a glorified lean-to with only three walls, a roof that is weighted with rocks and sticks to keep it from blowing off, and mud floors that are dampened by the rain that must flow in from the sloping back yard, to which the back of the house is open. It has electricity, but no running water. Water for drinking, bathing, and cooking needs to be hauled from a community tap, but it is not potable water. There are makeshift lean-tos for animals in the backyard, and an outhouse with a curtain for privacy. The inside of the house is one room divided by hanging curtains and clothes, and the roof extends on one exterior wall to provide a shelter for storage of things that don't fit in the home, like the drums that house the corn and beans the family grows for food and income. The kitchen was dark -- black from the smoke of their wood-burning stovetop, which was a hole in a rock with a grate on top. Vents to the outside also held little bags of stuff -- herbs, spices -- I don't know what. Jeanci's mom and was making tortillas for the boys working in the field, so Jeanci showed DD14 how to roll the dough properly.
|Jeanci in the front of her house with dad, nephew, mom, and sister|
|The washing area (laundry, dishes, etc.)|
|Back yard with curtained outhouse|
|Kitchen -- wood-burning stove top|
|In the kitchen making tortillas|
It was so hard to absorb everything, take pictures (with permission -- but I still felt uncomfortable doing it), and communicate with people all at the same time. It was all very overwhelming -- but I remember wondering what it must be like to live this way. It's "normal" for so many El Salvadorians, and yet it just seemed like such a hard life. How was it that people still seemed so happy -- many so genuinely joyful. (Jeanci's mother did not; she seemed sad. Her eyes and bare smile still haunt me. But perhaps " we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants./ Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not/ be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not/ be fashioned so miraculously well . . ." [Jack Gilbert])
Because we had to hurry to lunch and then back to the project for a presentation by the children, we didn't get to spend much time at Jeanci's house -- and she had to leave her gift to open later. I'm quite certain that was difficult for her! But at the same time, it was exciting for her to go to a restaurant for lunch -- something that rarely happens in her life. (Once per year, in the month of their birthday, the sponsored children are taken to a restaurant where they can enjoy bottomless cups of pop and a hamburger.)
From the restaurant we went back to the project, where Jeanci led the children in some songs in honour of our coming, and then presented us with gifts. That blew me away!
All too soon we were whisked away to meet Scott, our King's Castle missions co-ordinator (he went hours out of his way on our behalf), who was to take us back to our team in Candelaria. (He further demonstrated his awesomeness and generosity by going hours out of his way the next day, too, to deliver a birthday cake for DD14!) The two hour drive back was quiet. Carla was glowing from her reunion with her sister, and DD14 and I were emotionally drained by our experience.
It wasn't until we got back to our camp and my friend Bev asked me if it was what I expected (a much easier question to answer than "How was your day?") that I burst into tears. It was what I expected on some level, but not what I'd hoped. I was overwhelmed by how hard life must be for most El Salvadorians. I had hoped that somehow, life would be different for Jeanci and her family.
Don't get me wrong. It was easy to see how Compassion (and our financial support) had assisted her and made her life better. But that life was still. so. hard. No refrigeration. Doing laundry and dishes in a hollowed-out piece of cement -- open to the skies -- to which the water had to be hauled. Cooking every meal over an open fire. Living, eating, and sleeping all in the same room as a whole family. Walking miles to the nearest town. It just seems like a life of endless. effort.
And now that I've lived a dream of meeting our special child in a distant country and I'm home, back to the reality of my life -- which is easy in terms of conveniences, but hard it its own ways -- I wonder what I'm supposed to do. I was blessed to have a "life-changing experience" -- but I just don't know how my life should be different.
In some ways, the reality is simply that life. is. hard. It doesn't matter what part of the world we live in, we're all broken people in need of Jesus. (That's what I like about Compassion: they recognize that it's not all about money -- "The difference is Jesus." )
But while I live my hard life, I can still apply Galations 6:10:
"So, then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people."
And, just a few verses back, Galations 6:2:
"Bear one another's burdens."
My challenge, I think, is to find ways to do that -- not just for people across the continents in El Salvador -- but right here in my home town. Should I intensify my efforts to support Jeanci and her family, and perhaps others like them? Absolutely! (You can bet my letters will be far more frequent and personal from now on -- for starters!) But I need to be bearing the burdens of my neighbours as well, taking opportunities to do good to them, too.
If you've stuck with me to this point in my post, I'm grateful for your indulgence of my wrestling through the work God is doing in my heart! As you can tell by the length of this post, once I turned the tap on, the words did flow. Does any of it apply to you? (I think it does ;)
What are some specific ways we can be bearing one another's burdens and doing good to all people?
Might you consider sponsoring a child yourself?
Might you consider sponsoring a child yourself?