Last month I was in the Dominican Republic helping out with a vision trip. The last time I was there was in 2008 for my fifth anniversary with Compassion. I went with my wife, Gloria.
The first place we visited on that trip in 2008 was a Child Survival Program (CSP) at Jezreel Student Center. Following the presentation of the program’s facilities and a discussion of the benefits the moms and babies receive, we had the opportunity to do a home visit. It was this home visit that broke Gloria’s heart for the Child Survival Program.
Perhaps it was my ability to see this young girl’s plight through the eyes of my wife, but for the first time I was truly struck by a young mother’s vulnerability and helplessness.
The young mother’s name was Katherine, and she lived in a small plywood hovel that was just to the side of her mother’s home. Plywood and tin, and not enough of either to actually keep the elements out.
In fact, we were told that Katherine would sleep in the small twin bed with her baby and her brother, who was mute. She seemed sad and lonely, but she shared through the interpreter what Compassion meant to her and how her life was already changing because of the Child Survival Program.
Since then, I have thought many times about this young mother and her situation. In fact, it is the one story that I tell about the Child Survival Program.
The only protection for a young and vulnerable woman and her baby was an old piece of plywood that she would pull in front of the opening of her tiny shack. The holes in the walls and roof meant that it rained as hard inside her house as outside. The dirt floor would quickly become nothing but mud, which made the exposed wire from the stolen electricity to run the one light bulb that much more dangerous. She would make candles in order to afford enough food for her and her baby, but if she could not make and sell candles, they would not eat.
On this trip, we had planned to visit a CSP center for our new friends from Oklahoma and Texas, businessmen mostly, plus one gentlemen named Ray who has a ministry to executives.
As we drove to the Child Survival Program, something seemed familiar. As we pulled up on the street outside the church, I knew that I was at Jezreel Student Center again. I was instantly on spiritual alert.
The night before, we had prayed that God would do with us what He would. That we would be open and available to what He wanted to do for us … to break our hearts on this trip.
Honestly, I believe I was expecting great things for our guests, but assumed as a co-host on the trip that I was going to be too busy “hosting” to be moved. Boy was I wrong!
As the CSP presentation carried on I wondered about Katherine, but was soon caught up in the presentation by the pastor, the staff and a drama presented by some of the moms.
Then it was time for our home visit. As we walked toward the house we were to call on, I wanted to ask the pastor if she knew of the woman who lived down a small alley in a tiny house … but I realized that would describe most of the women in this barrio.
Soon, however, I realized that we were heading in the same direction as my last visit. In fact, we turned down the same alley. Walked down the same treacherous trail with broken concrete and water-damaged pathway.
We turned to the right and we came face-to-face with Katherine’s house.
Well, we actually walked right past Katherine’s house to a close neighbor for our home visit.
“Whew! I thought you were really going to mess with my heart, God. That was close.”
We had a nice visit with the mother and her two beautiful children. At the end of our visit, they asked if I remembered Santa (the older daughter of the mother we were visiting). Apparently, Santa remembered me from out last visit.
After our visit, I asked if we could walk down the hill to Katherine’s house and see if she was home. She was.
In meeting Katherine the second time, God wrecked me.
Katherine was changed. Her countenance was brighter and she was more open. She had learned valuable skills from being a part of the Child Survival Program, and she was now making and selling jewelry in order to support her family.
Although her countenance had changed, her living conditions had not.
The shack with the dirt floor in which she lived looked no more protective than it had before. She had painted a window on her plywood door, but the door still provided no more protection than when I was there last.
My translator told me that Katherine’s daughter, Villeny, had done her last CSP weigh-in and was moving from the Child Survival Program into our Child Sponsorship Program the following week.
“Is that it God? Is that why you brought me to back to the epicenter of my broken heart for CSP?”
Somehow, Gloria and I feel a very special connection to this family and have a desire to see this family through. And now we have the opportunity to do just that. To be a part of Villeny’s life through her participation in our Child Sponsorship Program, and Lord willing, through the Leadership Development Program.
Katherine is not yet a believer, and I cherish the opportunity to pour into this small family with my wife as their sponsors.