Back From Colombia

Colombia I recently had the privilege of visiting my three correspondence children, a few children that I helped find sponsors for, and the sponsored child of my pastor in Colombia. It was a trip I will never forget (unless I get a serious bout of amnesia).

On Sunday evening, March 8, I flew into Bogotá, the capital of Colombia. I was picked up by Edwin Mendivelso, who became my host for the following six days. He and I got to know each other real well.

Edwin brought me to my hotel, and the next day he was waiting to take me to visit my first child. His name is Julian, and he lives on the outskirts of Bogotá.

We took a taxi to Julian’s child development center. One thing about Colombian drivers is that they are some of the most amazing drivers I’ve been with, or they are just very lucky not to be dead. We weaved in and out of traffic, broke about every traffic law imaginable, and managed to arrive at the center in one piece. Every taxi driver afterward operated the same way.

We were heartedly received at the center and several children put on small performances for us. One of the most amazing performances was by Julian himself.

Julian had learned how to take old paper, recycle it, and with a juicer, some water and additional material turn it into new paper.

Afterwards I went to visit Julian, his mother and his sister, and then returned to the center to enjoy a meal with the staff and some of the children.

That afternoon we visited the child development center of a child that I found a sponsor for. Yesmin is sponsored by Bob, my roommate at Florida Bible College.

At first Yesmin was a little shy, but as time went along she warmed up to me and was very happy I was there.

Yesmin had just found out that she was sponsored. I was blessed to show her pictures of Bob and his wife Donna, and tell Yesmin all sorts of stories about them. I went to visit Yesmin’s home and took lots of pictures and video for Bob and Donna.

Around Yesmin’s home, different children came up to me and asked me what the time was. When I left her home, the same children kept coming to me and asking for the time. These, by the way weren’t Compassion children, but children that lived in the area.

It became clear to me that they really didn’t want to know the time, but they were intrigued by this big guy that came into their slums. They wanted to spend time with me. It was a huge blessing, because I got to sit down and just share with them the gospel, and they were so eager.

What also became apparent was that the area had a lot of gangs and they were watching me, and supposedly, though I didn’t see this, they were calling each other trying to figure out what to do with me. Oh, well …  ignorance is bliss.

The next day, we woke up early to take a whole-day bus trip to Medellín. This was a unique experience that I will never forget. The bus looked very similar to a Greyhound bus, but the experience wasn’t similar at all.

The trip took about 10 hours. The drivers of the bus and the passengers were separated from each other by a darkened thick glass wall. And for some reason, the drivers liked to really put up the air-conditioning in the bus. It was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

The drivers also liked to play very loud pirated action films in the bus. And the shocks of this bus weren’t always working properly, and the roads weren’t that smooth.

On top of that, drivers took us through the beautiful mountains, frequently using the brakes and weaving in and out of traffic, much like the taxi drivers. The bus drivers went around the curves of the mountains and crossed the double lines, right in the curves — this all with fairly busy traffic. All in all I felt like a James Bond drink, “shaken, not stirred.”

My stomach wasn’t happy with this. Without going into great details, I suggest to everyone, if you go on a visit like this take a roll of toilet paper with you. Trust me, you will thank me later!

Outside of that, the countryside of Colombia is breathtaking. You see the coffee being grown and the most beautiful green mountains with streams in between. I really didn’t regret having taken the bus.

The next morning, I woke up early to visit the child development center of Santiago, my next correspondence child, and two children that I helped find sponsors for.

When I arrived at the center. I was led into a room full of children. I was brought to the front to sit down facing all of the children. Six girls, in three rows of two, started walking towards me, as if they were getting married that day.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but all of a sudden, they moved aside and behind them was Santiago, right in front of me. We hugged and I was so glad to see him.

Santiago’s parents came to the front. I turned my chair around and the pastor started addressing us. He shared how he was so thankful that I was there and that I was helping the poor of his country. All the while, I was thinking about how I was really the one that was blessed and if anyone was rich, it was them, because they were the ones who were totally dependent on God.

Edwin had mentioned to me that as a sponsor, I was in a sense a representative of all of the sponsors, and so I brought some postcards as little gifts for each of the children. It was a huge blessing to give each of the children a postcard. I got to do this at all of the child development centers I visited.

That afternoon, I had the privilege of visiting Kevin, my pastor’s sponsored child. Kevin is 16 years old and was probably 6 feet tall, which is huge in Colombia.

Kevin is a real sharp young man. He wants to be an engineer, and I would not be surprised if he becomes a Leadership Development Program student. We spoke a lot and I also met his family. Santiago was with us the entire time, which made it even a bigger blessing.

The next day, Edwin and I took the bus from Medellín to Cali. This time I was prepared. I made sure to eat a very dry breakfast. I also had a thick sweater on.

All in all it was a pleasant 10-hour drive. They were showing Nicholas Cage films. I was hoping to see my friend Hunter Gomez on television in Colombia, they didn’t show National Treasure.

One of the first things you notice when you get to Cali is the three crosses on top of the mountain. In the midst of so much deep poverty, the answer was right there on top of the mountain for all to see.

We arrived in a beautiful child development center. Jessica was my correspondence child there, and I spent the whole day with her.

Just three weeks before this, the pastor had been bound by the gangs for several hours, because they wanted to find out if he had money. They eventually set him free.

The pastor took us through the neighborhoods near the center. It was tragic to see the little shacks under the bridge. We had police protection with us, because it was too dangerous to be there alone. These were the very areas that the children were coming from.

Many adolescent boys get involved in the gangs and spend their evenings robbing people and doing drug trafficking.

It was so encouraging to see the light that Compassion was in the midst of this. I even did an interview with a Compassion-assisted child, now 15 years old, who had gotten involved in a gang but then he had gotten saved and was now a light to his surroundings.

Jessica was a delight. She was so excited to be with us. She absolutely loves Hannah Montana and was happy to hear that Hannah Montana got started on DOC, a show where her dad’s character became a missionary with Compassion.

The next day, I took the bus back to Bogotá. I was prepared again, and this time, there wasn’t a big glass wall between the bus drivers and the passengers, and the bus temperature was quite pleasant.

Being in Colombia and having walked through its slums, it is obvious that there is such a deep spiritual need in the country. People eat from the trash piles. Gangs are all over the place, and drugs are in abundance. Despite this, I felt very safe.

For one, Compassion made sure that they kept me safe, and at times we even had police protection. Also, Edwin Mendivelso was a constant guide. I would never have been able to take this trip if it wasn’t for his guidance and friendship. We actually got to know each other quite well, and we had a great time!

If you can, I would encourage you to visit your sponsored children. It makes such a difference. The child is no longer just a picture on a refrigerator, but he or she is a real child with personality. There is nothing quite like it.

22 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Kees Boer March 31, 2009

    Hi, Tina,

    In Bolivia, people grow cocoa plants and they chew the leaves and make tea of it. It also has some religious significance for the religion of the Aymara people.

    Chewing the cocoa leaves and drinking the tea helps with altitude sickness (It’s 10,000+ feet high there) and various other things, like it causes one to lose weight.

    The controversial part of all of this is that cocoa leaves are the main ingredient of cocaine. Some of the cocoa leaves are being transported to Columbia, where it is turned into cocaine and then smuggled into the US and western Europe.

    Now, the cocoa tea and chewing cocoa leaves is not the same as using cocaine, much like eating grapes is not the same as drinking wine or that grain is not the same as beer. As a matter of fact, when the Queen of England and when the Pope visited Bolivia, both of them drank some cocoa tea. When you come into an hotel, the cocoa tea is right there in the main lobby, much like coffee is available for drinking in many grocery stores.

    It’s also a point of contention between the US and Bolivia. But anyways, this would be getting into politics.

    Anyways, that’s the story behind the cocoa tea.

    Talking about Bolivia. I just got 6 childpackets of Bolivian children looking for sponsors. They are all in projects, where I sponsor children. If anyone wants to sponsor one of these children, let me know and I’ll send you some additional pictures of the some of the staff and with some of them even pictures of the project.

    Kees 🙂

  2. Tina Adams March 30, 2009

    What a wonderful story Kees!

    Thanks for sharing it with us. Your story has inspired me to go see my child in Haiti. But it isn’t until next March. Which is good in a way, because I can start saving now.

    I was on the fence about visiting because I felt I would want to spend more than one day with her, but I see that I will be able to help other children while there, too.

    By the way, what is cocoa tea???


  3. Dana Williams March 30, 2009

    Originally Posted By Dana WilliamsDear Kees,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience in Colombia in a way that made it come alive for your readers. I often read the Compassion blog aloud to my five children so that they can experience the greatness and the love of God as He works in such amazing ways to care for His people and to bring them to Him. Our family is so blessed to be Compassion sponsors and I want to thank you again for your loving heart toward the children of Colombia and for bringing your experience to life for our family.

    @Dana Williams

  4. Dana Williams March 30, 2009

    Dear Kees,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience in Columbia in a way that made it come alive for your readers. I often read the Compassion blog aloud to my five children so that they can experience the greatness and the love of God as He works in such amazing ways to care for His people and to bring them to Him. Our family is so blessed to be Compassion sponsors and I want to thank you again for your loving heart toward the children of Colombia and for bringing your experience to life for our family.

  5. Kees Boer March 29, 2009

    Hi, Dave,

    Yes, I do owe you a cup of Cocoa tea. I’ll be in Bolivia in a few weeks. The only thing is that I don’t think that I can take cocoa leaves into the USA without possibly getting into some serious problems. I can doublecheck. I know one AC, who took some back without problems. Supposedly, drinking cocoa tea will cause significant weightloss too. 🙂


  6. Amy March 29, 2009

    I see. Thanks Vicki and Kees!

  7. Kees Boer March 28, 2009

    Hi, Amy,

    Sometimes, a company will sponsor several hundred children with Compassion or a sponsor is not able or interested in writing. If the sponsor or the company agrees, another person could write for the sponsor. The correspondent will get the letters and will answer them. Generally, the correspondent child will think of the correspondent as their sponsor, though on this trip to Columbia, a child asked me if I was the sponsor or a correspondent. But from what I understand, the children tend to think that the correspondent is the sponsor. I do know that the project staff knows that the person writing is a correspondent.


  8. Compassiondave March 28, 2009

    Were you able to partake of any cocoa tea this time around? You still owe me a cup bro!

  9. Vicki Small March 28, 2009

    @Amy – Some sponsors ask Compassion to find correspondent sponsors for their kids. Usually (I believe), this happens when an individual or organizations sponsors a whole lot of kids, financially, but will not be writing to them. So Compassion finds people who will write to the children.

    This is the real ministry part of sponsorship, as the correspondent sponsor develops the relationship. Normally, the child knows of only the person who is corresponding.

    The risk to the correspondent sponsor is that the funding sponsor will end the sponsorship. When that happens, Compassion gives the correspondent sponsor the option of taking over the full sponsorship. If that is not possible, they will let you write a final letter to the child.

  10. Amy March 28, 2009

    What’s a correspondence child?

  11. Kees Boer March 28, 2009


    Maybe you can sponsor a child in Columbia before you go, or check with Compassion Canada to see if they have a correspondence child, you could communicate with. It’s amazing to meet your sponsored/correspondence child. (All of the children, I met in this trip were correspondence children or children that I found sponsors for and my pastor’s sponsored child.)


  12. Amy March 27, 2009

    Wow!! You can’t even begin to believe how much I loved this post! The reason: I’m going to Colombia with Compassion Canada for a week in July! I can barely contain my excitement, and I already have the count down going! I know it’s going to be a life changing week, and God is going to work in big ways!

    I don’t have any sponsored children in Colombia, but my mom and the youth group at our church does, so I think I’m going to be able to visit them and take them gifts! I definitely do want to visit my sponsored children someday. It would be an absolutely amazing experience.

  13. Kees Boer March 27, 2009

    I loved the trip to Columbia. One thing that I forgot to mention in the story was that the children are not really in danger from the gangs, because they don’t pose a threat to the gangs. It would be dangerous to go walking around there at night as a westerner by ourselves. Compassion will take care that safety is always an issue, so don’t let the gangs hold you back from visiting these children.

    Judy, I’m really excited to hear about how your trip will be to Indonesia. Be sure to eat an Indonesian ricetable when you’re there. (That’s food, not a table itself. It’s kind of like when they asked me to bring the main dish. Of course, me taking things literally, bring a dish!)

    I just did put pictures on line, but I hadn’t had a chance to give captions to them yet. But if you’d like to see them they are at:

    Thank you Vicki, I was really encouraged to be with these children and they were so open to the Gospel. Part of me felt like moving into one of those slums and just sharing the Gospel. Of course, I probably first have to be introduced to the gangs as being a friendly person. Then as I thought about it, I thought that the real key to reaching these children and the nation would be to help the locals do it and be a support to them. So, I was more excited about the Columbian Compassion children and helping them to reach their potential to reach their country.

    Barbara, I have never heard the expression “to take the bus.” It was quite a ride. Once I knew what to expect, I could prepare myself for it better and it was much better. I think whenever I go to a third world country, I’ll always have a role of toiletpaper with me somewhere. I know someone else, who got in quite a messy situation, not a bus, but a role of toiletpaper would have helped a lot.

    It does stay in my mind at least. It changed me to see it. It’s the same thing that you see on the videos, but as you said to see it like that makes a huge impression. Also to meet the children. That probably makes the biggest impression.

    As to how I deal with it. It is a motivation for me to find more sponsors and it also motivates me to really write the children and to build them up.


    1. Lizzie November 6, 2011

      Very nice post. So you went to Indonesia? Do you have any pictures from there? Or maybe Haiti? My girls live there. thanks, Lizzie

  14. Sara Benson March 27, 2009


    It is great to hear all of your stories about meeting your kids. I pray that one day the Lord allows me to travel and meet all of my kids.

    Pleas pray for me that the details will work out for my missions trip to Ecuador this summer. I might be able to visit my three correspondent kids while I am there!!!!

  15. Juli Jarvis March 27, 2009

    Kees — you tell these stories so well! Very interesting & compelling! Thank you!

  16. Mike Stephens March 27, 2009

    Kees thanks for sharing!!! Look forward to hearing about your trip to Indonesia Judith!!! I will look forward to sharing with you about mine to the Philippines!!! Hopefully I will take many pictures so you can almost feel like you were on the trip also!!!

  17. Tina March 27, 2009

    Loved your report, Kees!

  18. Barbara M. March 27, 2009

    Kees, Thank you so much for telling us about your trip. What a blessing for you and what a blessing for them to be able to spend time with you as well. Your story gives new meaning to the idea of “taking the bus”. I do wonder… is one thing to see pictures and hear stories of how it really is in some of, many of these places but to actually see it… must always remain on your mind and heart, how do you deal with it on a daily basis? This is something we read about or perhaps see but THEY live it.

  19. Vicki Small March 27, 2009

    Great to read about another of your trips, Kees. I just love the way you are so ready to interact with children who are not registered at student centers, and even more, that you use the opportunities to tell them about Jesus! What a blessing you are, my friend–truly a blessing.

  20. Shelly Quigg March 27, 2009

    Thanks for sharing your trip to Colombia! Do you have a link to more pictures of your visit online? I would like to see more of the country and the Compassion children.

  21. Judith Tremblay March 27, 2009

    Thanks for sharing, Kees! I’ve already checked out when the next Compassion trip to Western Indonesia is, and am hoping to be able to save up enough money to travel with them to visit my sponsored child. I would very much like to travel to see what Compassion is doing first-hand!

    It’s great that Compassion works with people to allow us to visit the projects, but also to make sure everyone is kept safe.

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