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.