One of the greatest gifts God ever bestowed upon me was the courage to open my heart and welcome a child in need.
I feel so honored and privileged to introduce you to this special friend of mine. While considered ordinary when looked at through the eyes of the world, in my eyes, everything about my friend embodies the word extraordinary.
My hope in sharing her story is that you find encouragement. May her testimony serve as a reminder for us that even the simple things we do can have eternal significance.
Answering the Call
I am never shy about telling others that answering the call and becoming a sponsor at the age of 21 was the best decision I’ve ever made.
God blessed me with the honor of cheering on my precious friend, Katerin, starting when she was 10 until she graduated from the Child Sponsorship Program at age 17. And when opportunity knocked in the form of a sponsor tour to Peru, I happily answered.
As I reflect on that special time, meeting Katerin proved to be a life-changing experience in many ways. God provided me an up-close-and-personal encounter with Katerin, her family, and many of the precious angels who so gracefully reflect Jesus’ love to all the children at the Forjadores de Esperanza Student Center in Peru.
During this visit there were four things that Katerin helped validate:
- She Prays
“How is your dad?” were the first words that came out of her mouth.
My dad had been stricken with cancer. While I never maintained any suspicions, clearly Katerin’s concern demonstrated that indeed she was doing as she said in her letters. And in that moment, I could not help but imagine this precious little girl on her knees interceding faithfully on behalf of my father.
- Letters Matter
Upon arriving at her home for a visit, Katerin dashed inside. Before I could blink an eye she was outside again, trotting toward me with arms outstretched. From a distance she appeared to be holding something.
As she motioned for me to accept her folder, there must have been a dust storm or something because right then, as I opened the folder, my eyes began to moisten at the sight of items once very familiar. Yes, those letters and other simple-but-sincere acts of love really do mean something to our sponsored kids.
- Winning Isn’t Everything
On child-visit day I learned that when you delegate sole power to your child, in effect empowering her to choose which activity to participate in, don’t be surprised when you soon are strapping it on in the three-legged race. With a satisfied smile, Katerin later reminded me, “Padrino, we did our best.”
- Mom Is Supportive
Katerin’s mom was her world. Bless her heart, on child-visit day I admittedly was not at all prepared to accept the following words spoken by her mother: “I quit my job to be here today.”
Knowing that she was the lone provider at home, I needed clarification and was relieved to learn that “quitting her job” equated to not working (as a seller in the market) on that particular day.
Less than a year after meeting Katerin, the anticipated-but-never-really-quite-ready-for final letter arrived in my mailbox.
Among other things, she expressed her goal and dream of one day studying and furthering her career through university training. In my mind I imagined the possibility of one day receiving an email or letter saying,
“Padrino, I did it. With God’s help I am now learning in the university.”
Since I didn’t fully understand the possibility of communication beyond sponsorship, Compassion kindly helped guide me through this delicate process. Essentially it meant that all inherent risks (on both ends) were fully weighed and considered.
If I was still interested, I was told, I needed to fully agree upon and sign a waiver form. Local Compassion staff would then pass along my desire to Katerin, who in turn would be responsible for initiating the first dialogue (if interested and/or able).
About three months later, in 2006, I welcomed her first greeting. Although I have never taken this privilege of communication beyond sponsorship for granted, I would be misleading if I suggested that the years to come were without heartache.
While details such as working and attending to her church and family life seemed to encompass most of Katerin’s messages, the next couple of years afforded me a beautiful glimpse inside her heart. Not surprisingly, Katerin continued to prove that she was wired just like so many of our dear, sponsored children — with that refuse-to-give-up attitude.
This attitude would soon be put to the test.
Hope, Despair and Answered Prayer
In 2009, the words Where are you, God? echoed from deep within my heart. This after learning that Katerin’s mother had died, succumbing to cancer after a courageous fight.
As is often the case with this disease, her death was preceded by a painful, heartbreaking, prolonged decline in bodily function. The decline and death of Katerin’s mother left the children in deep despair.
You need to understand that the loss of her mother wasn’t an ordinary loss, as callous as that may sound (with due respect to the order of life). For Katerin and her two siblings, you see, their mother was the rock. While their father is alive today, for reasons unbeknownst to me he has not been a regular part of their lives.
Thankfully the local church and Compassion graciously provided an umbrella of support, tangibly illuminating God’s love through merciful hands of compassion.
One month after Katerin’s mother died, I had the privilege of sharing a conversation with Katerin on Messenger. With all the strength she could muster she reassured my doubting heart:
“I will be okay. I will continue on. This is what my mother would have wanted, after all.”
Fighting back feelings of despair, Katerin dug deeper:
“If God would have allowed, I willingly would have traded places with my mother.”
I could not have been more proud of my friend than at that moment.
Less than a year after her mother’s death, I received an email. Receiving that email was no different than if I had reached into my mailbox and found one of those unmistakable letters.
You know – those letters that contain arguably the five most beautiful words ever: Message from your sponsored child.
Katerin’s message came stamped with the very signature of God with this news: She would begin studying in college! God in all His faithfulness had answered Katerin’s prayer to attend college.
What Is Katerin Up to Today?
This year, thanks to God, Katerin celebrated her 23rd birthday. Studying in college has been put on hold (Lord willing, for only a season). Earlier this year she became pregnant and recently she welcomed into the world a precious little baby boy.
Katerin named him Jeremy.
The name Jeremy was chosen out of honor, she said. Although I admit to being a little biased, in one of the most precious messages I’ve ever received (you know the type — those capable of making grown men cry) she told me why she chose the name Jeremy.
The name she chose for her baby makes my heart smile with more pride than you will ever know (after all, come on now, Jeremy is a pretty amazing name, right?). But in all seriousness, her story is really OUR story. Her story is YOUR story.
May you always remember that, as a sponsor, you are making an eternal difference in the life of your child(ren). Whenever you bless another with an act of kindness or an affirming, encouraging word, don’t forget to smile because you, my friend, are bringing a little heaven to earth.
Your sacrifices help spread God’s love and truth to your child and family.
- Your faithfulness reminds your child how much you love him or her.
- Your prayers reinforce the truth that God is listening and always able.
- Your encouragement helps fan the flame of hope, keeping your child’s candle lit.
- Your letters of love inspire your child to dream and imagine.
If Katerin could say one thing to you today, I imagine she would begin by saying “thank you.” Then with all her strength, undoubtedly, she would challenge you to have the courage to sponsor a child. Or another.
As I have come to know my friend Katerin, time and time again I have been humbled by her uncommon resolve, her perseverance to discover a way when everything around might suggest tossing in the towel. Within her exists a courageous, never-say-never attitude very much reflective of sponsors just like you.
Included in her final correspondence letter was a challenge to me. As a way of honoring Katerin, I’d like to share her challenge with you:
“Have the courage to sponsor another child so you can give him/her the same help, because there are many here who need it.”
Do you know someone who may have this courage that Katerin speaks of? Who may be waiting for an invitation to make a significant difference?
With God actively at work and always going before you, imagine the power and potential of your testimony as a Compassion child sponsor. Might it even hold the key to unlock someone’s heart?
May God bless you and may you always go forth with courage!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeremy Vance became a sponsor in 1997 and then became an advocate in 2006. Currently he sponsors seven children and is a correspondent sponsor with nine more. He lives in Grand Rapids, Mich.