Now He Smiles

Rio Tuba In 2008, little Eric was the first child registered at Rio Tuba Learning and Development Center in the Philippines. I was there. And I recently went back to see how he is doing.

To reach Eric’s far-flung town, I traveled by plane, took a 30-minute motorcycle-taxi ride, and then a grueling six-hour bus ride on a dusty, monotonous rough road.

I was warmly received by Pastor Gwen, who immediately said she remembered my last visit. She also said Eric has improved much. His father, Benny, however, has been very elusive.

Pastor Gwen has tried several times to reach Benny to discuss matters about sponsorship, but he’s never home. His children always say he’s out looking for food.

The next morning I saw Eric in his tutorial class at the student center and immediately noticed a big difference – he was smiling at me!

There was a toothless gap in his big grin, and I was very happy to see it.

I approached and asked if he remembered me from my last visit. He said no.

I observed Eric in class. He was the quietest and most well-behaved.

The other children were typically rowdy, but Eric went about his quiet way, listened to the teacher attentively, colored some drawings as told, and took his morning snack.

As in all student centers throughout the Philippines, Rio Tuba plans and conducts many activities for the children. The goal is to connect with each individual child so that each hears the Gospel and learns Bible stories and songs, is monitored for health, receives school tutorials, and is given a chance to just play, eat, enjoy, feel loved and feel safe.

Simply put, each child is given the chance to live a happy life so that all of them, like Eric, can begin to smile.

I learned that 6-year-old Eric comes to the center after his regular elementary school classes. He is in grade one. We grabbed a quick lunch, and it was time to meet Eric’s family again.

Pastor Gwen had briefed me on how the student center performed in its first year of partnership with Compassion. So naturally I wanted to know if all that she said was true for Eric’s family.

“The children receive one-on-one attention for counseling and tutorials. I challenge all our caseworkers to be second mothers to the children … The children are happy; we can see that in their eyes and smiles … Ninety percent of the children and their parents voluntarily come to church.”

According to the pastor, the student center has done so well that city officials took notice.

Several other agencies have come to Rio Tuba and most have failed the city’s expectations. Many were bogus, scams. Some even attempted to take children to the big city to work. City officials were very disappointed. Today they are happy at what they see going on with the Assemblies of God Church after it partnered with Compassion.

“They are now convinced that we are different and that we are for real,” Pastor Gwen says.

The Assemblies of God Church is the first and only Compassion church partner in Rio Tuba. Its closest neighbor is roughly 150 kilometers away, or six hours by rugged land travel.

I thought, “This new church partner is doing very well.” Then I met Eric’s father.

Last year he was not interested in his son being registered. I thought that after a year he would think differently, but I was wrong. He wasn’t excited at all about the sponsorship. In fact, he was sad and angry.

How could Rio Tuba seemingly have failed Benny? I had to know more.

Benny’s bamboo home has not improved a bit. In fact, it is now even more unkempt. There were dirtied clothes, unwashed plastic plates and leftover grains of rice everywhere.

I approached Benny as Pastor Gwen stayed close behind. I shook his hands and immediately the stern look on his face melted. He began to cry.

He cried like a young boy being scolded. He talked about how his eldest daughter eloped, how his two oldest sons moved out in exchange for work that pays them a few pesos a day, and how his favorite daughter, Jonalyn, left for the city to look for a job.

Jonalyn used to keep the house clean and take care of her younger brothers.

On my last interview, Benny’s wife just left him. Now, four children have done the same.

“What can I do? I have to work all day to feed my children. Only my three sons are left with me now.

“I told Eric to stop going to school and to the student center. What’s the point?

“Look at our house. It’s so messy. My boys should stay here and be responsible enough to keep it clean and tidy.”

For a whole year Benny never took Eric to the student center nor stepped inside the church. After Jonalyn left, Eric walked every day to the student center with other registered children who lived nearby.

Then I asked Benny how Eric’s sponsorship has helped them. He cried all the more and asked, “Why should they take away my son? Where are his sponsors? What are they for? Who is that Christ church?”

His reaction took me aback and I realized that this father had not yet understood many things about the program. He believed in the rumors that Compassion, like some of the other organizations that came before it, would take away children and make them work in the city.

Pastor Gwen was with me for a reason. She has been trying for a long time to talk to Benny and explain what Eric’s sponsorship really meant. This was her chance and so she made her move.

In her usual loving intonation, she carefully explained and enumerated the benefits Eric was receiving from his sponsor: the tutorials, the food, the fun time, prayers, Bible stories and so on; that Eric is now smiling.

Thank God, Benny was not hard to educate.


He stared out the window and began to nod as if to say, “Ah, so now I get it.” After a few more minutes, Benny made a confession.

“I intentionally eluded you for one whole year, but today, when I heard that you were coming with a visitor from Manila, I made sure I was here. I thought Eric’s sponsor was coming to take him away.”

The pastor smiled. I laughed and explained that I have no intentions of doing something like that to his son. Then Benny smiled, too. His first smile for the day.

After a few moments, the pastor explained that the church needed some carpentry work and that Benny should come on Sunday to see how he can help.

“Yes, pastor,” Benny said, now composed. “I will go on Sunday.”

The pastor and I visited more homes to make the most of my coming to Rio Tuba. Then at sundown we called it a day.

I made my way to my rented room on a dark, unpaved road. There were not many streetlights in Rio Tuba. One of the approaching shadows turned out to be Benny. He was the first to greet.

Benny said he was going to the church to check the carpentry work. It seemed he could not wait until Sunday. Just as he waved goodbye, he turned to me and said, “I’m going to church on Sunday.”

15 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Dwight August 10, 2009

    Thank you Edwin for the reply, and thank you for the story
    It is good to know that most families are not worried about sponsorship. I would hate to think that families believe sponsorship was created to steel family members. I am sorry that some groups in Benny’s town did this. I agree I pray that Benny’s will find faith in Christ!

  2. Edwin Estioko August 9, 2009

    Hello, Dwight.

    No, families don’t normally mistrust student centers at first. Benny’s case is unique since not many people in Rio Tuba know about Compassion (we only have one church partner there) and they have had bad experiences with other supposedly helpful groups in the past. Most families were at first apprehensive, yes, but according to the pastor, it was only Benny really who had a heavy feeling about sponsorship. Pastor Gwen believes that it’s most probably because Benny still hasn’t gotten over his wife leaving him, especially now that 4 of his children have done the same. There’s a lot going in Benny’s life and I truly pray that our church partner there could lead him to the Lord who alone can give him true joy and peace in life.

    Yes, as sponsors you can help a lot. It could have made a lot if difference if Eric’s sponsor wrote a letter and sent photos. It could have made a lot of difference if Benny had seen their smiling pretty faces! Sponsor letters truly make a difference.

  3. Becky August 5, 2009

    Thanks for the follow-up story. Although the story has quite a few elements of sadness, such as Jonalyn dropping out of the project to find work, I am glad to see that the father finally understands what Compassion is all about.

  4. JD in Canada August 5, 2009

    Thank you for blessing us by sharing this story. What an eye opener, what a turnaround… it’s incredible the light that begins to shine where there is hope…

    I didn’t realize that parents sometimes/often misunderstand the purpose of Compassion, and that they may feel fear. I have so much to learn… thank you for being willing to share your experiences.

  5. Dwight August 4, 2009

    Thanks for the follow up story Edwin. It sounds like a long trip to travel from Manila to his project. It is my experience sponsoring kids in the Philippines it’s usually the father that abandons the family. All 3 of the kids I have sponsored had fathers that left the family. In this type of situation it sounds like the project tries to help the family. I pray that Benny finds a personal relationship with Jesus.

    I am curious…do many families have mistrust of the student centers at first? It sounds like a very fearful experience. What can we do as sponsor to help them understand?

  6. Vicki Small August 4, 2009

    @Becky – Thanks for a quick answer, Becky, and for the information. I can appreciate the distinction between the two circumstances. I know some parents do volunteer at the centers, but in this case, I was secretly hoping that Benny would be paid. And may he be greatly blessed by increased connection with the center!

  7. Kim Edge August 4, 2009

    God grant that Compassion be able to teach this poor ignorant father and his sons some skills about basic home sanitation. It’s not just womenfolk who can clean a home!

  8. Becky August 4, 2009


    I am currently sitting in a meeting with Wendy, our Communications Manager from the Philippines, so I thought I’d ask her your question. Here is what she said.

    Sometimes the church partner requests the work to be done, and so in these cases where the work is initiated by the church partner, they would pay the parent. Many times this is an opportunity to provide the parent with income.

    In other situations, the parent may volunteer their services to the church partner in which case he or she would not be paid. Many times they want to volunteer their work because they are grateful for how Compassion is helping their child.

  9. Vicki Small August 4, 2009

    Such a moving story, and I’m so glad that Benny was willing to be still and quiet long enough to listen to what the pastor told him about the program and its benefits. He has certainly experienced enough losses.

    When the parent of a Compassion-assisted child does some work, like carpentry, at the student center, is he paid? Or is one of the expectations of parents that they will volunteer their services in whatever way(s) they can?

  10. Cheryl J August 4, 2009

    Oh, how sweet. It never dawned on me that parents might misunderstand Compassion’s ministry. But it makes sense as I read so many articles about people who come to villages and promise to find “work” for their children in the city. May God pour out His blessings on Benny and his family!

  11. Jill Foley August 4, 2009

    What a great story…thanks!

  12. Mike Stephens August 4, 2009

    Thanks for the update Edwin!!!!!!!

  13. Judith Tremblay August 4, 2009

    It may not be in the mission statement, at least not worded exactly this way, but it seems like this is what Compassion is all about–providing hope where there is no hope. And the only real hope comes from knowing Christ.

  14. Amy Wallace August 4, 2009

    What an amazing story!

  15. Keith Cude August 4, 2009

    I was touched by your account of Eric and his father, Benny. I just turned 56; my wife and I were called to be educators. We are both now retired. We have already sponsored a child in India and completed all the paper work and paid our money the very night we were introduced to your calling to minister to these precious children of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have visited often in a local Assemblies of God church, but I am very active in my own nondenominational church (where we were introduced to your ministry). It is a great blessing to sponsor the child we chose in India. We filled out the paper work and paid the first $38 dollars that very night. To God be the Glory for your vision to meet the physical, spiritual, and educational needs of this youngster as we partner with you. I only wish we could give and serve more to these precious “little ones who Jesus loves as He does us.
    In Christ’s “Faith”,”Hope” and “Love”, Keith and Sarah Cude

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