As a writer at Compassion, I get the privilege of traveling the world and bringing the stories of the children we serve back to you, our sponsors, donors and friends. It’s a privilege and a challenge to walk through those dusty villages and crowded slums and try to figure out how to bring those experiences to life for those who haven’t lived them.
But what always surprises me is just how much I’m changed on those trips. How the “journalist” part of my heart grows soft, and God’s lessons leak in.
That’s exactly what happened when I went to my first Compassion Christmas Party at the Amigos de Jesús Student Center in San Salvador, El Salvador. In the midst of the carols and wrapping paper, God taught me so much about His heart for the poor — and my responsibility to His children.
I want to share those lessons with you!
Our staff really, really, really cares about these kids!
Early in the morning when I arrived at the center, it already was buzzing with activity. In the kitchen long sheets of pizza dough were being layered with sauce and cheese (because really, what’s a Christmas party without a special treat?). Tutors were attaching handmade Styrofoam snowmen to a bannister. Snowflakes were draped on anything that wasn’t moving. I walked into a room spread with presents, each one labeled with a child’s name.
“How long have you been here?” I asked a smiling woman tying a ribbon onto a package. She just smiled and shook her head. “As long as I need to be,” she said simply.
That’s because the staff really, really cares about the kids. They spend long hours serving, and take so much joy in that.
And they see you as their partner. They couldn’t do their job without you. They are an extension of your ministry, serving as the hands and feet of Christ for your sponsored child. These are men and women who know your child’s name, know what subject he or she is struggling with in school, and what is going on at home. And at Christmas, they get to pour that love into songs and games and treats and presents.
Even giraffes can celebrate Jesus’ birth.
The big highlight of the morning was an elaborate nativity play. In poverty-stricken communities where resources are limited, you work with what you have. There were giraffes and cows and even bumblebees. I saw Captain America standing behind a group of angels. Cinderella shyly stood next to the shepherds.
And here’s the thing. All we are called to do is bring God to what we have. And He will do the rest. They brought Him their smiles and voices and superhero costumes, and He poured out His grace and joy. We bring Him our meager gifts and talents, and He pours out his miracles and love.
And here’s my favorite part. They weren’t embarrassed by what they offered. No one apologized that they didn’t have the “right” costumes. And we should never apologize for not being “enough.” It’s not about being perfect. It’s about being willing.
Kids are kids — and they like toys.
I’ve met too many children in poverty who have had to grow up too fast. Little girls who have to prepare meals for their entire families. Boys who have to work full-time jobs when they should be playing with their friends. And sometimes I find myself admiring them.
But here’s the thing. Kids should get to be kids. And Compassion helps create an environment where the lessons of youth have the space to breathe and grow. Where we prepare children for the future without yanking them out of childhood.
And there’s no place better to see childhood than a Christmas party. The courtyard where the children gathered was full of shredded paper and shouts of excitement. Little boys played in the dirt with new cars and the girls gathered in clusters to exclaim over their dolls. Teenagers admired their new clothes.
All was as it should be. Because even though a lot of these kids still have responsibilities that edge into their childhood, for today, they were kids, opening presents and feeling loved.
The day was filled with more than those three lessons, of course. But those are the ones that still stick with me. The ones I wanted to share with you as you consider giving a gift to your sponsored child this Christmas.
Because it’s about more than a package tied in bright paper. It’s about children feeling known, loved and protected. And you are a real, tangible part of that — of releasing children from poverty. In Jesus’ name.