Undercover With Compassion

I have been feeling challenged lately to get closer to the heart of Compassion, where we interact with sponsors, churches and children. I recently read a quote from a top executive of a large retail chain (I can’t remember which one — maybe Best Buy). He said, “I have never wasted a day visiting a store.”

Now, of course we don’t have stores but, I believe that sentiment is true for me — especially with visiting the field. I always learn something when I spend some unhurried and unplanned time in the field where I can really observe and learn and listen.


Inside a classroom.It is especially valuable when our church partners are not aware of my position, and we can avoid a lot of the protocol and formalities. But those opportunities are rare and difficult to come by.

So, I planned a trip to do just that. I arranged a trip to Honduras where I spent six days at two different child development centers in the central zone of the country. I wasn’t sure how successful I could be as an “Undercover Boss,” but I’m very grateful to the Honduras Country Office who did a marvelous job of setting this trip up so that I could be a regular guy without any fanfare or protocol.

I slept on the floor of the center facilities and ate at the centers with food lovingly prepared by church staff. The purpose of my trip was to spend time “up close and personal” with our primary customers — the beneficiaries of our programs and our Implementing Church Partners (ICPs). I wanted to learn how they experience Compassion.

I also wanted to shadow a Partnership Facilitator (PF) for several days and gain a more intuitive and experiential understanding of how they fulfill their responsibilities and what their day to day life is like. And I wanted to be open to what God wanted me to see and hear and feel.

So, without trying to give you six days’ worth of journaling, I’ll highlight a few impressions, observations, realizations, affirmations and God-messages for you.

Lots Going On

There is so much going right with Compassion’s ministry.

OK, that may sound simplistic, but it is not. It was actually quite profound to see the number of things that are working as they are designed to work, and to observe numerous changes enacted over the last five years to create improvements that are now implemented and working!

Our ICP pastors and center staff are heroes.

We know this, but it is so inspiring to see time and again. These are passionately dedicated men and women who live day in and day out to help Compassion-supported children and their families and to reach out with God’s love to their communities. I met some incredible people of faith, people we can be proud to have wear the name “Christian” and the name “Compassion.”

I was able to spend a couple of hours walking through a very poor community with Pastor Guillermo late one afternoon. We saw the “underbelly” of the community as we visited homes of Compassion-assisted children and talked about the overwhelming social problems in the neighborhood, but I never once heard discouragement in his voice. Our ICPs are relying on God to provide for their immense needs and to sustain them with hope. And we play a part in that hope.

They are so thankful for our partnership (and here I don’t just mean money). Yes they need the money, but they really appreciate the support and guidance that our PFs and the local office provide. They appreciate the prayers of the sponsors and know that they are part of a global movement of God’s people.

Field-based Facilitation Works

Field-based facilitation is the best move we have made since going direct to the local church (instead of working through missions or denominations). This is work that is carried out by facilitators who live in the area of the centers instead of working out of the Field Offices.

OK, I probably can’t prove that statement, but that is how I feel. Honduras has gone 100 percent to field-based facilitation and they love it! The PF whom I shadowed was remarkable. Her name is Lastenia and she is the Compassion brand for the 13 centers/ICPs in her cluster, as well as for the other churches in the area and the local government.

Lastenia lives our brand fully and represents us wonderfully. We would be highly fortunate to have more PFs like her. She lives a few blocks from one of her churches, and her farthest centers are two hours away. Most are within one hour’s drive. She visits her best-functioning centers once every three months, her “needs improvement” centers every month, and her “needs significant improvement” centers every 15 days. (She took me to centers of all types, not just to her stellar centers.)

She is in constant contact by phone, text and e-mail with her centers (I saw this instantly for five days!), and is very much a part of their lives and community. She is seen as a friend, a mentor, an expert and yes, at times, a supervisor. Her focus is definitely on her ICPs. She connects with the Compassion Honduras office and is very much part of Compassion, but she is definitely a field person.

Lastenia’s closest contacts and friends are at the centers, not at the office. This is huge! She is closer to the center staff than to the office staff. Those are her colleagues and friends. This is an enormous paradigm shift and I can see that it bears amazing fruit.

Rapidly Becoming Outcome-driven

We are rapidly becoming an outcome-driven organization.

In Honduras, the center directors talk about outcomes. The PF talks about outcomes. Other field staff talk about outcomes. The Project Planning and Budgeting Form / Annual Opportunity Plan process focuses on outcomes.

One of the center directors we visited has started tracking his own milestones and indicators on an individual child basis because he wants and “needs” that information! In terms of the primary value of outcomes (clarifying intent), we have made enormous progress.

Using Local Resources Is a Must

Centers are leveraging local resources.

This PF has mobilized her centers to garner other resources outside of Compassion, and they are doing that quite successfully. The ones we visited had relationships with other international funders and were gaining significant advantage from partnerships with local governments. All of this strengthens the church and the center and provides additional opportunities for the children.

Leaping Into Technology

Honduras has taken leaps into technology at the center level.<

Part of the effectiveness of the Honduras model is the use of technology. Nearly all of their child development centers have Internet access. They do their planning and much of their work on computers. Honduras has contracted one cell phone plan for all the centers, staff and Leadership Development Program (LDP) students, so there is no extra cost for calls between those parties. This allows for free and direct communication. Center workers who had no previous experience with computers now take pride in their technological savvy.

Compassion center staff posing for a picture. Creatively Using CIV

Latin America can make good use of Complementary Interventions (CIVs).

Our experience has showed a lower use of CIVs in Latin America. If this PF is the wave of the future, that will turn around quickly. The PF I shadowed is a CIV queen! She knows how to spot complementary needs and she knows how to make the system work. And she is relentless! I saw an HIV/AIDS peer activation project, income-generating projects, water projects, sanitation projects, computer labs, vocational training and more. All seemed very appropriately targeted to child development outcomes and were greatly appreciated by the center staff and pastors.

Desperately Poor Situations

We are working with children in desperately poor situations.

It had been seven years since I had been in Honduras. Development has clearly taken place in those years. Globalization of retail is everywhere. Infrastructure is improving. The use of technology is ubiquitous. (Everyone has a cell phone!)

At first glance, it may appear that we don’t need to be working in Honduras anymore. But just beyond the main paved roads lies the real Honduras where most people still live very difficult lives and many, many children are denied the basics that they need to develop healthily. We visited desperately poor homes and heard many a story of hopelessness and despair.

We met a 10-year-old boy forced to act as the head of household because his mother had died and his dad was an alcoholic who had taken in a 13-year-old girl as his new mistress. We met a family of 13 who live in one room, and visited three families that are sharing the same house. We heard of the immense pressure on teenagers to quit school and go to work, of young girls being given away at 13 or 14 years old to any men who are willing to feed them.

One of our hero child development center directors, Yanira, just registered 20 new children, and she is scared. These are the most vulnerable kids they have registered yet (compared even to the ones I just spoke about!).

These are the children of gang members, murderers and prostitutes. These are the children of people who break in and steal from the center, who steal tilapia from their CIV-funded fish pond.

But Yanira is trusting God to guide them and protect them, and to transform not only the children but their entire families. We are meeting very real needs.

Children Need to be Known, Loved and Protected

Children need to be known, loved and protected.

Child abuse is a huge issue in this area of Honduras. Children fall victim to physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. The centers serve as safe havens. The center workers are lovers and protectors.

Scott Todd wrote in the introduction to our new Compassion publication, Shared Strength, that “Compassion is committed to the local church and maintains long-term partnerships with more than 5,000 indigenous churches in more than 25 countries for the shared mission of protecting and developing children.”

I like the way that is said, and it very aptly describes what I observed in the centers I visited. They are “protecting and developing children.” Pastor Guillermo (whom I mentioned above) has visited the homes of every sponsored child in his center. He knows them. He knows their families. He knows their struggles. This allows him and his team to be relevant to the needs of the children.

Highly Vulnerable Children (HVC) Coming Just in Time

One ICP recently took a huge “step of faith” and started a “cottage” for abused and abandoned sponsored children. They were suddenly confronted with seven children who had no place to live for a variety of horrible reasons.

The church had access to a home, so they set up what we have called a “cottage” with a child development center tutor serving as the live-in house mother, but they had no idea how they were going to sustain it. They didn’t have the needed money, but they felt compelled to take the step of faith anyway, praying that God would provide for their needs along the way. They stepped into the Jordan and the waters had not yet parted.

It was a God moment for us to be able to share that as of the new fiscal year they would have access to financial support from the Highly Vulnerable Children’s fund to help support these desperately needy children! They were overjoyed! And I was overjoyed that God let me see this little glimpse of how the hard work of staff at the GMC and throughout Compassion is meeting real needs in a timely fashion. This was a God message to me: “Your labors are not in vain!”

Well, if you got all the way to the end of this “undercover report,” you get a gold star! I share these highlights with the hope of encouraging you that your labors are not in vain. Our work is bearing good fruit and much fruit.

9 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Sandra McHarg November 18, 2010

    Please pass onto Yanira that she’ll have me at least praying for her. This is the kind of high risk decision that has potential for high gain, but I don’t blame her for being scared.

  2. Juli Jarvis November 18, 2010

    Very interesting post! Thank you for giving us this new perspective on Compassion’s ministry.

  3. Jen November 18, 2010

    encouraged indeed. thank you for sharing.

  4. Tammy Brinkley November 18, 2010

    Thanks for giving us this insight. It helps us to better understand what goes on in the countries and how important CIVs and sponsorships are.

  5. Melissa November 18, 2010

    I too sponsor a child form Honduras…thanks for sharing. One day I hope and pray to be able to have the chance to meet her and her family!

  6. MarkW November 18, 2010

    This is awesome news… but I am wondering whether you identified any opportunities for improvement and whether you are willing to share those. That’s the most compelling part of “Undercover Boss” 🙂

  7. Megan @ Faith Like Mustard November 18, 2010

    Yes–thanks so much for sharing. Though it’s hard to read the heartbreaking situations that children endure, it is encouraging to know that Compassion is actively fulfilling its mission!

  8. L November 18, 2010

    Thank you for sharing…I like hearing the “background, undercover” stories of compassion. I’m so glad to be a part (child sponser) of such a well rounded, God filled organization. Prayers for the continued work of those on the field and the children of Compassion.

  9. Hannah November 18, 2010

    I sponsor a child in Honduras. So exciting to hear about the progress that is being made there! Thank you very much!

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