I am at the end of my trip today as I write this and have much to reflect on, so I will highlight what I can remember as the memories come to me. It’s been a long day already so I will do my best. I can start by saying it has been a week of tears. They started early on this trip, and kept coming. They were still coming during lunch today with some of the sponsors. The stories flowed out of me all week and they kept flowing today.
Some of the stories were new ones, many were old ones. This trip provided many more.
Where to start? I will begin with the story that a mother told me just a few days ago. She wanted me to know about the sacrifice that her two daughters had paid for several years.
When these girls were young teenagers of fourteen they returned from a concert with child packets in hand. These were twin sisters that had just heard about an amazing organization called Compassion International that helped rescue children from poverty around the world in the name of Jesus. They each wanted to sponsor a child and make a difference in the children’s lives. They didn’t consider that they were just children themselves.
There mother was happy that the girls wanted to do something for someone else but she knew that the exuberance they displayed couldn’t last very long and she was very hesitant to give them permission to embark on such a journey. She knew that these children would be counting on this commitment and this wasn’t something to take lightly. And she certainly wasn’t sure about any organization that she had never even heard about.
One at a time the girls would parry every thrust of common sense and every good and valid argument that the mom could reason with. “Girls, this is not something that you do for one month because someone gave an emotional appeal and after you lose your passion you just forget about”. “We understand and we won’t just quit”, they promised. “I’m sorry, but I can’t allow it, I can barely make ends meet now. We simply cannot afford such a commitment”.
“We know mom, we’ve talked about it and we have it all figured out”.
“I’m serious girls, I cannot take on another payment for anything”
“We promise that we will make the payment every month, we will use any money that we make from house sitting, and dog walking, and birthday and Christmas money”
The mom finally ran out of arguments and eventually was worn down by the twins enthusiasm and firm promises. I think that secretly she was hoping that the girls would succeed, even though she never told me that. What she told me was that she really expected the excitement to wane and that she would be left having to pay the monthly commitment or making the call to cancel the sponsorships. Much like the parents that are convinced by their children to take on the responsibilities of a puppy or kitten with promises of cleaning and care and attention. We all know how most of those stories end with puppies being dropped off at the animal shelter, or tired moms and dads that wind up taking care of the animals that have long since lost the attention of the children.
But these are not ordinary girls that I am talking about today. These are girls that have somehow learned that others in the world have so much less than they do, even though these girls did not come from a home of any special privilege. These were girls that had been abandoned long ago by a father that had more important things to do than raise them. Perhaps it wasn’t his fault and I am certain that he would have a story to tell us about how he had become the way he is. Perhaps he would even admit that he is a broken man with a broken heart, living in a broken world. So let us not be too harsh on him.
And so the first month passed and the excitement did not wane and the girls were true to their promises. And mom thought to herself, one month does not a commitment make.
The girls saved every nickel that came their way and they labored diligently on whatever task presented itself. And the second month passed and still they were true to their promises.
Dogs were walked and houses were sat and money was saved and every month they were true to their promises.
Winter came to their neighborhood and now they saw the opportunity to shovel snow from their neighbors walkways, and money was tucked away. The months passed into a year and the girls held true to their promises.
By now mom was pleasantly surprised and was even willing to send in a check with the promise that they would repay her by the end of the month. And again they were true to her and they were true to the children they sponsored.
The months turned into two years and the girls not only remained true to their sponsored children but on this day they returned from another event with two more packets that represented two more children that would require monthly support. Mom attempted to reason with them that this would change things, this was going to double their commitment and she knew how hard they had worked the past two years just to support two, let alone four now.
She applied all of the usual logic again but she was turned back by their enthusiasm and of course their two year track record of keeping their word.
So now there were four children from different parts of the world that two teenage girls would support every month with their diligence and their hard work. And work they did, being older now they took on part time jobs waiting on tables and a host of other odd jobs.
Our loving mom was certainly proud of her two energetic and enthusiastic girls because she knew how hard they worked to make sure they were meeting this commitment. Maybe it was the fact that they were twins and could encourage one another if one grew weary. Perhaps it was because mama had instilled in them a work ethic that most young people never receive, her motto was always and still is to them “make good use of your time”. By the way, I saw this displayed in mother and daughter for an entire week. There were hats to be knit while riding on the bus from place to place, and people to be served at every turn.
And because our loving mom knew how dedicated and devoted these two young ladies were, she began to look even deeper into this organization that could inspire teenage girls to such levels of sacrifice. The deeper she looked and the more she discovered about Compassion International the more convinced she became that no organization could be this good. It was impossible that so much could be done, that lives were really being impacted and that people were really being rescued at all.
Her motherly instincts kicked in and she was now determined to protect her girls and prove to them that all of this effort was only putting money into the pockets of yet another “good cause” that really only helped the people working at Compassion and not helping those they said they were helping.
So our loving and protective mother does a most surprising thing (at least to me), and signs up for a sponsor trip. She was out to show her girls first hand how none of this could be true, and boards a plane to Tanzania. One of her girls sponsored a boy from there and she knew if she went there directly she could come home with first hand knowledge of how none of these things actually happened. How could a little more than a dollar a day provide a child with clothing and meals, medical attention, education, and most importantly, hope? And all of this would be provided in a loving environment that required nothing of the child but to attend. And the way they were providing hope was by preaching the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It all sounded too good to be true and she would have to see for herself. Of course she did not expect to see any of it. She expected to experience a sham.
What she did experience was the farthest thing from a sham. Every where she poked her head and everywhere she thought she would spot a fake, she found the reality of a changed life. She found children that loved and laughed and were immensely happy to see her. She found students that were full of the life of God and were filled with the hope of a brighter future. She found young men and women that had attended these programs as children and were now fulfilled and responsible adults. Adults that were changing their communities. Communities that were affecting their cities. Leaders that would some day affect entire nations. She experienced what her girls had always known in their hearts. She experienced true love.
So now she returned home with plans that had backfired and she knew without a doubt that she would have to bring her Katie to meet the young man that she was helping to transform. So she returned to the African continent to the country of Tanzania and to the little student center in the little church in the little village somewhere in the remote regions of the countryside.
And there Katie saw why she had shoveled snow and washed dishes and walked dogs and waited on tables. She saw a young boy that was growing up surrounded by people that loved him. She realized that every letter she had sent him was precious to him in a way that she might never understand. She saw that she had given of herself and had given him the precious gift of hope. The hope that he could end the cycle of poverty that he had known, and his mother had known, and his grandmother had known. He could break the hold that poverty had on his family for generations. And Katie returned with her own life changed.
But the story doesn’t end with Katie. It is only half of the story. For now the mama knew that what she had done for one she must do for the other. They both had sacrificed equally. Now it was time to let Tyler see what all of her effort and all of her letters and all of her encouragement had produced.
And that is how I came to know the story.
Tyler and I connected immediately. God has had a way of doing that with me over the years. And this trip to the beautiful island of Hispaniola, to the wonderful country of the Dominican Republic would be no exception. For this is where I heard the story of two young girls that knew in their hearts that what they had heard at a Christian concert so many years ago was true and right. They knew it was the right thing to do, they knew it was possible.
Tyler came to the Dominican Republic only knowing partially what to expect. She was hopeful but she was not certain that her experience would be the same as the one her sister had. Mom and daughter could only hope that Tyler’s experience would be as rich. This was not Africa and this was a different group of people and there was an inexperienced leader.
And this young boy was now a man. He was grown up. He wasn’t even part of the program any longer for he had departed more than a year before. But our loving and determined mother was hopeful that Tyler could still meet him. She knew the long hours that Tyler had given for him, the extra work, the sacrifice. When other girls Tyler’s age were off doing what young girls do, Tyler was working odd jobs and trying to keep her grades up. Instead of posting pictures of her latest haircut on Facebook, Tyler was writing words of encouragement to a young boy on an island faraway in the Caribbean. As a matter of fact, Tyler is now in her late twenties and she still does not have a Facebook account.
There was a good chance that Tyler would never get to meet this young man. He was an adult now and he had moved on. Would anyone even know where he was? Would he have prior engagements that could not be broken? And perhaps he did have other very important things to do on this day. He may have had to ask for a day off from a job that already did not pay enough to make ends meet. He may have become like so many other young men on this Caribbean island and had turned to drugs to ease the pain of poverty.
But on this day he did show up. I believe that nothing could have prevented him from meeting this beautiful person that had chosen to love him. Loved him without ever knowing him. Loved him because she loved a God that loved this young man. Loved him because she could do nothing else.
And so they met for the first time and hugged one another, and they cried more than once on this day. And they expressed that deep and abiding love that only people that have toiled together can express.
And on this day a mother’s heart was broken and healed all at once. She may never say those words but I saw it happen right in front of my own eyes. I saw the tears of a mother that has poured her whole life into two beautiful girls that have grown into two beautiful women, and could do nothing else but quietly cry at the back of the bus, as her daughters stories were told to men and women that could do nothing else but shed their own tears. As she had poured her life out for these two, they had poured out their lives as well.
And for that one moment all of her effort and all of the efforts of her girls was worth it, and I know that she would not trade that moment for the world.