And then I go to Africa

Compassion Bloggers: Tanzania 2012A little over two years ago I sat in front of my computer screen and cried. Hot tears rolled off my chin and onto the keys. It was the first time I had seen Compassion in action and I was so deeply moved by the stories and images coming out of India.

As I read, and our family began sponsoring a child, something ignited inside of me. I wanted to be a part of this movement of storytelling to change a child’s life. And I began to pray a simple prayer every single day.

Lord, use my gift and passion to Your glory and not to my own.”

I wanted to be a part of something bigger than just myself. I wanted to give back an offering through the words that stir my soul. I wanted to just do something.

It’s no secret that I have the deepest and utmost respect for the ministry of Compassion International. What they do for children around the world inspires and moves me deeply and it’s been an honor to write about them in the past whenever the opportunity arose.

But now…well, honored seems too small a word. I’m humbled. Deeply, deeply humbled to be a part of this ministry in a new and exciting way. For two years I have read the words of bloggers whom I admire as they give the world a glimpse into what Compassion does for children from India to Kenya to the Philippines to Ecuador.

And all the while I’ve prayed for an opportunity to be able to tell stories in a way that honors the One who gave me the words. As I prayed, I knew that I would someday have the chance to do this thing I so desired. I just didn’t know in which capacity it would take shape.

I am thrilled to be a part of the upcoming Compassion Bloggers trip to Tanzania. Thrilled and honored and humbled and a little nervous.

Thrilled because I love a good adventure.

Honored that Shaun had the confidence in me to allow me this opportunity.

Humbled that the Lord would choose to answer my prayer in this way and that He would grant me the opportunity to do what I love with an organization that I am passionate about.

And nervous because Shaun mentioned something about an in country flight and he said it with this sort of half smile on his face like he knew something I didn’t. I’m also nervous because I’m pretty sure I’m going to need a few immunizations and I generally do all I possibly can to avoid needles at all costs.

Including give birth to three children naturally because I FEAR THE NEEDLES. And when I say I fear them, what I mean is I usually faint…and sometimes seize…when I get a shot.

It’s super neat.

I am truly grateful and thankful for this opportunity and I hope that you all will join me on this journey and invite your friends along. We’re all going together to see and hear and experience the ministry of Compassion as they vigilantly work to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name.

Will you come with us?

Meet me in St. Louey

The kids and I are in St. Louis for the week. It’s been an amazing, wonderful, refreshing week filled with many emotions. How blessed I am to have amazing mentors who love me and pour into me. It is humbling.

Sine I didn’t bring my computer and tapping a post out on the iPad would be terribly painful, I instead would love for you to visit the Compassion site and read some of the amazing stories coming out of Ecuador. They are hilarious and beautiful and very, very moving.

Please check the bloggers out and consider sponsoring a child through Compassion. The experience is one you will never, ever regret.

Blessings everyone! I’m off to try and warm up. Four months in Florida and I think my blood may have already thinned. I’m freezing up here. Of course, I did leave my warm coat at home in the interest of traveling light. I miss St. Louis….I don’t miss frigid air.

Can I get an amen?

Compassion International: Tell Us Your Story

It is no secret that I love Compassion International.  Sponsoring a child has been such a great experience for our family.  Our kids love to talk about our sponsored child, Jonri, and what he’s doing.  We love to receive letters in the mail with a picture he’s drawn.  And there is no sweeter prayer than that of our four year old daughter: “Deaw Dod.  Pwease be wif Jonwi an helwp him know about You.”

Let’s all say it together…Awwwwwww.

So when I received an email today from the Compassion team asking if I would join with others to tell my own story of how I was impacted as a youth and how the praise and love poured into me by an adult has shaped me into who I am, I quickly jumped at the chance.  First the premise:

Wess Stafford, President of Compassion, shares the “Tell Us Your Story” idea here.  You can read his words and his encouragement, or you can watch the video.  The basic idea of it is that all of us have been impacted in some way or another by someone in our past.  Whether positive or negative, we are all a product of our youth.  So what or who shaped you?  Who are you today and what led you to that point?

In thinking back to the many adults who have poured into my life in the past, I realized how deeply blessed I have been and how much encouragement I received in my formative years.  But when I thought about who I am today and what weighs most heavily on my heart, one specific incident came to mind that forever altered and shaped who I have become.  Here is my story:

“You have a real knack for languages,” he told me as I sipped my cup of hot tea.  I was freezing….the kind of cold where you can no longer feel your extremeties.  We were in a pizza parlor in Red Square, right in the heart of Moscow.  I was fifteen.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean you hear the sounds really well and you repeat them perfectly.  You should study russian.  You could come live with Helen and I.”

Five years later, I did just that.

Sergei Petrochenko was the interpreter for the squirrley group that made up our missions team on my first trip to the former USSR.  I shared with you how I wound up taking that trip and the man responsible for it here.  Gary Varner is another person I can quickly point to who spoke wisdom and grace into my life as a youth and drastically shaped who I am today.

Sergei and his wife Helen were young and adorable and I shared an immediate connection with them.  Maybe it was because I took such an interest in their language.  Perhaps it was because the moment I stepped off the plane I fell in love with their country.  It’s likely because when God Himself knit me together He placed a special place in my heart for that area of the world.  It was ordained from the beginning of time.

As Sergei and I stood and ate pizza, a dirty, wild looking man approached our table.  He held out dirt encrusted hands and mumbled something in russian.  I looked at Sergei who studied him closely then gestured his hands toward our unfinished pizza.  The man mumbled Spaseeba, grabbed two slices and quickly exited the building.  I looked curiously back at Sergei who for a solid week had engrained in all of our heads never to feed someone who came begging.

“Why did you give him food?” I asked.

“Because he needed it,” Sergei replied matter of factly, taking another sip of his tea.

“How did you know?”

“He had russian eyes,” Sergei replied.  And that was the end of the conversation.  It is a brief moment in my life that I have never forgotten. 

Fast forward five years.  I am twenty years old and I am spending a semester in Kiev, Ukraine with Helen and Sergei studying russian.  It turns out Sergei was right.  I did have a knack for languages and I had fallen in love with the nuances of russian.  It was during my four month stint in Kiev that I experienced another defining moment…and this moment was a direct result of the pizza parlor conversation with Sergei five years earlier.

I was on a taxi bus when I noticed an old man laying in a busy street.  He was close to the sidewalk, but fully on the road and he looked injured.  I tossed money at the cab driver and jumped out of the van, dodging cars as I dashed across the street.  I knelt down in front of the man, who smelled of liquor and had a deep gash on his forehead.

Pomogeetya, Podjalusta, he wept.  Help me.

I pulled off my scarf and pressed it to his head and began yelling for help.  And people just passed me by.  They looked right at me as they walked by on the sidewalk.  Two younger men laughed at me as they passed.  I heard one of them say to the other, “Stupid American.  He’s drunk.”

But as I looked into his eyes, I knew there was more to the story.  This wasn’t a man who stumbled in a drunken stupor into the road.  He had the “russian eyes” that Sergei had mentioned.  Eyes that conveyed a true sense of need, of pain, of desperation.  Yes, by the smell I could tell he had been drinking, butsomehow I knew that wasn’t what caused his fall.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, someone stopped and offered help.  In my broken russian I told the story as an ambulance drove up to us.  They loaded the man into the back of the truck and whisked him away…I never even knew his name.  The man who helped me shook my hand and introduced himself.  Pavel.  He spoke english.

“The man was robbed.  He said he was in the street for much time.  Why did you stop?”

I shrugged and offered the only explanation I had – “He had russian eyes.”

He looked at me for a moment, nodded, then turned and walked away.

I have the distinct blessing of having been poured into by many, many people over my lifetime.  A few names of the people who have impacted me: Gary Varner, Robert Burkhart, Mrs. Baumbach, my high school Liturature teacher who told me I had a gift with words, Richard and Candy Martin, the list could go on and on…

But Sergei Petrochenko’s words when I was fifteen set me on a path that God created me for from time’s inception.  Because of Sergei’s words my children are learning russian, my husband and I are praying about how we can have an impact in Russia as a family, how we can minister to orphans, if we should even adopt an orphan.  The last time I heard from Sergei was December 30, 1998.  After I came back to the States he and Helen divorced and I lost track of him.  How my heart longs to see him again.  How I yearn to show him the impact he had in my life…to introduce him to my children and let them show off their language.  I hold out hope in my heart that God has that reunion planned for someday…

Words have a powerful and life altering effect.  They can change a life for the worse…but, as in my case, also for the better.

How were you impacted as a youth by the words of an adult?  If you feel so inclined, please share your story.  I would really love to hear it.

Compassion International

Sponsor a child online through Compassion's Christian child sponsorship ministry. Search for a child by age, gender, country, birthday, special needs and more.

I’ve written about Compassion International before, and they are a large organization, so what I’m going to tell you may not be new information, but it is information that bears repeating.

I love this organization.  They are well run, well led and are really making a huge impact worldwide in children’s lives.

I’ve been to areas of the world where poverty runs rampant.  I’ve seen children living in conditions that are heart-wrenching, filthy and, seemingly, destitute.  I’ve looked into the eyes of children who have nothing and I’ve listened to their sweet voices, all inflected with the same innocence that my own children possess.  Here or there, rich or poor, children are still children and they need love, care and…well, compassion

So what exactly does Compassion International do?  I’m so glad you asked!  Because that’s why I’m writing up this little feature.  To tell you what they do

The better question to ask, though, is probably what doesn’t Compassion International do?  From their Child Survival Program, where they provide prenatal care to pregnant mothers and offer preventative medications to children to give them the healthiest life possible, to their Child Sponsorship Program, where they offer children the funds to receive educational, spiritual and vocational training so that those same children can grow into self-sustaining adults, to the Leadership Development Program, which allows those excelling in high school who have a desire to pursue post-secondary education the opportunity to do so through help in funding – through all of these amazing programs, Compassion is changing the world.

Have any of you ever looked into the eyes of someone who has lost hope?  Have you ever seen the hollow chasm of a lost future?  It’s so easy to forget that there is a world of desperation out there.  But, through organizations like Compassion International (and another group that I’ll tell you about in a couple of days…oh, I can’t wait!) there are simple and easy ways that you and I can help be a part of this global impact. 

Do you realize what I’m saying?  With minimal effort, you can restore hope to a child who’s lost the spark?  It takes a few short minutes to sign up and requires a fraction of a fraction of your monthly income.  And just like that, a life is changed. 

The Stuart family have been a child sponsor for a couple of months now and I will testify to the fact that it is immensely fulfilling to know that 6-year-old Jonri in Indonesia now has opportunity that he did not have before.  I love hearing our kids pray for him at dinner time.  I don’t love them fighting over who gets to sit “next” to him (his picture is on the fridge) but I’ll take it because it means they’ve embraced the concept.  It’s very sweet to watch them get the idea of blessing others out of the abundance with which we ourselves have been blessed. 

Another thing about Compassion that has impressed me is their spectacular use of social media.  The internet is used to bring so much pain, so much destruction, so much hurt to the world.  But Compassion is using the internet to the glory of God.

Through their Compassion International Bloggers, Compassion is reaching a whole new world and generation with their mission for changing children’s lives.  They are using new media brilliantly and with great intention.  And, by doing so, they have expanded their message tenfold.  And I believe God is blessing the ministry because of their faithful obedience to Him.

To get more information about Compassion International and child sponsorship, visit their website.  You can also follow them on Twitter at @compassion or follow Shaun Groves (@theshaungroves), who is their Blogger Relationship Manager and fields the blogger trips to compassion sponsored areas.  The next trip they will take is to El Salvador and two of the bloggers going on that trip are Kelly and Dana, two fantastic bloggy ladies who will do a spectacular job of spreading Compassion’s message even further. 

(Incidentally, Shaun and I are both graduates of Baylor where we both participated in Baylor Religious Hour Choir.  Shaun graduated a few years before me, so we never met, but this practically makes us related, so I feel like I can write about him as though he’s my BFF – even though he doesn’t know me from Adam.  Is that kind of creepy? No?  It’s fine you say?  Great – so go visit my BFF, Shaun’s site, and learn more about him and about Compassion!)

Compassion International is a great organization to be involved in, if you are looking for a way to live out your faith tangibly.  If you’re still not sure, jump over to their site (I’ve left you about a thousand links in this post so you should be able to find your way over there for more information).  

Or you can keep checking back all week this week to find other people and organizations that you can be involved in.  But, no matter what, may you all leave your computers encouraged to know that there are ways that you, too, can make an impact on the kingdom of heaven – both great and small! 

May you have a blessed day…