The saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words. That couldn’t be truer than when you receive a child packet from Compassion International. There on the packet is the child’s name, country, and birth date. But what draws your heart in is the picture of the child.
I “met” Ronald at an event in 2012, nearly five years ago. After raising a house full of girls, I desperately wanted a boy connection. And I thought it would be fun to sponsor a child who shared my same birth date. I was at an event looking over packets at the Compassion booth and there he was—4-year-old Ronald from Peru!
He had my heart immediately with His dark eyes and hair and his awkward little smile. I wanted to sponsor this little one on the spot. My mind quickly tried to imagine where he lived, what his family was like, where he played, and where he went to school.
Now at age nine, there are dozens of years and thousands of miles that separate Ronald and me. But I had the amazing opportunity to visit Peru last October and meet Ronald and his family. What pure joy to see that picture transformed into a living, breathing little boy.
We arrived at Ronald’s project to find the street lined with beautiful children and their teachers cheering and holding banners to welcome us. The pastor of the church where the Compassion project is housed came out of his humble building with Ronald and his mom by his side. I could hardly wait to get off the bus and get to him, enveloping him in a gigantic hug, which he surprisingly took right in stride. Perhaps our exchange of photos through the years had warmed him to me.
You see, as you write letters and send pictures to your sponsored child, their leaders at the Compassion center, where they spend several afternoons a week, speak to the child about their sponsor and show them your photos. Ronald and I share through letters, written by hand or electronically, about how we spend our days, our favorite things, and of course, family.
As I let go of Ronald, my eyes fell on the face of Ronald’s mom, a precious young woman, and the baby girl on her hip. I was immediately “in” their world. It didn’t take me long to look around and begin to understand the “flesh” on the photos that had previously been just paper.
Ronald and his mom led me to a room where we ate lunch with his friends and Compassion leaders. As we chatted through a translator, I watched his changing expressions and his laughter and wiggly discomfort. From his photo I had assumed that Ronald was somewhat shy, but his mother explained that his personality was quite the contrary—a “whirlwind” is how she described him. It made me laugh.
After lunch the Compassion center leaders were able to show me Ronald’s records. He is an A student, loves to play soccer, has a best friend named Enzo, and wants to be an engineer when he grows up. He’s learning to cook from his grandmother and loves to draw animals. Compassion centers care for the whole child, providing regular medical checkups, nutritious food, education assistance, and the chance to know Jesus as their Savior. Every dollar, every month has much purpose. There is hope for Ronald to break the cycle of poverty in his family.
Sitting next to his beautiful mother was Ronald’s grandmother, who I learned is his caregiver during the day. Ronald’s dad works far enough away in another city that they only see each other about 2 weekends a month. His mother works full time as a nurse. I made a note of how to pray for Ronald and how he must miss his dad. I also noted to pray for this young mom who worked hard to care for and provide for her little family.
As a grandmother myself, I sensed an immediate, strong connection to Ronald’s sweet grandmother. She is supporting her daughter in all the ways that she is able. I felt a kinship with her as I thought about my own desire to support my daughters as wives and moms and working women. She and I shared the love of our children from the view of many years of experience. It’s a different love. It’s a deep love with purpose and pain. A love that pours out where and what you can while understanding that you are not in control.
The moment that’s etched forever in my heart and mind is standing before these two strong women, Ronald in the middle of us, and their tears of gratitude as they said over and over “Gracias!” Ronald’s grandmother held my face in her hands and hugged me for a long time. Her eyes were saying so much that I could never understand with her words. They were expressions of deep gratitude that humbled me in a way that I can barely explain.
I thought about my home, the comforts and conveniences, against the stark reality of this family’s way of life. I confronted my attitude of occasional discontent with their testimony of joy in their circumstances. It was a lesson in grace and gratitude. It was a lesson in love revealed through a little boy named Ronald.
I said to my friends on our travel team that the challenge for us is to not allow the reality of the people we met and so many others around the world fade too far from our conscious thoughts. They are living it. And there is no escape to a better reality without our prayers and support. I gladly and gratefully give to my sponsor kiddos. They are worth it. They will have opportunities not possible without my humble offering.
Compassion International does such a wonderful job loving and caring for thousands of children around the world, and they allow people like you and me to do the same.
Betsy Langmade is an Event Coordinator for women’s events at LifeWay. She enjoys spending all of her free time with her husband of 40 years, four daughters, and sweet grandkids.