Earlier this month, I attended a local retreat for Compassion International Advocates. I’ve been meaning to blog about the experience for over a week now. My mind has been scattered and I worry that I won’t do the story justice, but I need to share before details fade from my memory.
I finished my advocate training in the beginning of 2010, just in time to attend my first retreat in early spring of that year. While I enjoyed meeting others with a passion for Compassion and I learned a lot of new facts about the organization, nothing affected me like hearing the first-hand testimony of Miguel. Miguel grew up in Bolivia and shared how his sponsorship through Compassion changed his life and also the lives of his family members.
During the retreat in the spring of 2011, we met Jey Mbiro who grew up in Kenya. Again, it was the testimony of this young man and his journey thus far that touched me the most.
This year, we were able to meet and hear the testimony of Owen David Githanga.
Owen grew up near Nairobi, Kenya. Describing the area where he lived, Owen told us that houses were sided with rusty patchwork of metal scraps. Gaps between metal sheets didn’t leave much in the way of privacy.
As is commonplace in many areas, streams of garbage and sewage were found literally just outside of front doors.
Owen shared the difficulties of his childhood. Living with his mother and brothers, there were months where there wasn’t food to be found in his home. Owen survived by going door to door, begging for something to fill the empty feeling in his stomach. Doors were slammed in his face, mocking insults were thrown at him. At times, he scavenged in the dump for rotten or discarded food.
We were told how Owen often didn’t wear shoes and I imagined sweet little bare feet walking through sewage and traversing the broken glass and metal scraps found in the dump. Sore and infected feet were a common reality.
As a child, if Owen or his brothers were sick, their mother would just put the boys to bed and hope for the best. There was no money for medical treatment. It is a miracle that he survived childhood at all.
Owen was able to be registered at a Compassion project.
“One fine day, I found out I was sponsored!”
At the age of eight, Owen received a sponsor. At the Compassion International project, he was given balanced meals and medical check-ups. We learned how happy he was to receive a pair of shoes.
But, tears sprang to my eyes when Owen told us that the best gift he received from Compassion was Jesus.
For years, the overwhelming message that was given to Owen through his circumstances and the insults of others was that we was nothing. He was worthless. His life would never amount to anything.
At church and at the child development center, these lies were being knocked down one by one. He learned how much God loves him and that he can accomplish great things through Christ.
People began to see a change in Owen and he also felt this change within himself. The Compassion program did not just provide for the basic needs of food and clothing, but through their holistic child development model, it worked to instill confidence and hope for a future.
That is one reason why Compassion International is so effective at releasing children from poverty. It does not just care for the child in the moment, but it teaches these children the skills they need to become successful adults.
Seeing the fine young man Owen has become was such a blessing. As I shared last week, we learned that Owen now sponsors four Compassion International children of his own. Just like most of us, the decision to take on sponsorship is not something to be taken lightly. The financial commitment takes a step of faith.
“When God gives you a vision, He brings provision.”
We have to echo this sentiment, too.
I am sure that it comes as no surprise that I asked Owen if he received many letters from his sponsors. My heart broke to hear the reply that, in his entire time in the Child Development program, he received just one. That single letter was treasured and read over and over again. We were told how Owen would go to friends who received more letters and ask them what they were saying to their sponsors that caused them to reply. He tried and tried to engage with his sponsor but those attempts were never answered.
The lesson here is that, even without letters from sponsors, it is clear that children can go through the Compassion program and be successful. Even though this is true, I just can’t help but think of the missed opportunities to minister to and encourage.
Thankfully, as he entered the Leadership and Development Program (LDP) Owen was connected with a sponsor who made an effort to reach out. In fact, such a strong bond was created that Owen’s LDP sponsor was actually the best man at his recent wedding!
I walked away from the Compassion retreat with renewed passion for this organization. The effect the program has on the children involved is real and tangible. In so many cases, the difference between sponsored children and unsponsored ones in a poverty stricken area is literally life and death. Plus, as the children and their families come to know about Jesus, the reach of the program affects not just this lifetime, but eternity as well.
I was so blessed by the opportunity to meet Owen and hear his testimony. His story will be with me for a long time to come. As we get to know our newest sponsored son, Ncheshia, whose sponsorship was inspired by Owen, the blessings will just continue to multiply.
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