Thursday, February 4, 2016

Ecuador Through Calvin's Eyes

When we realized Calvin would be making this epic trip to Ecuador with me, he said he wanted to blog for me one of the days. I have to say, I've enjoyed sitting here chatting with my friends tonight while he sweats it out at the laptop. :)

He and I talked a couple of times over the course of the past few days, jotting some notes so his post didn't end up a bullet list of fascinating facts about the country. No offense to bullet lists. But I want you to know, this is his heart, typed hunt-and-peck-style with his two pointer fingers. I encouraged him to think hard about what he most wanted to say, and allow God to speak to his heart about what to share. I helped him with some very minor edits (oh, commas!) after he completed his draft.

I gotta say, I'm quite fond of this young man. (Sidenote: I am not alone! The Ecuadorian women have been fawning all over him all week as though he's the Prince of a foreign land. Yesterday alone he was kissed five times by strangers!)

I present to you, Calvin Lee.


 

Hello, I am Calvin Martin and I am almost 11. My mom and I are on a missions trip for Compassion International. It is a group that releases kids from poverty through Jesus' name. They have set up stations in 26 countries! Well, my mom and I were lucky enough to go on the trip to South America. It has been a powerful trip so far and it ends tomorrow! My family is sponsoring a child named Josue. He is the cutest, sweetest 5 year old boy in the world. We are so lucky to sponsor a child like him.





Our second day on the Ecuador trip we met him in his home. It was a small house painted yellow. The mom and the children were so welcoming and they let us walk right in. Three of the family members were sponsored including Josue. Josue had a toy truck and a deck of cards and was so content with what he had and wanted to share his toys with me. His cousin and sister that were also sponsored gave us probably the only bracelets that they had. Now that we are sponsoring I feel like I have a brother from a different mother. Which God has actually used to impact my life because it showed me that there are people from different countries that have less than me but are the same age as me. It showed me a new perspective of the world.

Yesterday we helped with the daily life in a mountain home. It was the most inspiring thing I've done yet. This family had 13 people, 11 sons and daughters and the parents. They were so poor that they did not eat breakfast and only had corn soup for every meal. We helped shuck corn and make a stew. The people that were there were severely poor but what I thought was that the poorer the person the larger the heart because the whole time they were laughing and singing and talking. It's almost like people who have less maybe have more, in the spiritual side of life. 

 

One of my favorite verses since I was little says "The LORD doesn't see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7) This makes me think of my new friends from this trip.


When I get home I think I will be changed because I will compare myself to Josue and the people in Ecuador and will see the difference between us. But also the similarity in our lives, for example we both like soccer but we play with different equipment. We both have dreams.

If you sponsor a child, the child will be closer to Jesus and get the care and education they need. Please sponsor, it changes lives.

{Also see the trip through Calvin's travel-buds, Corbett and Caleb.} 

 http://compassion.com/shannan

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

On Seeds & Growing

Yesterday we rose in the middle of the night and boarded a last-minute flight to the coast of Ecuador. I saw a new shape of poverty, one built of bamboo walls, brightly lit from the same spaces between the bamboo that leave everything soggy (or worse) when the rains of El Nino sweep through.

We heard about gang activity thick in the hills. A sweeping culture of drug abuse, alcoholism, incest and abuse.


But the kids I met had eyes much brighter than my own. I ran around with them playing duck-duck-goose and hide-and-seek until I was good and sweaty. I fished the tiny bottle of perfumed oil from my pocket and dabbed it on the girls' (and a few boys') wrists. "En mi mano!" They held out their hands, too, so I swiped it across, then watched them furiously rub their palms over their necks, shirts, hair and face. These were Compassion kids, and it didn't matter that they were poor. They had dreams. I watched their mothers speak words of love and hope over them. They had a future and trusted God with it.

Before we left the center that day, the director of the program, Maritza, prayed for us. "Open the window of the Heavens and please, God, pour out your blessings on these special people."

Feeling the kids' presence buzzing around me, having walked into some of their broken places, I couldn't bear the burden of her blessing. Humility hurts going down. It was the second time I teared up.

And then there was today.





They said we were going to the highlands. For whatever reason, I thought we were already in the highlands. Beyond that, my Americanized mind interprets any representation of "up" as being better and besides, we'd already seen the worst.

After a bumpy bus ride, a quaint country stroll and a steep hike up a dirt path carved into the side of a mountain, we found ourselves in what turned out to be the borrowed home of a family who belong to the indigenous Quechua people group.

Thirteen people live under the tin roof, eleven children in total, three of whom are sponsored by Compassion. Dressed in their everyday attire of hand-embroidered blouses and long, dark skirts, they took my breath away.

{three sisters, with their beloved Compassion program teacher behind them, also present at the visit}

Their mother showed us how to help with one of their daily chores, removing kernels from cobs grown in their yard. Their main source of nutrition is a thick soup of cooked corn. When they can, they add a few potatoes. They love chicken, but can only afford the heads, which add no sustenance but a bit of flavor to their soup. Rice is a luxury they cannot afford, along with breakfast.







The depth of their material poverty was clear but it wasn't what made me hold back sobs in the bathroom of a restaurant, a couple hours later.

"What do you dream for your children?" we asked the mother.

She sat quietly, her face lined with the pain of lack. "I wish I could have big dreams for them, but I cannot. I have no hope."

I've asked this question in every house. But this was the first time we heard this response.

Across from me sat a young boy playing with a torn, dirty Bible while his mama said, out loud, that she has no dreams for her eleven children. No hope. Two feet away stood his sisters, stunning in their beauty, eyes bright.

The thin air thinned again. This cannot be.

My trip-leader, Bri turned the question to the girls, "What do you dream for yourselves?"
They want to be a doctor, a teacher, a fashion designer.

"What gives you that hope?" she asked.

Without a beat, living water spilled from their lips. "Jesus."

I wish I could end the story there, but the truth is, I left their home shouldering a burden I wasn't created to carry. Given the choice, I sided with their mother.  

The enemy was in Ecuador today, working hard on my heart. He saw the redemption I was seeing. He saw the way my soul was believing God came for all of us. And he hated it.

He would like to convince us some people are beyond hope, and for a couple of hours today, he met me half-way there. They will never make it out. They live miles from civilization. They climb mountains for dirty water. They eat nothing but corn. 

I could blame exhaustion or the altitude for my unvarnished thoughts, but when I said these things out loud to Bri, she gasped. "No, Shannan. No! They are Compassion girls! Maria is already in high school. This is a big deal!" If you know Bri at all, you can imagine how wide her eyes were. She didn't indulge my faithlessness for a minute. She knows what she has seen, and she believes. She continued. "This is what Compassion does! They've introduced them to Jesus and He is all the hope they need. They are being fed two meals a day at their program, but they are given a future. They have sponsors pouring into them. They truly believe they can go to college because they can. When Compassion says they release children from poverty, they mean it. They will not give up on them."

I nearly ran to the bathroom, then I lost it.

High in the Andes mountains I discovered the cliff-edge of my faith. Conditioned to track potential and success by American, middle class parameters of opportunity, money, and luck, I faced their absence and jumped.

Ana, Maria, and Ashley's faith is so much greater than my own. Jesus, who offers eternity in the span of a seed, grows hope in the smallest spaces. They know He holds them, too.


A former Compassion child, now the Project Facilitator of the center the sisters attend, stopped me in my tracks two days ago with this, "It's so important to plant the seed of a dream in their hearts." Compassion had encouraged him to dream, then helped him hold those dreams in his hands.

Friends, this has to be our problem. It's time to own up. I don't want to side with apathy or despair. I don't want to sit this out. I want to stand with these young ladies in their ruffled blouses and cheer them on, and I want to do it with you.

If we want to abide nearer to the heart of God, we have to move closer to His forgotten people. He couldn't have been more clear.  We would not stand for this reality for our own children. The best news ever is that this is a mission our kids can join us on. We can teach them early to walk towards the pain of another and lighten the load. They don't have to wait so long to receive the gift of learning from the overlooked.

 
I know these posts might be uncomfortable to read. I know I am, in some ways, repeating myself. I know I'm a little in your faces. But I cannot stop. I'm asking you to sponsor a child through Compassion. Today.

Our goal is to have 200 children sponsored during this trip. Tonight, we're almost half-way there.

The window to the Heavens is opening and it's starting to make sense. Loving our neighbor. Choosing worthier treasure. Actually trusting in God. These are the key to God's blessing. Do you feel the breeze?


{Follow along and read Ashley's heart here, Bri's heart here, and Ruth's heart here. These ladies are dream heart-companions!}

http://compassion.com/shannan

If I Have Gingham But Have Not Love

If you happen to subscribe to my Super Scoop newsletter (basically a top-secret blog post I write once a month) you received a post in your inbox the day before I left for Ecuador detailing what I packed for the trip.

Tucked into my "curated" (think comfy and grime-friendly) mix was a gingham shirt.

You know the one.
Except you actually don't.

 


I need to back up.

A week or so before the trip, I was going about my usual business. Writing. Mothering. Trying my best to be an engaged wife and a committed neighbor in the mix of the daily grind, which had temporarily slid off the rails it into even grindier territory.




In the midst of a whole string of those days, I unexpectedly found a bit of extra cash in the budget.

What I mean is, after already having every single thing I needed for the month, after buying (among hundreds of dollars of other things) containers of feta crumbles, organic bananas, a case of chicken stock, a jar of pitted olives, fig jam, unsalted pistachios, Honeycrisp apples and two bouquets of Kroger flowers, after accidentally letting a package of chicken breasts rot in the fridge, after a few meals out because "I needed a night off", after ensuring our gas tanks stayed filled, the lights stayed on, and our family had the chance to go ice skating (again,) there was still more left.

I didn't want to see it go to waste, so I paid a visit to my old flame, J Crew. After scrolling absentmindedly through the clearance section long enough to make the whole thing look casual, I went in for the kill.

A brand new navy gingham button-down, bought without a single percentage of discount, because I could.

No worries, I deserved it. I'd worn the old one, bought from the outlet store, for over five years. Almost daily. It was starting to get that funky smell.

 

I needed this new gingham shirt with its mystifying "Boy Fit". The fact that it came in a Tall - sleeves that would actually cover my wrists! - was but the final link in the chain. It was meant to be. I'd earned it, and I would not feel guilty.

The honest truth is, I still don't feel guilty.

I packed it in my bag and lived one of the most significant days of my life with its easy weight on my skin, the collar half-popped. Though it didn't make me a better dancer, it somehow made me a braver one.

The problem is, I can't stop thinking about that dang gingham shirt. It niggled into my thoughts before I even arrived and keeps chasing me down. It's causing me some tension, and crinkle cotton is sort of supposed to be the opposite of that.

The point is obviously not that gingham is bad. Not even overpriced gingham. 
I love my new-and-improved gingham bestie.

But I can't outrun the reality that my impulse purchase which brings negligible improvement to my quality of life, would translate into a monthly sponsorship of two (almost three!) of the children I played with today.

The money I spent on longer sleeved-version of a shirt I already owned would dramatically alter the course of these young lives.

It sounds dramatic. Before this week I might have given a comment like that the low-grade side-eye myself. (Reeeeally??)

Today, I'm telling a different story.



Today, I sat in a one-room, bamboo home and watched a young mother tear up as she told us how her twelve-year old son's Compassion sponsorship has changed the entire course of their family's future. Their local church, which partners with Compassion to release these kiddos from poverty, has become a tremendous source of hope for them, offering counseling, healthcare, and above all, the life-giving hope of simply being known and loved, by neighbors (near and global) and God.

The shirt was never the thing.  The thing is this: if I come to a place where I value my want over someone else's need, I've become a clanging symbol dressed in rags.

God loves us too much to watch us go down this way. He wrote the end, and knows what we stand to gain by laying ourselves down for the sake of another.


He wants our hearts, our service, our willingness to throw our tchotchkes and dreams on the altar of much better things, things that might look to us like less.

But then we stop. We look harder.
The universe flips in the favor of our Rescuer.

And we're all a little more free.

~


If I could pull you through my laptop screen and into Manta, Ecuador, not a single one of my words would be necessary. Since I can't, I humbly ask that you take my word for it and sponsor a child through Compassion. Lives are being changed, including mine.

http://compassion.com/shannan

Read more from:
Our fearless trip leader, Bri, as she writes about her cutie-pie friend Marcela at A Holy Experience. "Marcela, today you reminded me that my life is worth losing so that Jesus can save so many others."

Ashley Ann at Under the Sycamore. "When we consider how we want to raise our kids – the characteristics we want to cultivate in them, the type of influences we want in their lives, the kind of faith that demonstrates a dance between faith, love and action – we can’t afford not to expose them to hard realities."

Ruth at Gracelaced. "It's just that Jesus gives us eyes to see when we let Him show us how Gospel-living is upside down in this fleeting world." 

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