Tuesday, September 04, 2012

An Invitation to Change Lives

Yesterday morning, I found myself sitting around a table with three somewhat-elderly men and one lady, making small talk about India. They were interesting individuals, to say the least. The men took turns to tell me about this place or that, about the energy of "mother India," of visiting different ashrams, or traveling with an "enlightened individual."

We were in the waiting area of the Indian Consulate in Chiang Mai, applying for visas to travel to India. They were certain that my life would never be the same again after visiting India later this year.

"What will you do there?" they asked, echoing the question I had just been asked during my visa interview.

"I am going to meet colleagues. I want to go and see the work they do and get to know the individuals whom I support in their work," I explained.

"What do you do?" they were curious to know.

"I work for Compassion International," I explained. Their faces registered nothing. And so I continued, "We work to release children from poverty through child sponsorship projects. We have centers where the children come after school for extra tutoring. They are given food and education and a chance to get ahead--chances that those living in poverty don't usually have."

The men were curious about our work and asked more. They were all devout Buddhists and wanted to know if ours was a religious organization. "We're Christian," I answered with a smile.

"Hmmm," the one man said. "So you just work in Thailand and India?"

"Oh, no," I smiled. "There are 1.3 million children in 26 countries who are being sponsored through Compassion. And my role is with the other end of the spectrum: Many of these children not only complete school, they go on to attend universities through our leadership development program. We offer scholarships but also additional curriculum to equip these young men and women to transform their nations."

"You like what you do," the oldest of the gentlemen observed.

"What's not to love about working with a program that has such a profound impact on people's lives?" I responded just as the receptionist called me to collect my receipt.

What I said to my fellow travelers couldn't be more true. I do love working with an organization that cares enough to step up and say no to the injustices of poverty.

We don't present wealth to be the goal. Instead, Compassion has a saying that "the opposite of poverty is enough." Poverty, Compassion's president Wess Stafford describes, is "a lack of hope."

I've seen that in the lives of people living in abject poverty around the world. I saw it the first time I met the Sifuna family in Kenya. But bit by bit, as the children were rid of the jiggers, and as their father not only got sober, but put his faith in Jesus, and as the children joined classes at the local school, all decked out in uniforms, I saw hope start to grow in them.

A former colleague recently told me that he went to visit Silas Sifuna, and that Silas proudly told him how amazed he is that "these four children who run around speaking English and are getting a good education are mine."

Though Compassion is not yet working in Eldoret, I (along with two friends in Iowa) am most certainly continuing to sponsor the Sifuna childrens' education and meals through their school. But there are so many more kids around the world just like the Sifunas: Kids who are desperate for someone to give them a foot up in life, that someone will give them hope.

Would you please prayerfully consider sponsoring a child through Compassion?