Open My Eyes

17 07 2012

I woke up last Wednesday morning and asked God to open my eyes to see whatever it was I needed to see.  In just a few hours, my husband and I were to visit child #3 of 8 whom we sponsor through Compassion International.  Based on our first two visits—Santiago in Lima, Peru in 2009; and Liset in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in 2010 (read about that visit:  A Day in the Life of Compassion)—we knew this could be a life changing experience.  (photos at the end)

 During my normal morning routine, I began to wonder. . .

  • Did Ashling (age 5) have the luxury of her own bed?
  • Did that bed have a pillow top mattress with Egyptian linens and too many pillows to count like the one in our hotel room?
  • Did she have a window that opened to a gorgeous setting of palm trees, beautiful and lush tropical landscaping, and a pool?
  • Did she have air conditioning?
  • Did she have a shower?
  • Did she have hot water?
  • Did she even have running water in her home?
  • Was the water she had access to even safe to drink without being treated first?
  • Did she have shampoo, conditioner, and body wash readily available?
  • Did she have as many changes of clothes in her entire wardrobe as I had in my suitcase for one week’s worth of travel?
  • Had she ever seen as much food in one place as was available at our breakfast buffet?
  • Did she have the luxury of pushing aside food items because 1) she didn’t like them and 2) simply because she could?
  • Did her little belly ever get truly full after a meal?
  • Was she ever able to go back for seconds?
  • Did she have the luxury of beginning her day in silence, reading her Bible and having her own solitary quiet time?

So many more questions ran through my mind as I prepped for the day.  God certainly opened my eyes and made me consider all those normal daily activities I take for granted.  I don’t remember the last time I thought about whether or not someone had running water in their home or how many pieces of clothing were in her closet.

No detail this morning escaped examination and wonder as I thought about what Ashling was doing.  That lady cleaning the floors, she might have been Ashling’s aunt.  That guy picking up trash in the street, he could have been her father.  So many things, so many people I normally overlook suddenly mattered. 

I was at once convicted and humbled and grateful and overwhelmed.  God was certainly opening my eyes.

Sabina, one of Compassion’s 35 translators in Managua, Nicaragua arrived and we were en route to Ashling’s neighborhood Grenada Managua.  It was a much shorter drive than I anticipated from our hotel.  Poverty and excess (our hotel falling in the excess category) were only a few feet from each other.

Ashling’s neighborhood was literally one turn off of a main thoroughfare, but upon leaving that nice smooth, paved street for the mostly packed dirt road leading to her community let us know we in a very different place.  The trash flowed on the streets more freely.  Malnourished dogs slept in the middle of the street or dug through the garbage for a scrap.  Young boys and old men driving horse-drawn carts were as numerous as the cheap taxis.  Women carrying baskets of fruit and bags of cashews perfectly balanced on their heads walked the streets, hoping to sell their goods, earning at least enough to feed their family at dinner.  Bars and iron gates covered every door and window.  A motorcycle with a family of four—all four!—rode past us. 

Once we stepped out of the taxi, we became the main attraction for a short while as we waited outside the Compassion Project.  Once the project’s secretary, Raquel, arrived, we were ushered into the office.  We were shown Ashling’s “file” which contained information about every letter written or received, her academic progress, family information, medical data, etc.  The saddest note was realizing Ashling had formerly been sponsored by another family.  We didn’t know she lost her sponsorship when we began sponsoring her earlier this year.  Thankfully though, she was only without a sponsor for a few months.  Some children go for years before being chosen.  (Please consider sponsoring a child who has been waiting for over six months or ask for one who has been waiting the longest.  Too often sponsors go for the cutest face.)

We chatted with Raquel about the project while waiting for Ashling and her mother to arrive.  We learned:

  • There were approximately 150 Compassion projects in Nicaragua, and Compassion had been in the country for only 10 years.
  • There were 150 students at Ashling’s project, “God in Action.”
  • The project focuses on four main areas of education and growth:  spiritual, physical, academic, and hygiene.
  • In the past two years, there had only been four sponsor visits—our visit being number four.  This saddened me.  Supporting Compassion and sponsoring a child is an amazing commitment and blessing to these children and their families, but I have been convicted that God calls me to much more than just writing a check each month.  That is one of the reasons Matthew and I are on a mission to personally visit each of our sponsored children.  Simply writing a check is too easy.  I need to get out of my comfort zone in my attempts to bless others.
  • The project does have running, potable water.
  • There were 12 people on staff at this project—six teachers, four office staff, one cook, and one maintenance person.
  • The project provides the school uniform and supplies for all students as well as necessary medical checkups and treatments.
  • All students get a hot meal during their daily time at the project.

When Ashling and her mother, Maria, finally arrived, I don’t think I could speak for several minutes.  I completely overcome by this incredibly beautiful five-year-old girl standing in front of me with the sweetest, shyest, smile.  Ashling was radiant!  Clearly, this day, she was a princess and the star of the show—something way out of her comfort zone.  She was in a new dress they bought just for this occasion, and she shyly, yet proudly, showed us the “high heel” shoes she bought with the birthday money we had sent.

Ashling presented us with a photo of her in a frame she made as well as a necklace of blown glass.  We also gave Ashling a gift bag consisting of a notebook, note pads, pencils, crayons, pens, balloons, toothpaste, a tooth brush, hand sanitizer, a US map (so we could show her where we live) and a world map (so we could show her where we are in relation to one another).  As a last minute addition before we left Nashville, I added a doll from my doll collection from when I was a little girl.  The look on Ashling’s face when she pulled out the doll was priceless.  Her eyes got wide, she was speechless, and she hugged and sang to it for the entirety of our visit.  At first she named it Maria, after her mother, but she later changed it to Kelly.

We spoke together for a while and toured the rest of the project building which mainly consisted of the church and one large room partitioned off with shelves in order to make three smaller areas for the classes.  In speaking with Ashling and her mother, we learned:

  • Ashling is an only child.
  • Her mother is studying to become a baker and wants to open her own bakery someday.
  • Her father is a barber.
  • They live about a 15 minute walk away from the project.
  • Ashling’s birthday was just a few weeks prior to our visit.  For birthdays, the project takes all the kids who have a birthday in that month to a local restaurant (think McDonalds or KFC) where they get a meal, games, and a piñata.
  • Ashling’s family does have running water at home.
  • Maria has a sister who is mentally handicapped.  Maria commented that her sister will be very happy with all the paper and pencils we brought for the family because her sister loves to draw.
  • Ashling loves to paint and sing.  With a little begging, we got her to sing us a song.
  • Ashling loves to play teacher with her dolls and friends.  She also enjoys putting makeup on her dolls and friends, and it doesn’t matter if her friend is a girl or a boy.
  • Ashling is very bright, but she is also quite “delicate” as Raquel told us.  She gets sick often, usually around the changing of the seasons, and she misses a lot of school.  Thankfully, the project helps provide any medicine she needs.

Our time together was short, and we couldn’t visit her home as we had hoped.  Regardless, those few hours together will stay with me for a very, very long time.

I left feeling overwhelmed.  Overwhelmed with gratitude that we are able to sponsor Ashling and actually meet her.  Overwhelmed with a knot in my gut as I compared my life to hers. 

I asked God to open my eyes, and He did.

I take for granted so many things.  I don’t think twice about indoor plumbing, air conditioning, readily available and safe drinking water, or the fact that my children can get a free education.

My home is probably 4-5 times the size of Ashling’s home.  We have one car, one van, and one motorcycle.  Our children attend one of the finest private schools in middle Tennessee.  We have disposable income that allows us to shop at Pottery Barn and travel internationally.  My running shoes probably cost more than Ashling’s family makes in a year.  God has abundantly blessed my family, and we do give generously of our resources, yet I feel unsettled inside.

If you are reading this, I consider you blessed, too.  Not blessed because you are reading my blog, though I hope it is a blessing, but rather blessed in that you have access to a computer and the Internet.  You are blessed with abundant time if you’ve made it this far with me, and blessed that you’ve had an education because you are literate and are able to read this.  I also imagine you are sitting in a comfortable chair, probably in an air conditioned room—more blessings.  I could on—a full refrigerator and pantry, a chest full of toys for your kids, a linen closet full of more towels and bars of soap than people in your house.  Even credit card debt or a car loan, curses that they are, demonstrate the easy access you have to everything and anything your heart desires, even though you can’t afford it but feel entitled to it.

If you are feeling convicted, join the club.  I’ve just described my life, minus the debt.  This is why I am unsettled.  I feel I need to be doing something differently with my resources.  While I don’t know exactly what it is yet I am to be doing, I know God will continue to open my eyes.

(Click on a photo to see a full size version and run through the slide show.)

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5 responses

24 07 2012
Hiking Volcan Concepcion « To Kick a Pigeon and Other Musings

[…] Nicaragua.  The first was about visiting a child we sponsor through Compassion International:  Open My Eyes. Volcan Concepcion (1 mile […]

25 10 2012
burruss

This is powerful!

6 12 2012
This Is Why You’re Not Getting a Christmas Card From Us This Year (or maybe ever again) « To Kick a Pigeon and Other Musings

[…] International.  Always an eye-opening, life-changing event, you can read about it here:  Open My Eyes.  You can also read about the amazing amount of fun hell we had as we hiked a volcano on Ometepe […]

17 07 2013
compassioncalling

All I can say is amen! I have felt unsettled for quite some time, and I am too blessed to even consider thinking otherwise. Convicted yet hopeful, I press on toward whatever the Lord will call me and my family to do for his glory and kingdom. By the way, do you know of the Compassion bloggers network? You can learn more at: http://www.compassionbloggers.com. They take trips to countries where Compassion works and blog about their experiences. As I happened on this post while browsing your blog, I recalled the recent trip the Compassion bloggers took to Nicaragua just last month. I think you would enjoy reading their posts if you have not had a chance to do so. 🙂 God bless you! 🙂

17 07 2013
huddlestonk

Thank you for all of your encouraging words. God bless!

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