Initially Lima turned on quite a grey, cold and wet day (it warmed up later). We headed down to the very south of Lima. The drive to the Project was interesting. The environment was rather drab, dusty and colourless, with severely underdeveloped roads and buildings, and cacti growing in the median strips. I imagine it would be a challenge for many people to maintain any sort of hopes or dreams as they eked out an existence in that environment.
On the way I got the sense that God was going to teach me something on this day, and I was right. It wasn’t one of those overly joyous “made-in-heaven” type of days that we all hope for when we meet our sponsored kids, but I guess not all of them can be, and I’ve had my fair share anyway.
Cristina turned 10 on Monday (Sept 23), found out the next day I was coming, and I was there on the Wednesday. What a birthday present! We met at the Project and she was quiet and cautious. I had a bit of a tour, took some pics and saw Cristina’s classroom. There were no Project activities at this time, because the kids were at school, so we came back later in the day.
A highlight from the Project was the “Sponsor Wall” in each classroom, where they list the names of each child and their sponsor, and once a week they have a special time where they pray for all the sponsors. I know I certainly feel it at times - the sense of God’s blessing even when life seems normal or boring. It is because I have kids, parents and Project workers praying for me.
After a while we went and visited Cristina’s home, where we met Mama and her older brother Enrique. Her younger sister was at school and her father was working. The house has been given to them by one of Cristina’s grandparents, and they’ve been living there for 14 years. It is small and cramped but they have a bathroom with a toilet and electricity.
There was also a fridge and a washing machine. This is not because they are well-off, and they are still paying them off, but because they participate in a special arrangement with 3 or 4 other families which I understand is quite common in Peru. Every month, one of the families receive an agreed upon amount of money from the rest of the families, which enables them to purchase necessary supplies or appliances. The next month it’s a different family’s turn to receive the money.
Both Cristina’s parents work. Mama makes a special fruit-based dessert, and sells it at a local market. Her dad is, as I understand it, a freelance soccer coach/trainer who coaches teams or individuals according to demand. It is not stable or secure work, but on this day he was working. He is 46 years old, but apparently he was the equivalent of a state-level soccer player in Peru back in the day.
I gave Cristina some gifts, with a couple of extra soft toys thrown in because it was her birthday (and also to lighten the suitcase). She received them with quiet gratitude.
After this we went to a local mall for lunch. I observed Cristina as we walked past all sorts of shops, and she soaked in the noise and the atmosphere and the busyness, and I got the sense it was like a different universe to her. We had chicken and chips for lunch, and for some reason I agreed to order a salad bowl. It was here I discovered Cristina’s absolute dislike for anything that even looks like salad. Mama and I proceeded to light-heartedly try and get her to have some salad, and Mama took the uneaten home in a bag. I said jokingly “So is that your dinner for the next week?” I don’t think she saw the funny side.
Mama was pleasant, friendly and good to talk to. She and the kids are committed Christians and involved in their church, the brother only more recently. He could be a key player in getting their father along. Cristina’s father is staunch Catholic, and that’s the excuse he has always used for avoiding church, but I have the feeling that eventually, when he sees the changes in his kids and the love of the Compassion staff for his family, who knows what will happen down the track. Continuing to pray…
It was during this time and on the drive back to the Project that I discovered sometimes not even a sponsor visiting from the other side of the world can interrupt a strong mother-daughter bond. With her mother, Cristina was a different child. She laughed, smiled, babbled away and was so much more relaxed. It was good to see that side of her, even if I wasn’t the cause of it.
At the Project in the afternoon I was able to meet Cristina’s friends and classmates. The weather had warmed up as we played and sang and had a great time. There is no language barrier when it comes to having fun with kids,
I left Cristina with some words, encouraging her to always work hard and try her best, because that’s all God expects us to do. I prayed God would show her what she is good at and what she loves to do, and she would be able to spend her life doing that, bringing glory to Him.
The main lesson I learned from today is that true and genuine love gives generously, extravagantly and lavishly without expecting anything in return. The ultimate example of this, of course, is Jesus coming from heaven as a man in order to make us right with God. His death and resurrection paid the price for us, and we can be seen as righteous in God’s sight. There is nothing we can do to earn or deserve this. It is a gift of mercy and grace from God.
In my own small way, I hoped today I was following Jesus’ example of genuine, extravagant love, and I know Cristina appreciated it, even if she didn’t show it physically. Thank you God, for the opportunity.