Monday, October 21, 2013

Compassion Insight #1 - Inside the Compassion Projects

As part of processing what I saw and experienced on my recent Compassion trip to South America, I have been viewing and sorting the photos of all my Compassion trips in the last couple of years, about 2,500 all up.

I have been able to take five trips altogether, and it’s been quite a journey:
September 2009  Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador
September 2012  Brazil
January 2013       Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Haiti
April 2013           The Philippines
September 2013  Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil

I have decided to do a short series of photo-blogs, designed to give people more of an insight into Compassion and the way they work, transforming the lives of children and families in the name of Jesus. I am privileged to have had this access through my visits, so I feel like the God-honouring thing to do is share them with sponsors and potential sponsors. I hope you enjoy them.

One of Compassion’s fundamental strategies is partnering with local churches, because underpinning everything they do is the belief that a relationship with Jesus is the ultimate release from poverty, in this life and in eternity. The church is the vehicle that God uses to bring His Kingdom to earth, so it makes sense to partner with them.

Everything else that Compassion offers flows from this fundamental love of, and for, God: the food, clean water, medical care, educational assistance, income-generating skills and pairing with a loving sponsor, often from the other side of the world.

Compassion cares for the child holistically: this includes physically, economically, spiritually and socio-emotionally. Although they are best known for the school-age Child Sponsorship Program, there are actually three programs:
- Child Survival Program, which takes care of pregnant women, caregivers and babies up to three years old

- Child Development Sponsorship Program, which is the school-aged sponsorship program, from 3 to 22 years old.

- Leadership Development Program, which provides sponsorship and mentoring for students wanting to go to College. It is a very rigorous process, aimed at building up Christian leaders who want to serve their community and their country.

I can assure you that Compassion does not come heroically thundering into a village, saying “Never fear! Compassion is here!” Care is made to bring awareness that it is the Church that is doing all the hard work and sacrifice, and their motivation is not personal recognition or kudos, but to share the love of God with the children and families in the community.

Partnering with Compassion is not an easy process, and to ensure integrity and accountability there are certain quality standards the church must meet, in terms of their ability to care for the children and families. They must have a certain number of members, and certain facilities before they can be considered for partnership.

One thing the church must have is a space for the children to meet during the week, in order for Compassion’s programs to be carried out. This space is often called a Project or a Student Center. Depending on the Center, children may attend the Project anywhere from once a week to every day, but they must live within 30 minutes travel distance, in order to get the most out of Compassion's programs.

Compassion Projects are seriously my favourite places in the world. It is quite difficult to describe to someone who has not experienced it for themselves, but in all my visits, I could literally feel the difference between the atmosphere outside the gates and inside the Project. Because Compassion intentionally serves the poorest of the poor, the communities are often hopeless and desperate places. I have felt the danger and the darkness that is a by-product of this messed-up world, poverty and the evil that comes with it.

Once inside the gates, without fail, it is a completely different universe. The Love of God is there, pure and simple. Human compassion is nice, but it just doesn’t measure up. The children have a safe place, where they can be loved unconditionally, encouraged, fed, cleaned, and just are free to be kids. It is incredible to see. The food they receive is often their only decent meal for the day, the clean water is often the only time they can drink water. Some of my sponsored kids did not have access to water in their homes, so thank GOD for Compassion.

The environment of the Projects is always very colourful and child-friendly. There is always art work and decorations on the walls. The children are celebrated and acknowledged. There are educational posters and children’s work on display everywhere. Definitely a safe and loving place to be.

In the Project the children receive help with their school work. They are taught practical things like hygiene and taking care of their bodies. They are taught to recognise abuse, and how to say “no.” They are taught about making wise choices in relating to other people that will keep them out of trouble.

As they get older, the children are taught income-generating skills like baking, computers, cosmetology (hair and makeup), how to make bags or necklaces. As strange as it sounds, the ultimate aim of Compassion is to teach them how to look after themselves and get them out of there, because as soon as a family can sufficiently provide for their own needs, they have been released from poverty.

The children are recognised and celebrated as unique and special individuals who have been created by God for a purpose. This flies in the face of everything they have been taught in their lives to this point in their homes and communities. Poverty tells them they are nothing: worthless, useless, hopeless and things will never change or get better. This lie has robbed millions of their God-given destiny. Compassion and the church are fighting against this.

In the Project, Compassion’s motivation is never hidden or made secret. They are there to share the love of God with the children and families. Having said that, no-one is forced to convert, believe or go to church. However, when such unearned and undeserved Love is shown to people, without asking anything in return, people are bound to get curious. There have been many churches who have started small, but through their involvement with Compassion, have seen their churches grow and communities change for the better.

I love the story of one particular Compassion Project in a gang-infested community in Brazil. One day the bars from the church windows were stolen and the Pastor complained to the local drug lord. The next day the bars were returned, and the church never had any theft problems again. Even the dangerous criminals respect Compassion, because they know Compassion are providing a future for their children that they themselves cannot through their lives of lawlessness.

The majority of Compassion Project workers are volunteers from the partner church. They are generally skilled in the area they work, whether it be teaching the children, in the kitchen, cleaning the facilities, or dealing with the finances. Many of them are desperately poor themselves, but believe enough in Compassion’s ministry that they sacrifice a better job or opportunity somewhere else in order to serve God by caring for the children and families. This never ceases to amaze and inspire me, and I always make a point of encouraging and praying for the Project workers when I visit a Project.

Another testament to the amazing-ness of the Compassion Projects is the number I’ve been to where I’ve met young people who have graduated from the Child Sponsorship Program, but have returned to their Project in order to help or teach. They clearly recognise what a gift of God these places are, and rather than moving on with their lives and consigning their time at the Project to their distant past, they choose to come back and provide living examples of the effectiveness of Compassion and the grace of God to the children at the Project. What they are saying through their presence is “You might be poor now, but there is Hope. Look at me, I was once in your position, but through Compassion God has released me and given me a purpose. He can do the same for you.”

If you were to visit a Compassion Project, this is what you will experience:
* Kids. There might be heaps or there might be a few, depending on if it’s an activity day. Either way they will be joyous, they will be curious, they will be animated and they will LOVE that you are there. Even better if you love to sing and play games, and you don’t let the language barrier get in the way of having a great time.

* You will be taken on a tour of the Project. Without fail, there are no hidden or secret places at a Compassion Project. Their transparency and willingness to answer any questions continues to amaze.

* You will see cabinets stacked with child records, and invited to browse. Every single little detail about every child is meticulously recorded: medical, educational, home situation, letters and gifts from sponsors, hopes and dreams for the future. Every dollar spent is audited at three levels. Massive integrity.

* You will receive words of profound gratitude and thankfulness that just might make you cry. Until we have been to a Compassion Project and actually talked to the children and Project workers, we have no idea what our relatively insignificant dollar amount and letters that we might send out of a sense of duty, mean to those on the receiving end. For so many families, the care of Compassion and the church is literally the difference between life and death.

* You will get a “dinner and a show” (will probably be lunch). Compassion Projects get incredibly excited when they know visitors are coming, and put so much effort into making visitors feel welcome. It is always so humbling to receive the generosity and love of the poor. They will put on a feast of delicious food for you, and feed you until you “can’t stands no more”.

* You may be invited (or “encouraged”) to get up and perform something yourself (so be prepared). Fortunately I am no shrinking violet in front of a crowd, so I happily grabbed any opportunity I got to sing, play badly-out-of-tune guitars, get on the drums, teach crazy action-songs or teach them a bit about Australia.

I have had songs, dances, banners, balloons, Powerpoint slideshows and even incredibly talented bands of teenagers play in my honour, all because I made the simple decision to go and visit.
I have been given little handmade cards and gifts made with pure love by kids I didn’t even know.
I have had children pray for me and ask to lay their hand on my head as they did so.
I have had little children learn a few words of English just so they could greet me in person with a little speech.

The act of sponsoring a child and visiting a Project. The love and hospitality of the people at the Compassion Project. These are both responses to the extravagant and lavish Love of God. Unearned and undeserved but given anyway, with nothing expected in return, in terms of repaying that love.

Compassion Projects = Love, Joy, Faith, Hope, Sacrifice, Generosity, Hospitality, Safety, Music, Dancing, Playing, KIDS FREE TO BE KIDS!


  1. Excellent blog, David!! So very inspirational!!!

  2. I love this blog post!! I feel very blessed and comforted knowing that my two sponsored children are in places like this. Blessings to the Student Project workers too!

  3. I really enjoyed this post!! It's so neat to get a picture into what Compassion projects are like!!