Ana Cristina was my first sponsored child from Brazil. She is one of six kids, and her mother was 13 when she had her oldest son. The family has endured a couple of shocking years, involving drugs, murder and revenge killings, resulting in them being on the run. If it wasn’t for a wonderful Project worker called Victor, who went and picked Ana Cristina up when she lived far from the Project, we would no longer be connected.
When I visited last year, I did not get to visit her home or family. I did not receive a letter from Ana Cristina this year, and I made a special request on this trip to visit the home and meet her parents. I have visited 31 of my sponsored children in 12 countries, and have seen some things that have wrecked my heart and spirit. Real life. Investing myself in these families so much comes at a cost, but I know it’s what God wants me to do. It’s slowly shaping the person He wants me to become.
So we headed out to Projeto Sementinhas (Little Seeds Project). There was small group of maybe 15 kids there at the time, but none of my three. So I introduced myself, taught them about Australia, we sang some songs, played some games. I also got the footy out, but with this group the soccer ball won the day. So we played some soccer. They didn’t have an outdoor play area at the Project, but Pastor Josue lives across the road, so they go round to his backyard to burn off their energy.
I often get asked by the kids if I know how to play soccer, and I always reply that I am a defender: I can get the ball off someone, but once I have the ball, I’m not very good. So I stayed in goals. It didn’t matter that these kids were only ten years old. They were Brazilian, and I was determined to beat them! I basically covered the small kid-sized goals, and only conceded one.
Pretty soon we were stuffed, because it was a very warm day, so we went back to the Project. One things I was looking forward to seeing was the church. When I visited last year, was being rebuilt. It had three walls and no roof, and was basically a construction zone.
The progress they made in one year was magnificent, and it was all from the tithes and offerings of the church people. God has a habit of taking “five loaves and two fish” (ie not very much), and turning it into food for thousands. He’s good like that.
Then it was time to visit Ana Cristina. Fair to say I was apprehensive. I breathed a prayer and away we went. To get there, we walked down a narrow rocky path, next to a stream of sewage. I tried to imagine living here with no other options or no way out. We came to her house, which was very well secured, and met mum and dad. I was greeted quietly and cautiously.
I was very keen to know more about the family situation over the last couple of years, and particularly the last 12 months, since I had received no letters. Mama didn’t want to give anything away, so I didn’t push it. I explained to them both how important and special Ana Cristina is to me, and how I was able to share about some of her life with the Grade 5 and 6 students at my school last year, to give them a picture of how many kids their age live around the world.
I think they must have gradually grown slightly more comfortable with me, because they started opening up. We took a look through the house and ended up in the backyard, joined by various other curious relatives and neighbours. A couple of shirtless little boys, maybe five years old, started play fighting. One of them started to do aggressive karate moves in my direction (with a playfully malevolent smile on his face).
I found out that they had moved back to this house about five months ago. Eleven people share this three-room, 1-bedroom house, with a fence that is laced with the jagged edges of broken bottles. The rest sleep on hammocks. They had been renting a house in a slightly safer area further away, but Papa’s building work dried up, so they could no longer afford to rent, and had to come back. The house belongs to Ana Cristina’s grandmother.
Currently, neither parent works. They receive help from Compassion, where Ana Cristina and her younger sister are sponsored, and also a government assistance program, from which they receive maybe 50 reals a week ($25). There is a marshland over the back fence that floods when it rains, and contaminates the water
There are only three occupied houses in their street. The rest moved away because it is too violent and dangerous. Gunshots are regularly heard. They cannot leave the kids alone in the house, or leave the house after 7pm, because it is simply too dangerous. Their oldest son, who is 20, fell in love with a 14-year-old girl, and they have a baby together. They also live in an area which is more dangerous than the one we
The extent of their dreams for their children are to be able to move to live in a different, safer area. This was survival and existence at it’s most raw. I was staggered and stunned at what I was hearing, and yet I was still on my feet. Right now there was no happy ending with a bow and a cherry on top.
Unfortunately there is no quick fix for poverty; no miracle cure. Even as much as I love Compassion, I have never said that it’s an instant solution to all life’s problems. The Project workers come alongside the family, and offer support for the children and their parents. It’s a long term process.
This was the reality for my precious Ana Cristina. And yet, when I asked her if she was worried about anything, or what she was afraid of, she shrugged and said “nothing.” She could have been bluffing, but I got the sense that she has a quiet confidence in the protection of her parents, despite their inability to provide materially for her, and also in the Compassion staff. She has been shown enough love over her time at the Project to be secure in the fact that God loves her, no matter what else happens in her life.
I gave some gifts, which were received with quiet gratitude. I thanked Mama and Papa for their honesty and trust in sharing their lives with me, and I left Ana Cristina with these words: “As much as I love you, God loves you SO much more. He created you the way you are. Please always trust Him to protect you and provide for your needs.” I was then able to pray for the family: provision of jobs, protection, safety, first and foremost.
As we walked back up the rocky path, past the sewage stream, a thousand things were going through my head, and yet I was composed. Halfway through lunch, the reality and the tragedy of what I just witnessed hit me so hard. I excused myself, went outside and cried out to God. I can’t even remember what was said, but I was just shellshocked. I begged and pleaded for Him to intercede on behalf of that family and my precious girl. God had to remind me of my own words to Ana Cristina: “They’re mine. I love them so much more than you do. Trust me.”
After lunch we went to visit Jessica. She has a mum, an older sister and a baby brother. The conversation was pleasant, and once again we were joined by a bunch of assorted relatives. Jessica’s mum is able to work from home, making and selling clothing. Jessica is a happy girl with a beautiful smile, but was also very shy, and basically spoke when spoken to. We managed to drag a half-decent conversation out of her. Of the gifts, she was quite taken by the Where’s Wally book, and wanted to start finding things in the book straight away.
Christian is my third sponsored child from BR-458, and unfortunately we were unable to visit his house today. I learned that his stepfather had decided to rough up his mother and did some damage, and so his mum was embarrassed or ashamed to have visitors in the house. Christian is a bright young fella who LOVES his Bible. He said he has three of them in his house! Out of all my sponsored kids he also loves the Australian football the most, and loves saying “footy”. I got him his own soft footy to keep.
After visiting Jessica, we went back to the Project, where we met the afternoon group of children. The procedure was basically the same: Introduce myself, sing songs, play games, kids laugh at me, then eat. I received my fourth cake in five days. Then it was time to go.
An interesting aspect of this day was my driver. Compassion had hired an eight-seater taxi for the day, and the driver was an animated older gent who spoke a bit of English. My translator Anderson started explaining to him about Compassion and he was very interested. It turned out this was his second job driving on a sponsor visit, and a Project Facilitator goes to his church. I loved his enthusiasm. He was joining in the songs, interacting with the kids, and he even said later he was impacted by the emotion of the visit to Ana Cristina’s house. Looks like Compassion has another advocate! :)
I strove to come up with a snappy, eloquent conclusion that would brilliantly sum up the complexity of all I witnessed today, but I was unable to, so I’ll settle with this:
I know I’m like a broken record, but today only confirmed to me the vital role that Compassion, the church and sponsors play in the lives of children and families in poverty. We are literally the difference between life and death. Apart from receiving food, clean water, medical assistance and education help, the children also receive Life and Hope for both this life and the next, through the love of a sponsor and the opportunity to have a relationship with God the Creator of the universe. LOVE IT! J