Friday, September 30, 2016

Brazil Compassion Adventure - The Big Birthday Bash!

Brazil Compassion Adventure blog series
Intro & Visit Day #1 (BR417)
Visit Day #2 (BR453)
Visit Day #3 Part 1 (BR110)
Visit Day #3 Part 2 (BR329)

Visit Day #4 (BR458)

Several years ago I read about the then-owners of Gloria Jeans Coffee throwing a huge party for their 250 Compassion sponsored kids in Brazil at a waterpark.

Trying to imagine what an incredible heavenly day of fun and joy that must have been, I was inspired to do something similar (on a smaller scale) when I visited my ten kids in Fortaleza in September 2012. I took all ten kids plus as many relatives as were able to come, to a special park which had a swimming pool, soccer oval, animals, horse rides. After stepping into their lives and seeing a glimpse of the challenges they face every day, it really was a profound experience to give them a day of just being able to be kids, even for a short time.

When I went back one year later, I decided to repeat the dose. I hired a jumping castle, trampoline and cotton candy machine and had a big party at Project BR-329. It was a day of deep glorious joy, fun and excitement.

I wanted to do the same thing for this trip but was unable to have it at a Project, so it was arranged to take the kids, parents and Project workers to a place called Velas do Cumbuco Restaurant. Similar set-up: right on the beach, playground, swimming pool etc.

My main concern in the morning was whether Cristina was going to be there. Yes I was obsessing, but I just really wanted to see her since I wasn’t sure when I would be coming back to Brazil. I had many people praying and God came through with the goods, as she turned up with her mother and sister right at the start of the day. I asked her how she was feeling and she was honest and gave the little universal shrug that means ‘so-so’ or ‘meh.’ This was understandable given the circumstances of the past few days.

The little ones from BR-417 arrived nice and early and were keen to get into the pool straight away. The biggest challenge on a day like this is making sure you try to spend time with everyone. I started off in the pool, throwing a ball around with Jasmiel and Christian.

In 2012 I had made the mistake of not wearing a hat, and my head was a nice shade of pink within a couple of hours. I did not allow history to repeat itself on this day. After a while I got the footy out and played with Jessica and Cristina from BR458, as well as Cristina’s younger (but taller) sister.

Soon after I sat down with Cristina and her sister, showed them some photos and had a chat. On my previous two visits she had hardly said a word, so I was really hoping she’d open up a bit more. Thankfully she did, responding well to my questions and asking questions of her own, particularly when I got out the page of pictures I call the “Sharon page” (my girlfriend). She soon relaxed, and laughing and smiling came easily to her. It was so good to see her enjoying herself.

Lunchtime came around quickly and we all gathered together under the shade and enjoyed a delicious meal.

There was a little playground with bridges, trampolines and ladders which cost extra, but I could see the younger ones were itching to have a go, so I agreed to give them a ticket each to have a turn.  

Next up I got back in the pool, joined by a few of the kids. I had brought some tennis balls as well as the little red Australian football, and they flew back and forth as we splashed and played and just had a great time. The little ones hovered around the outside of the pool, holding on to the edges. They’d swim as far as they could toward me and my translator Davi before flailing around and waiting for us to catch them. It was a good trust exercise, and they showed they trusted us completely.

One highlight from this day was Cristina’s mum. 24 hours earlier I had sat with her in her house, trying to engage in meaningful conversation and talking about her daughter’s potentially serious health issues. Today she was a different woman, and the transformation was incredible! She was the only parent to get in the pool, and the joy that emanated from her as we played and threw a ball around was amazing to experience.  

After I had exhausted my nearly-35-year-old energy I got out and dried off. Pretty soon we were being summoned for cake and farewells, which came much too quickly. I had thought long and hard about what I wanted to say, since I couldn’t take it for granted that I would ever see them again. I made sure I included both kids and parents in my speech. I thanked them for coming and for having me in their homes. I made sure they knew why I was there – that I was motivated purely by the love of God. It wasn’t because I was a good person or I was doing a nice thing. It was so much more than that; it was about giving them a taste of the love of God – relentless, extravagant and life transforming.

A couple of the groups had to rush off, including Cristina’s, so I didn’t get the time with her at the end that I had hoped for. Her sponsor Cathy had sent along some gifts, including a beautiful necklace and earrings.

Being able to pray with her in person was a holy and profound experience. This girl had already been through so much with her health and family situation. I had watched on helplessly much of the time, but today I was able to lift her up to the only One who is able to do anything to change her circumstances. I prayed with confidence for healing, protection, strength and comfort.

I gave out some gifts, took some last photos and all of a sudden the whirlwind week was over. I had received such extravagant love, generosity and kindness from these people. Honest and hard questions were answered graciously. My heart had been pushed, pulled, stretched, broken and filled up again in such a short space of time, but God was always with me, strengthening and protecting.

Having stepped into poverty in twelve countries with Compassion in recent years, I have developed a tendency to let the hard stuff overwhelm me; I take life very seriously and I often have trouble relaxing and enjoying myself. I made a conscious decision on this trip to embrace the joyous moments (and there were plenty!). I didn’t ignore or shut myself off from the hard realities but I just didn’t let it overwhelm me.  

Everything that happened this week was because of, and for, Jesus. He is the source of all the Love, Joy, Life and Hope that was experienced. He is the only One who can transform lives and turn the hard stuff that I saw into something good.

Thank you Compassion. Thank You Jesus.