The next thing we did was join the kids in their classrooms where they were drawing pictures to go with the Bible story they'd just heard. I sat down in the small chairs to talk and color with them. These kids ranged in age from 6-8 and I was immediately impressed with their perfect cursive handwriting. I've homeschooled my children for years and these kids wrote better than my own! The kids and I took turns exchanging names, discussing colors and names of colors in English and Spanish, and writing their names in cursive, print and my speciality: bubble letters. One little girl wrote that she was feeling hungry on her paper and I wondered how much food, if any, she'd had that day. We talked about what kinds of foods we each liked. They'd never heard of pizza, but they did know french fries. Little Maria shook her head no at the mention of french fries, saying that she likes to eat only healthy food. About an hour later I was thrilled to help serve the children a hot nutritious lunch of roasted chicken, rice, and peas and carrots.
While the children were eating in their classrooms, we embarked on home visits to some of the families in the project area. Leann, Carrie and I visited a family with four children. They had one of the larger homes in the area. They'd lived there 22 years and it started out as one room with no electricity, which they added on to. Now it had 4 rooms, cement walls and floors and some exposed electrical wiring. I was surprised by how willingly they gave us a tour when we inquired how many rooms it had. They shooed the chickens out of the kitchen and happily gave us a tour. It had a stove, a kitchen table and chairs, a few extra chairs, a desk and beds. It was humble by our standards, but clean. She did not seem embarrassed at all by her extremely modest home - something I would find echoed by everyone I met that weekend. Over and over again I'd be told, "Whenever you come to Ecuador, my home is your home and you are welcome here." For them hospitality is a state of mind and heart, not a state of home or menu.
Hum... I think of all the times I didn't invite someone over, or offer a tour of my home, because it was messy or I felt my home was lacking in size or presentation.
Two of the family's older children who were Compassion-sponsored showed us their prized possessions: the notebooks they kept ALL the correspondence and pictures they'd ever received from their sponsor families. It still chokes me up thinking about how much they treasured this. I thought, if only the sponsoring families could know how much their letters and photos mean to these kids! They had both created scrap books to display them in.
The boy's sponsors were a family from California who would take pictures of the family for him whenever they went on vacation. So as they saw the world, so to speak, so did he. They also sent pictures of the their pets and wrote him frequent letters. I noticed they had sent him a page of stickers, which remained in tact in his notebook. I wondered if he didn't know they were stickers but he said yes he knew, he just wanted to save them rather than waste them by using them. This was probably a nickel's worth of stickers from Walmart. When asked what he wanted to do when he grows up, he told us he wanted to be an engineer ... while looking through the notebook we learned the father in his sponsor family is an engineer. What an impact.
I prayed over the family before we left. Tears fell continually and uncontrollably from the corners of my closed eyes as I spoke. Visiting them was not at all depressing, though they were economically depressed. My time with them was moving and emotional but not depressing because they were so joyful and loving. I learned the mother had been working in the Compassion project at the church, and she and her family were mentored by the staff there. Perhaps that was the source of their joy - they were nurtured and growing in their relationship with Christ. Their smiles, the inside of their home, and those treasured scrapbooks of sponsor letters are seared in my memory forever.
- This is the family with us outside their home: the mother and father on the left with Leann, then Carrie and I in the middle, the two Compassion-sponsored children on the right, and the two youngest front and center looking cute as can be.