“That trip changed me,” I said to Jerry this morning, referring to my recent January 22-28 Mexico Sponsor Tour.
Jerry took a chug-a-lug, gulp, snort of coffee from his gargantuan Mickey cup he bought at Disneyland.
Silence took hold of the moment. Then Jerry said, “I know. I see the change in you.”
I slurped my Irish Breakfast tea loudly (ok, Jerry didn’t snort and I didn’t slurp loudly, but I want to make sure you’re paying attention and you might nod off if I don’t add drama once in a while). But I did have Irish Breakfast tea and I did take a dainty sip before I asked, “In what way do you notice that I’ve changed?”
“The trip opened your eyes of what we’re here for. Your focus has shifted. You’re no longer obsessed with getting out of here.” (Note to my neighbors reading this: I was only obsessed with getting out of the blistering desert heat in the summer.)
Jerry added, “You’re enthused about what the life of a Christian can be.”
The Mexico Sponsor Tour evolved over a ten-year period. In 2006, a good friend named Nancy inspired me to have a heart for the poor. Nancy is on oxygen. Wherever she goes, she lugs an oxygen tank with her. She has continuous health issues; sometimes very serious surgeries are required.
Nancy didn’t sit around worrying about herself and her condition or even allow it to throw an obstacle in her path. Nancy had, and has to this day, a ministry to the homeless. She collected whatever donations she could to give to the homeless. She opened up her Taco Time ministry in Redmond, Washington, sitting at a table at the fast food restaurant ministering to the homeless; listening to their needs; buying them lunch; sharing her love and God’s love for them.
I thought to myself. Here I am with no oxygen tank to tote around, no medications needed to keep me alive, no doctors to see weekly. Yet, how am I helping the poor?
Sometime later, I was checking out upcoming events on the Beth Moore website when I noticed the Compassion International ad on Beth’s web page. Clicking on it, I discovered I could help a child living in poverty. Compassion’s site asked me to type in a preferred country, gender, and age.
I thought back to my high school days and the time my Spanish Club took an excursion to Tecate, Mexico. Our club handed out used clothing and toys, such as tattered jeans and beat up dolls with no clothes and matted hair. The Mexican people expressed such gratitude to us for these items.
With that in mind, I typed in Mexico-boy-age four. Numerous photos of four-year-old boys popped onto the page. One little boy looked especially sad. I couldn’t resist his pouty little face and I signed up to be the sponsor for Jose Manuel Lopez Barrios (he goes by Manuel) and made a commitment to pay $38 a month for his care.
Soon letters arrived from Manuel’s mother, Alma Rosa. She wrote to me until Manuel could write to me on his own. Manuel’s uncle wrote to me, thanking me for sponsoring his nephew. His pastor wrote and thanked me also.
I sent $25 for Manuel’s 5th birthday and Alma Rosa sent me a thank you letter in her beautifully inscribed Spanish (Compassion translates the letters into English, but sends the original letter as well). I read the Spanish version of her thank you letter to gauge how much of the Spanish I could still remember after studying it in school years ago. I understood immediately the part that thanked me for the “pantalones” for her son. What? You mean he gets clothes for his birthday? Not Legos? My American mind-set was not yet attuned to the extreme poverty Manuel and his family lived with. I only knew that Jerry or our son would not ask for clothing for their birthday. Birthdays, in our American minds, are for fun items rather than basic necessities.
One day I received a letter from Manuel, written in pencil in his own child scrawl. He included a Crayon drawing made especially for me. From that point on, our relationship began to grow.
Last year, a brochure came in the mail inviting me to go on a sponsor tour and meet Manuel in person. By this time, Manuel had taken on a huge importance in my life and I wanted to go see him. But I hesitated due to my anxiety of flying, all the news reports of drug wars in Mexico, and the unknown of the whole trip. I made a deal with myself, which I often do, that if Jodee (my sister) would go with me, I would go. I asked Jodee if she wanted to go and her reply to me went like this: she gave me a huge grin and said, “I’m there!”
I’m glad. Because meeting Manuel, now age 12, was one of the happiest moments of my life. It was like the TV shows you see where an adopted child who has grown up and wants to find the biological parent and finally they find each other, happiness reigns as they hug, and your heart melts to mush. That’s how it was for me.
Manuel and Alma Rosa had traveled from their home in Chiapas, Mexico to meet me in Veracruz. They hopped a bus along with the other children and their families who are sponsored by the dear women in our tour group. The children and their mothers and school project directors rattled along dirt roads and highways for 14-hours in order to get to Veracruz and meet us. Because our sponsored children and families had traveled so far, our tour group didn’t have the opportunity to visit their homes. However, we did visit families who live in similar type homes in villages outside of Veracruz. We were welcomed in 10-foot by 10-foot cinder block or wood/cardboard homes with either cement floors or rocky, dirt floors. We were treated with such graciousness, joy, and warm hospitality. They asked us to sit and prepared chopped fruit and coffee or taught us how to make fresh, homemade tortillas. I had the most fun of my life making my first tortilla.
I’ve been in some grand homes in my life. I remember one, probably 12,000 square feet overlooking Puget Sound, where a butler answered the door and eight grandfather clocks chimed in synchronization every hour. That home with all its beauty and elegance did not hold the joy that I experienced in the dirt-floor homes of these warmhearted people who earn $4 or $5 a day (in the good farming season). They don’t have Sleep Number beds. Instead they sleep on plywood in a room with no appliances or modern conveniences whatsoever. I didn’t see a T.V. or refrigerator or indoor plumbing. Their coffeemaker consists of a black soup pot set on a charred grate that rests on a cinder-block fire pit.
I gave Alma Rosa one of those trendy long necklaces with silver medallions engraved with the words “hope” and “love” and “faith.” Alma Rosa smiled pleasantly and said, “Gracias.” I also gave her a small cosmetic purse filled with the tiny soaps and shampoos from our hotel (it was a last-minute thought). “Ohhhhh, muchas gracias!” she said with a beaming smile and nodding her head, like, “Yes! This is what I wanted!”
It reminded me that what we value in our indulgent American lives has no meaning when living with poverty. We take shampoo and soap for granted. We take the comfort of a shower for granted. Whoever said “The best things in life aren’t things” must have taken a sponsor tour to Mexico where the joy of God’s presence and love surrounded us. You can’t go to Nordstrom and buy that.
I’m changed in many ways and even now I can’t fully process it yet. Jodee called the experience “humbling.”
Helping the poor is a two-way relationship as both the giver and receiver are blessed. Among the gifts I brought for Manuel (such as books, blanket, flashlight, and soccer ball), were five Nature Valley granola bars. His eyes grew wide with excitement and they lit up as he held the granola bars in his hands. He held them up and said, “Ohhhhhhh” as if he held bars of gold. I’ve never seen anyone as excited about anything as Manuel was over the granola bars. I wished I had taken him one-hundred granola bars.
I’m changed because I now have a new path.
To be continued. Stay tuned for Part 2 next week. ♥βω