It is hard to believe that a month ago, today, we were stepping off the airplane into a country that has been on my heart for many years. When I was a young boy, I remember meeting some missionaries from Haiti at church. I don’t remember much about their presentation or what exactly they were doing. All I remember is they were helping children and families, and God helped me to understand there was a huge need. Of course, I could not comprehend everything at a young age, but that was when God placed this country on my heart. My grandparents also began sponsoring children in Haiti, and I was always interested in how that worked. I would often ask my grandma about her child, and she often referred to him as her son, which I thought was great. So, as God began to prompt me to sponsor a child through Compassion International in January 2002, I immediately searched for a child from Haiti.
When I started sponsoring her, I was only 19 years old. I was a college freshmen with an incredibly part-time job on campus. How was I going to afford this monthly cost of sponsorship? Nonetheless, I felt God urging me to do it. There were times when it was hard to come up with the money. I even think there were a few payments I could not make on time. Through it all, though, God provided. My sponsored child was only four when I started. She was a cute little girl that needed my help. Wow… God really wanted me to make a difference in someone’s life. Now, almost 13 years later, just after her 16th birthday, my wife and I were in her country and preparing to meet her for the first time.
Initially, I was not happy that we had to wait until the end of the week to see her. Fortunately, I began to understand why that was the plan. We had so much more to see and experience before seeing her. We needed to learn more about Compassion and see what they were doing in several communities. Not to mention, if we were to see her the first day, the rest of our trip would have been awful, because we would have been so focused on how we wanted to be with her again. It was nice to spend a few days getting an orientation of the ministry and the community before we met her.
Once the day came, we were incredibly nervous. We hardly slept the night before, due to our anxiety. So, after a long night of tossing and turning, we headed over to breakfast, eagerly awaiting the moment when they would tell us it was time. We all gathered near the lobby area of the hotel, as we saw them piling in earlier than expected. “Oh my gosh,” we thought, “She is actually here.” The Compassion staff did an excellent job of pairing up each child with an interpreter before bringing the children to us. We were told they would call us one at a time. The first name was called, and we got to see them meet. It was beautiful, and my wife began to cry, stating that she would not be able to watch them all. Fortunate for her, our names were next on the list.
We practically ran to her. We didn’t even say hello. My wife immediately put her arms out and embraced her. We started to get teary, and I followed with my own hug. She was real. We had all these letters and photos from a girl, who lived so many miles away, but now we could see each other. We spent the rest of the day walking along the beach, talking, making jewelry, swimming, eating lunch, and giving her the many gifts we brought. Early on, I expressed an apology for not writing her that much in the early days. She said she thought it was good enough, and she did not think negatively about it at all. Nonetheless, I still wanted to let her know that I know I should have done more, but I also told her that she will be hearing more from me in the future.
Throughout the day, it was so great to see her experiencing many things for the first time. She had not been to the beach very much, so she really liked walking along the water. She really liked making jewelry with my wife. I mostly just sat and talked, since that was not really my thing. I did, however, eventually figure out how to put a bracelet together. Then, we swam in the hotel pool. This was her first time in a pool, and it was so great to see how excited she was. We eventually moved over to the ocean, and she loved sitting near the edge, letting the waves toss her around. At one point, we heard her say in English, “I love you.” Our hearts melted immediately. When we left the beach, we saw a crab, which actually scared her a bit. I really wish I would have gotten her reaction on camera. Lunch was also great, because I don’t think she had ever been told to fill her plate with whatever she wanted from a buffet.
During our talks, we were very impressed with several things. She told us that she wants to attend college and become an engineer. Knowing that many American teens often choose engineering without a good reason (my opinion), we asked her what she wants to do with that education. She stated that she wants to make better homes in Haiti. How cool is that? Later, she stated that one of the things she does in her free time is to study. She knows her education is very important to achieving her goals. She also spoke about how she often fills the role of a host or primary up-front leader at her church’s programs. As sponsors, wecould not be more proud! She is so wise, and she is going to do so many great things for her family, community, and country.
After lunch, we presented our gifts. Initially, we showed her a couple towels and water bottles that we had in a grocery bag. She thought that was it, and immediately thanked us. We quickly told her that was only the beginning. We went through the backpack, showing her the school supplies, soaps, toothbrushes, stuffed animal, bed sheet, and everything else we had put in there. Finally, we gave her the Haitian Bible. I told her this was the most important gift, and she instantly stood up and came over to embrace us and thank us. This was a great moment. She was so grateful for everything, but she was especially thankful for the Bible. Due to everything happening so fast, I forgot to ask her if she already had one. But based on her reaction, I can only assume she did not.
Unfortunately, the time passed quickly after that, and we were soon taking our last photos and saying goodbye. As she and staff worker, who came with her, sat in the bus waiting for the rest of the children to board, we stood by waving and doing silly things to make her laugh. It is incredible how fast we bonded, and it was sad to see her go. In fact, as my wife and I sat in our room later that evening, we shared a similar feeling of missing her. To some, it may sound odd, but this girl, who we only knew from photos and letters, was now a real person in our lives. We now have this shared experience of a day spent together that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. We cannot thank Compassion International enough for giving us this opportunity. We are also extremely thankful for those who helped us through finances and prayers. We hope to visit her again one day, but even if that never happens, we are very grateful for this one day that has changed our lives!