In January of this year and in preparation for my time in the Dominican Republic this summer, I had contacted Sarah about the possibility of taking a day or two to visit the children that we each sponsor through Compassion International. We had talked about doing this the previous summer and since there is a lot of paperwork and time needed for them to prepare the visit, I thought we should get started early. When I logged into my Compassion account online, I was devastated to find out that my child had left the program and that a visit wouldn’t be possible. A couple weeks went by and I received a letter in the mail regarding my child’s departure from the program and I also received another packet for a different child to sponsor. At first I wasn’t sure that I wanted to sponsor another child but prayed about it, looked through his packet and decided that it was the right thing to do. Angel lives in Santo Domingo and so does Ricardo, the child that Sarah has been sponsoring for 6 years, so maybe it would work out even better to do a visit as my previous child lived closer to Santiago. We went through the entire process of background checks, e-mails about transportation and available dates and eventually settled on July 9 for our visit with both kids.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
So after months of planning, Wednesday, July 9 finally arrived. Sarah, Ali and I woke up early and began our journey to the capital, Santo Domingo, to meet Ricardo and Angel. We had purchased Metro tickets the night before for the 7 a.m. bus to ensure we would arrive on time for our visit and Sairy was gracious enough to drive us to the Metro station at 6:30. We found our bus and were lucky to find seats together at the very back. It was a quiet ride and most people slept the whole two hours. I took some time to read through chapters of Romans and just prepare myself for the day ahead. One scripture that really stood out to me was Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” I was a little nervous about how the day would go but also filled with excitement and hope that this visit would be the first of many to come and a great step in building my relationship with Angel and encouraging him in his walk with Christ.
The bus ride went smoothly and once we arrived in Santo Domingo, we were greeted by Alejandro, the owner of the bus company Sarah uses and also our driver for the day. We rented a small guagua (van) as we would be transporting 10 people at one point or another. We made our way to the Compassion office and after a couple phone calls and a little help from people on the streets, we made it. Sarah, Ali and I went inside and we noticed a child and adult sitting right inside the building. As soon as Sarah walked in, you could tell that the young boy recognized her. We went to the front table and were greeted warmly although one of the other things we noted is how cold the building was with air conditioning, something we have not been accustomed to in the past several weeks. We were introduced to our two translators for the day, Marcel and Arandy and then they told us that indeed the two people sitting by the door were Ricardo, the child that Sarah sponsors and his teacher for the next school year. Everyone greeted each other and then we loaded up into the guagua to travel to my child’s Compassion center in a different part of the city. On our way there, Sarah was presented with a beautifully framed picture of Ricardo and his family. Each of the family members was labeled so that Sarah would be easily able to identify everyone. We made some small talk on the way but found that Ricardo was a bit quiet, not too surprising for such a different setting for a child.
We arrived at the church that serves as a Compassion center that Angel attends. A group of people greeted us at the door and I was introduced to Angel. We hugged and then they proceeded to take us inside. The sanctuary was full of car themed decorations as they are currently doing Vacation Bible School this week at the church. Sarah loved the theme and took lots of pictures realizing that all of the decorations were things that could be obtained here in the D.R. After we finished the photo shoot we headed upstairs to where the different classrooms are located. The first thing Sarah and I were able to do was read through our child’s Compassion files. It was interesting to learn about the different forms used to evaluate the children and qualify them to participate in the program. Sarah even asked for blank copies to possibly use some of their ideas with the Pre-School program in Cuesta Arena. While interesting to us, Ricardo and Angel seemed a bit bored by the files so we moved on to just asking simple questions about things that they liked and activities they enjoyed doing. I was able to see Angel’s report card from school this past year and he did a really good job so I encouraged him. He had a little bit of a lower grade in Physical Education, which surprised me because he said he likes to be active. He informed me that the class is mostly running and different exercises they have to do so it was not his favorite. I saw that they have art class but no music and was a bit disappointed. I asked if he could sing for me and he sang a song I think that was called “Estoy Feliz”. Then his tutor at the center walked me through the Compassion curriculum that they use including the five areas they work on: Spiritual, Physical, Social, Emotional, and Mental health.
The boys were pretty quiet still so they asked if we wanted a snack. Angel said yes so we were given a big tray of fruit and some honey to eat to hopefully give them some more energy and encourage them to talk a bit more. While eating, I asked where Angel lived and he said it was very close to the center. It turns out that it was so close that we were able to go visit his home. Before we left, I gave Angel a notebook and A group of us headed out the back door, crossed the street and within a matter of 1-2 minutes, we were there. We walked in and I was introduced to his sister and a friend that was visiting. Then we went into the house and one of the first things that Ali and I noticed was a picture of myself that I had sent in a letter was framed and sitting on the table in the middle of the living room. I was shocked, humbled and totally overwhelmed by emotion. Even though I know that sponsoring Angel was an important thing and very helpful to their family, it was hard for me to comprehend that they would frame my picture and put it on their table without even having met me before. Ali and I were introduced to Mom and Grandma and we sat down to talk for a bit. The roles became reversed a bit at the house because I became the shy and quiet one. Arandy and Ali helped us out by encouraging me and the family to ask each other questions. Abuela was also kind enough to offer us some jugo de limon, one of my favorite things to drink down here. When we were talking, they remembered I had written in my letters about being a music teacher and they decided I should sing. I wasn’t sure what to sing and if they would know it but I chose “Llueve”, a song about God raining over us and being in His presence. They did know the song so I was excited about that and after I finished Arandy said I need to come sing in his church. We didn’t have much time to spend at the house so we took a few pictures with the family, said our goodbyes and made our way back to the center where Sarah, Marcel, and Ricardo were writing a prayer and drawing pictures in the new notebook that Ricardo received. In the time I had been in Santiago leading up to the visit, Sarah and I picked out gifts for our children but struggled with what to buy for the children we’ve never met. You learn some of the things they like and are interested in through their letters but we still weren’t quite sure what they would want so we kept it simple: hygene items, school supplies, games, and balls (baseball, kickball, marbles, etc.).
Once Ricardo was finished drawing his future house in the notebook, we asked the boys what they wanted for lunch. Marcel gave them several options and luckily they both agreed on pizza. Everyone got into the guagua and we headed for a big mall that was close to the center. When we arrived and walked to the food court, the next big decision was to decide where to get pizza because there were three places to choose from. We ended up picking Palaza Pizza and ordered two 24-slice pizzas and a couple of 2-liter sodas. It took a while for the pizza to be ready so we put together a big table and had some more time to talk and hang out. When the pizza came, Sarah and I took pictures with the boys pretending like we had each ordered one of the pizzas and then we prayed and ate. I don’t know exactly how many pieces Ricardo had but I know that Angel ate more than anybody else and we were all wondering where it went. One thing has grandmother had said was that he liked to eat and he definitely proved her right! We took our time eating and talking and then decided to walk around the mall looking for activities for the boys. We found a few kid rides that the boys enjoyed and then took some time looking at an aquarium they had by one of the escalators. Most of the activities in the mall were for younger kids so when we were trying to figure out what to do, we asked if they wanted ice cream. We weren’t sure if they had room but the answer was a resounding yes. We looked at the different options and then decided on Bon. Once the boys looked at all of their options they both decided to get the same thing…Bubble Gum ice cream with a pineapple sauce on top. Not my first choice but they both seemed to like it a lot and had blue mouths afterward to prove it.
After everyone had finished their ice cream, it was time to leave and for Sarah to say goodbye to Ricardo. She gave him his backpack of gifts and took some time privately before we headed back to Angel’s center. While the rest of us were waiting in the guagua, I took the opportunity to play a few games with Angel in the car. He knew rock, paper, scissors and so we played that for a while. Then I taught Angel the “yellow” game. The rules are that when you see a yellow car, you say “yellow” if you are a Spanish speaker or “amarillo” if you are an English speaker and then you get to hit the person sitting next to you in the car. This is a game that the mission teams and the boys in the pastor’s family love playing to help pass the time on long car rides so I thought it would help give us something to do while we were waiting. At first I helped Angel out, pointing at the cars to give him a head start but after Ali said he needed to punch me harder about 3 times, he didn’t need any more help. Sarah returned and we all made our way back to the center, looking for yellow cars along the way. When we got there, Angel, his guide from the center, Arandy and I got out and headed upstairs to give him his gifts and say a final goodbye. The first challenge was walking through the small sanctuary that was packed with kids because the Vacation Bible School was in session. We made our way through the crowd and once upstairs, I gave Angel the rest of his gifts, took some pictures with him and said my final goodbye. I told him I hoped to come back again next summer and to remember that God loves him and so do I. I have to admit that I was surprised at how attached I had become in just one day. I did not want to leave but I knew that we would still be able to write letters, send pictures, and hopefully be able to see each other in the future. We hugged and then headed back through the crowd and out to the guagua. Angel waited by the door and waived goodbye as we pulled away.
Our trip back to the Compassion building was quite eventful because the outskirts of Tropical Storm Chantal had made its way to Santo Domingo and it was raining hard. Since the drainage system is not that great on the roads, streets were beginning to flood and it made our 20 minute trip take about 2 hours. We took that time to talk with the translators and learn more about them and the Compassion program. Our driver Alejandro was patient in finding a way to get us where we needed to go safely. When we arrived at the Compassion building, Sarah went inside quickly to get blank copies of the paperwork she wanted to review to see if she could use it for the Pre-School program. Then we made our way to the Metro station. The first time we did it was 10 minutes, this time it took about 45 minutes. Luckily we made it to the station right before 7 p.m. and were able to get tickets for the bus leaving for Santiago at 7. We got on the bus and found seats close enough to each other and then we were off. During the bus ride, Sarah informed me that a Compassion person from Santo Domingo would be in Santiago on Friday so that if we wanted to send anything back to our children, we would be able to. We talked about printing some pictures from the day and framing them, other gifts that they might like, and reflecting upon how glad we were that we went to visit them. I kept thinking back to the scripture verse I had written in my note to Angel in his notebook from Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I pray that Angel will truly believe that and seek God’s will for his life and I would encourage anyone else that sponsors a child to take a trip and visit them, it will change your life.