Hunger. Violence. Drugs. Robberies. Gangs.
This was the childhood community Liz recalls growing up in at only six years old.
As a little girl on her way to school, she would often have to walk past a street commonly known as “Smoke Alley” because of the grey, eye-watering haze that surrounded the area. The narrow alleyway was filled with gangs trying to sell drugs to those walking by.
Terrified, she would do everything in her power to never meet their eyes.
“It was extremely dangerous,” she says.
Liz grew up in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Peru. Although both her parents worked long hard hours to provide for her and her three sisters, it still wasn’t enough. As her dad battled with alcoholism, her family slowly plunged deeper into financial despair.
Amidst the poverty and fear, she and her sisters found ways to bring joy to their everyday lives. Liz remembers them tying balloons around an empty room in their small home and dancing around as if they were having a big party. For just a few moments the iron sheet roof over their heads and the unfinished walls around them would momentarily fade into the background as they played and laughed.
A new beginning
One special day, her aunt mentioned that her church was opening a Compassion centre. Filled with hope, her parents quickly registered her so that she could have more opportunities than what her current surroundings had to offer.
Soon, she found out that a woman named Rebecca had sponsored her. With much excitement, Liz told everyone who would listen!
“You do not know how happy a child is when receiving letters from a person they do not even know, but feel close to,” Liz says.
For the first time in her life, she was also surrounded by pastors and leaders who poured into her life and invested in her.
But even out of all those amazing experiences, when Liz looks back on what she sees as her most prized possession from her time as a sponsored child, she says it was “knowing Jesus and what He has done for me.”
Her sponsor’s letters were filled with Bible verses and constant encouragement to seek God in the Scriptures. Combined with the programs her centre offered, Liz encountered Jesus and decided to follow Him.
After finishing the Compassion program at 18, Liz then went on to become the first in her family to graduate from university and began working as an academic coach at a well-known English language institute in Lima.
Now, Liz leads a group of teenagers at her church, “sharing God’s Word with them as my sponsor did with me.” Her desire is that they will know there is someone who hears them, sees them and protects them, in Jesus.
“My sponsor did not know me, but she loved me, and that love paid off,” says Liz.
Liz’s last letter:
It has been almost 15 years since we exchanged our last letters. And I was thinking how my entire life has changed because of a decision you made all those years ago. I am not sure if you really knew how much it meant to me, my family and the church where I belong to. To me, my family and my church community, it was a life-changing experience.
I was six or seven years old when I found out my sponsor had chosen me. It was exciting because we usually had to wait for weeks, sometimes months. My family and I were glad about the news. I remember telling everyone, “I have a sponsor!” Something that brings beautiful memories of that time is when I received my first letter. You told me that you saw something special in my face. I felt loved. That is something I will keep for the rest of my life.
At that time, my family was facing poverty and my dad was struggling with alcoholism. So, receiving my sponsor’s letters was something that mattered for me. But most important was knowing Jesus and what He has done for me. We knew that we would have access to food, school supplies like notebooks and pencils so I could go to school. We also had access to clothing, blankets. But there were some things we did not expect. Like how much your letters and the verses you shared with me would change my perspective and would strengthen my identity in Jesus Christ. Building strong relationships with people that are still my friends to this day, like my tutors and the always cheerful cooking staff.
I thought you may not have known, so I wanted to tell you: if only you knew your prayers made a difference. The verses you shared with me in every letter gave me hope. They brought happiness when I was in sadness. If only you knew how these words changed my life; how I shared my birthday gift from you with the rest of my family. How I shared the stickers and envelopes you sent me with my friends in church. If only you knew how Jesus saved us and saved my dad. Your sponsorship was worthwhile: the experiences you shared with me, all the pictures you sent. If only you knew I wanted to be like you—to praise Jesus like you and to honor Him with my life as you did. If only you knew you were a role model for me. Sponsorship changed who I am today. I am the team leader of a group of teens in my church. I want to inspire them and share God’s Word with them as you did with me. I want them to feel and see that there is someone for them—to hear them, to see them, to protect them, to love them—in Jesus.
That is how I can repay all that was once done for me.
When you sponsor a child, you’re creating a space for them to encounter Jesus and share His good news with their families and community.