Compassion Canada’s board of directors is made up of an incredible group of leaders who give their time to serve in the important role of directing and protecting our organization. They recently had the opportunity to visit Colombia on their first trip as a board in more than three years. Compassion Canada board member Dr. Marie Geschwandtner, who also sits on the Compassion International board of directors, spent some time with us to reflect on the trip and the reminders of just how impactful Compassion’s ministry is.
Written by Marie Geschwandtner, with Alyssa Esparaz
“I am the woman I am today because of this place.”
These were the words of a young woman who was part of one of the facilitated discussion groups I was a part of while in Colombia as a Compassion board member this past February. They’re words that will stick with me for a long time.
It’s wonderful and heartwarming to see the really young children in the Compassion program. But to see them 10 or 15 years down the road when they’re just about to launch is to see the fruit of the labour. These are young people who had an opportunity to dream. They had an opportunity to have a vision for their life. They understand that their lives have meaning. Today, they know that they are important, they are somebody and they have something to offer to the world.
Compassion Canada board: A life-impacting journey
I was invited to join the Compassion Canada board of directors over 20 years ago. When you’re on the board or leadership team of an organization, you get a chance to see behind the scenes of what makes that organization work. Sometimes, it’s different from what you thought you’d see. But that wasn’t the case at all with Compassion. I got to see and know an organization that operates with humble integrity, open hearts and smart stewardship. Through this profound and life-impacting Compassion journey, the Lord has grown my heart and my love for our neighbours experiencing poverty around the world.
Additionally, almost three years ago, I was voted onto the Compassion International board of directors, as a member from a Compassion Global Partner Alliance (GPA) country. That has been another exciting journey and learning experience!
As part of these two director positions I hold in the global Compassion community, it was wonderful to get back to the field this past February. It’s a lot of work to get the whole board to a field country, but it is so worth it to renew relationships and our sense of calling as directors and reconnect with the impact of our programs.
Consistent impact through crisis
Throughout this trip, the stories we heard and the churches and homes we visited reminded me of pre-pandemic trips in many ways. The impact of Compassion’s ministry remains consistent. But there were also things that were different because so much has changed in our world. The pandemic hit people living in poverty hard.
We heard stories about what happened, how they managed, how they’re thriving and surviving now. And we heard how important the Compassion centres and staff are to them. Although the classes at the Compassion centre were not able to carry on during the pandemic, the Compassion centre staff continued to show up. They provided practical help through home visits, food baskets, hygiene packs, cash gifts and more—which made such a difference.
It reminded me of the strength of Compassion’s program model. Having feet on the ground in the form of local church partners is unique and very different from many other organizations, but that’s what makes it work. We are working hand in hand with our brothers and sisters on the ground at a local and national level, and that is so important.
Launching kids and communities out of poverty
I’m always looking to learn something new when I visit Compassion’s programs. One of the most significant things for me on this trip was learning about how Compassion youth as well as our church partners transition out of the Compassion program.
It was interesting yet somewhat difficult to understand at first. However, I soon began to see just how exciting and powerful this is.
In Colombia, particularly in three of the bigger cities—Bogota, Medellin and Cali—some Compassion church partners are now transitioning out of the Compassion program after many years of partnership. The reason why is exciting and encouraging. It’s because they are now able to take care of the children in their neighbourhoods on their own! This enables Compassion to go and establish new partnerships in even poorer areas.
This came to life in the facilitated discussion group.
We did an exercise where we each had to write down one word that describes us. One young 18-year-old woman said, “Resilient.” She went on to explain, sharing parts of her story that can only be described as tragic. But she told us that the Compassion centre and her tutor were her safe place. She was known, loved, mentored and not judged. Because of this, she has a goal. She wants to be a psychologist. Soon, she will graduate from high school. She told us that she’s applied to university.
That’s when she said, “I am the woman I am today because of this place.”
When it comes to this idea of transitions, I think about those kids launching into their life who are now able to go on and become contributing members of their communities. The pastor of this church partner shared that many of the kids who graduate from university come back to their neighbourhood and begin contributing and tithing to that same church. As a result, the church’s finances are improving. This is providing new ways to fund programs for children living in poverty in their community. Already, this church has a group of children they are supporting. They are not Compassion sponsored children, but are supported through the church’s own program!
This was an interesting thing for me to learn about Compassion’s longer-term outcomes on this trip. We’re not just seeing kids graduate, but church partners and entire communities are finding their way out of extreme poverty. Of course, this can eventually lead to entire countries that then become sponsoring countries themselves.
May the Church rise up
On one evening of our trip, we had dinner with the national director of Compassion Colombia, Juan Carlos (a total hero in my eyes), and some of his team. As we spent some time in prayer, someone prayed, “May the church rise up and run to the need!” Heard! This call to action, to sprint to the need, is exactly what we are doing as we partner with Compassion.
I could tell you so many stories. Thinking of the youth, their ability to dream and the legacy they are already leaving in changing their lives and communities for the better moves me to tears as I tell people about it. We asked some program alumni, “Where would you be today if you hadn’t been sponsored by Compassion?”
One young man said, “I’d be out walking the streets at night [to avoid the gangs], picking out recyclables from the garbage to buy food.” Another said, “I’d be on drugs, in a gang, or dead. I would have no hope.” Heart pounding, I thought of my own two sons as these young men shared their stories.
In these conversations, you really get to understand the impact it makes when Compassion intersects with a life. It’s profound.
What I would say to someone who hasn’t seen Compassion’s programs first-hand is this: it works. Compassion does work. It’s making a difference with integrity and the love of Christ. This idea of the Church rising up and running to the need really encapsulates it.
So may the Church—us here in Canada, our frontline church partners in Colombia, or wherever we are in the world—rise up together as brothers and sisters in Christ, run to the need and do something about it, in Jesus’ name.