Dr. Marie Geschwandtner is a doctor of chiropractic medicine and long-serving Board Member with Compassion Canada. We recently connected with her for a feature in our Annual Report to learn more about her new position on Compassion International’s Board and to get a glimpse of the long view for Compassion’s work in the future.
Compassion Canada: For people who are meeting you for the first time through this interview, what are the top three things you’d like them to know about who you are and what you do?
Marie Geschwandtner: First and foremost, I’m a grateful follower of Christ and I love to worship through music. I’m a Saskatchewan girl (and die-hard Rider fan) who lives in Ottawa with my husband, two grown sons and daughter in law. I work as a chiropractic doctor with a special interest in women’s health, pre-and post-natal care and pediatrics. I love to hike, bike and cook, am a compulsive renovator who is part owner of a CrossFit gym (and a slowly improving Masters CrossFitter).
CC: How long have you served on Compassion Canada’s Board and what drew you to the role?
MG: I have served on the CC Board for about 19 years (wow! I can’t believe it’s been that long). My husband and I sponsored children through Compassion when we were first married and a few years later when asked to consider joining the Board, I was honoured and excited to answer God’s call to help the poor in this way. The experience has taught me so much about poverty, the church, loving one another, as well as opened up the world to me (travelling to our field countries and meeting some of our sponsored children).
CC: What have you learned about the church that has surprised you since you started your role on the Board at Compassion?
MG: We are the church. The body of Christ is made up of people, not buildings or denominations. The role and essence of the church in lower-income countries is so different from what I was used to in North America. It is an integral part of the fabric of the community and not a place to go once or twice a week. It provides much of the structure and infrastructure in those places where the local government does not. My feeling is that’s how the church of Acts was and how the church worldwide should be.
CC: You co-founded Chiropractors with Compassion. How have you been able to serve children living in poverty in a practical way through this initiative?
MG: CWC really is a group of professionals (chiropractic doctors and business leaders) who join together as corporate advocates to raise funds to provide Complementary Interventions (widow and orphan housing, safe water, facilities to teach marketable skills, etc.) that complement Compassion projects and serve the community in poor countries. Since its inception in 2004, we have raised just over $3 million and have completed 25 projects around the world. Our members have sponsored hundreds of Compassion children as well. It is a real honour to be able to introduce my colleagues to a charity I really trust and believe in and to give them an opportunity to learn to be generous and to travel to see the work they are funding.
CC: This year you also joined Compassion International’s Board of Directors. Can you tell us a little bit about your role there and what you’re learning about Compassion’s impact across the world?
MG: I am so excited and humbled to be on the International Board of Directors! I serve as a full International Director and I am also there representing Compassion Canada. There is so much strength and faith and wisdom in the global Compassion community. I am seeing much more of the big picture of God’s people serving the poor worldwide. God’s hand is on this ministry in so many tangible ways and we are blessed with committed and loyal sponsors and donors who are making an immeasurable difference serving the poor and releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name.
CC: It’s been a volatile time for people all around the world as the ripple effect of the pandemic continues to play out. What are you learning through your work on the International Board about Compassion’s sustainable presence in communities and the long-term view of program as we look beyond the pandemic?
MG: This pandemic is bad for everyone but devastating to the poor. They have no safety net for food or hygiene or healthcare or education. One of the foundations of Compassion’s work is partnering with the local church in the communities we serve. The local project staff, pastors and team members know the specific immediate and long-term needs of their neighbours, the sponsored children and the community.
This unique model is what will ensure the continued implementation and support of our programs providing that safety net of what is needed during and post-pandemic. We are not decamping and leaving these poor communities to find their own way. Our local church partners have been there and remain there for the long term, pivoting to address immediate needs while keeping an eye out for and ensuring stable long term development.
The consistent steady presence of the local church is strong evidence that our model and methods are even more relevant and impactful to beneficiaries during this pandemic as they were before, and as we move into the post-pandemic phase.
CC: Where have you travelled with Compassion and what is a highlight from your travels?
MG: Travelling with Compassion has been a great blessing in my life and really has been the catalyst for learning about poverty, love and the body of Christ. I’ve been to Thailand, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Peru and Honduras visiting projects, meeting our sponsored children and having joint meetings with the field country director and staff.
There was a young girl, just 15 years old, at a project we were at in Thailand who was being sent off to Bangkok by her family to work and send money home. We knew the ‘work’ very likely meant forced prostitution. She wanted to have a chance to go to high school, finish her education and work as a project facilitator or teacher at her own Compassion project. She had recently become a Christian but her family were not Christians and were opposed to her staying. We all cried and prayed alongside her as she poured out her heart and dreams to us. We spoke to the project director and over time through their work and God’s hand, she was able to finish school, her whole family became Christians and she was able to stay on at the project.
Another part of visiting field countries is visits to the sponsored children’s homes. I always find a way to encourage the moms, grandmoms and teenage girls during these visits. Meeting the mothers of my own sponsored children has been life-changing. What a privilege it is to be sisters like this through Compassion’s work.
CC: What’s something that being a sponsor of children through Compassion has taught you?
MG: Sponsoring children through Compassion has taught me so much! Mostly that every child counts. Every child matters. And that I can make a difference in a child’s life. There is so much poverty and need in the world, but taking one step with God and with a trustworthy organization like Compassion is a powerful way to obey the call to serve the poor and to grow as a person and a Christian.
I have learned that I have so much in common with people all over the world. I have felt a real connection with the mothers and grandmothers I have met in lower-income countries as fellow mothers and human women. I have been so blessed to have been able to encourage and pray with women living in such severe economic circumstances and, more than that, I have been blessed and prayed for by these same sisters in Christ. I’ve learned that love is the most important commodity in the universe.
CC: What’s one thing the lockdown, due to COVID-19, taught you about yourself or your faith?
MG: The lockdown has certainly been a time to reflect! It’s been pretty weird and frustrating in many ways. I was off work for almost 3 months. We were able to see urgent care and emergency patients and, honestly, those few hours in clinic were what kept me sane. I realized how much I truly love what I do. Working with my patients to help get them healthy and live full lives. I really focussed on my morning time as well during the lockdown. I’m working through Jesus Calling by Sarah Young for the second time and the overarching theme is walking with God and really practicing His presence. The loss of freedoms we used to take for granted and the vulnerability that came along with this pandemic has brought me closer to Jesus and was a real crucible for trusting Him in the face of potentially losing everything.
CC: As you look to the upcoming year and all the opportunity Compassion Canada has, what’s something that excites you?
MG: Even though COVID-19 has changed the way we do business and attend our daily lives, Compassion is well-positioned to continue to fulfill its mission of releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name. In addition to what I mentioned earlier, about partnering with the local church and how beautifully God is using this partnership as the foundation for continued stable long term development, I’m also excited to see how well we are transitioning to using technology more fully, to engage the global staff and continue to support and equip our field partners, pastors and sponsored children. The current necessity to do so has catalyzed a leap forward into how we will all do ministry and charitable work in the future.
This interview is part of a series featuring the talent and wisdom of Compassion Canada’s Board of Directors, portions of which first appeared in our Annual Report.