In August I read the blog of a friend, Hannah Hinojosa, which told Debora’s story. She is a former sponsored child, Leadership Development Program Graduate, and is now president of the Compassion Alumni in Brazil. I have people telling me they’re inspired by me and what I do sponsoring so many kids, but I tell you, you will be absolutely blown away by this girl. Read her story here.
I connected with Debora by Facebook, and mentioned I was going to be in Fortaleza visiting my sponsored kids at the end of September. She replied back saying that the Alumni was going to be having a meeting on the last Saturday, and would I like to join them? WOULD I!?
When I got to Brazil I contacted Debora, and she offered to take me out and about, and show me some things around Fortaleza. Yes please! So we met up early Saturday morning and headed out for an adventure.
I have visited 11 countries in Central and South America, so I like to think I am getting used to certain things, like traffic. In these countries, even crossing the road is an adventure, where you literally risk your life. We got on a bus, and Debora started telling me some of her story. She loves to talk, which is good for me, because I like to listen.
When Debora was 3 months old, she was very sick, and given about 3 days to live. Her parents were new Christians, and prayed over her along with other family members, some of whom were involved in the occult. However, they all wanted the same thing: Debora to live. Her mother prayed: “God, if you have a purpose for Debora in this earth, and I believe on this, I just believe you will make it since taking all the disease from her body now.” And He did.
God has remained faithful to Debora. He has not removed the challenges from her life, but has helped her overcome them. After Debora graduated from the Child Sponsorship Program, she was accepted in the first group of LDP students in Brazil – one of 20 from a graduating class of 400.
She is a leader, a visionary and a role model for other Compassion sponsored children, and she is aware of this. She has found that God-given purpose that her mother knew she had, from 3 months old.
Through our conversation we found out we both love music. Debora plays the guitar and sings at her church, and a couple of years ago she had the opportunity to meet and work with Michael W. Smith, when she wrote a couple of songs for Compassion.
After the bus ride, we took a train. Debora had never taken a train in Fortaleza before, so it was a first for both of us. Fortunately the track was circular, so we ended up back where we started. As Debora talked some more, and I listened some more, I kind of enjoyed the attention we were getting from our English conversation.
We found our way back to the station we had come from and went for a walk through the markets. It was hustle and bustle, hold-your-backpack-tightly. We ended up at a park, which was a complete contrast to what we had just come from. Peace, serenity, lots of green. Sitting there, it was hard to imagine the transformation that Debora explained to me the park took at night. It becomes a hub for homelessness, violence, prostitution and drugs. No police patrol the area, so it is incredibly dangerous. Then somehow it all disappears when the sun comes up.
Two interesting encounters. A poor, toothless woman came up, asking Debora for money, and told me I looked like an angel. I can honestly say I’ve never been called that before. A guy selling ice-creams came and sat down next to us for a rest. When he heard us talking he took a stab at where I was from:
Once he knew this, the first question wasn’t about kangaroos, or what the weather was like. He asked me if Australians liked to drink lots of alcohol. I answered yes, wondering how he knew us so well!? Obviously Australia’s drinking reputation has spread far and wide.
Our final stop was a massive Cathedral, which I understand was built to try and compete with Sao Paulo. It was interesting. The thing that stuck with me was a macabre and creepy life-sized statue of a dead and crucified Jesus laid in a coffin. I’ve never understood this obsession with the dead Jesus, from people who call themselves Christians. I’ve always felt uncomfortable with icons of Jesus still on the cross. He is not dead, He is ALIVE!
I went back to the hotel for a “rest” before the Alumni meeting, but ended up mucking around on the net and catching up on some blogs.
The time came for me to go to the church, and I took a moto-taxi for the first time. I was as nervous as heck, but it was good fun. The driver was gentle with me, and didn’t do anything crazy. I have to say I was acutely aware that if there was even the slightest unexpected move and I’d be in trouble, but we got to the church safe and sound. I soon regretted wearing shorts and forgetting to apply bug spray, and the mosquitos were all over me.
As I understand it (and Debora will correct me if I’m wrong), the Compassion Alumni has been set up to connect and support people who have graduated from the Child Sponsorship Program, and are doing or have graduated from the Leadership Development Program. The LDP had their first group of graduating students only recently, so the Alumni is in it’s early stages. Debora said there is still some confusion about what the Alumni actually exists for, and what it’s purpose is. As the president, she is a pioneer, and it’s her job to make this clear to people.
The Alumni receives no official support from Compassion. I understand this is because it has been tried but hasn’t really worked in some other places such as Africa and the Philippines, so in a sense they need to prove to Compassion that the Alumni is worth investing in and supporting; that there are benefits.
The purpose of the meeting on Saturday was to present a strategy that Debora had devised, in order to raise funds for the Alumni. It is called “Speak, Hable, Fale!” and involves teaching people Spanish and English, for a fraction of the price of the language schools that exist. This is in order to provide people with a skill that can help them earn an income and help their families escape poverty.
Debora said normally they might get 25-30 people to a meeting. Tonight we got five. I shared a little about my Compassion sponsorship journey, and encouraged them with the story of Jesus walking on the water. I explained that with God, it is possible to do things that may seem impossible or crazy, but that to do so we need to keep our eyes focused on Jesus. When Peter was looking at Jesus, he was actually walking on the water, but when he took his eyes off Jesus, that is when he began to sink. I also explained that when Jesus rescued Peter, he didn’t stop the storm straight away, but rescued him, THEN stopped the storm. The same is true in our lives: Jesus never promises to stop all the storms in our lives, but rather He will be with us through the storms.
I told the small gathering that Compassion sponsors and potential sponsors want to know one thing: Does it work? Does Compassion sponsorship really transform lives? I told them that whatever they ended up doing, they were the example and the proof that Compassion sponsorship works, and I was honoured to meet them and be able to share with them.
I was then really excited to be able to get a short video of each of the young Alumni talking about their lives as a sponsored child, and the difference Compassion and their sponsors have made in their lives. We also played a couple of tunes, in a bi-lingual worship session :)
The evening finished with some chocolate cake to celebrate my birthday (a couple of days early).
After this the group of us went for a walk to Debora’s house. I received a real education on this night. That 10-minute walk was a real eye-opener for me, the sheltered little white guy from Australia. I would not last a day on these streets. I felt safe staying close to my new friends, but I was also nervous. I felt a sense of danger and oppression in the environment. Not much hope. The stench of sewage was prevalent. People were just aimlessly hanging around, loud music blasted from cars and houses. As we walked, Debora pointed out how many houses in each street were involved with dealing drugs. Pointing to one street, she said “all of them.”
This is reality for so many people, and it is the reality that the Compassion Project workers deal with in the children that come to them. It is a job that can only be done with God’s help, and they know it, which is what makes their faith so strong and inspiring to me.