While preparing for my third Radio Vision Trip for Compassion International coming up in ten days, I was reflecting on a touching story from my first visit there 6 years ago...
While in Colombia recently, I met two extraordinary young ladies. Twelve-year-old twins named Monica and Hesblaidy. They live in a rough southern neighborhood of the sprawling metropolis of Bogata, along with over ten million other souls. Their mother, Marisol, has raised them and their adorable little sister, Vanessa, on her own since her husband deserted her around five years back. They live in a meager one room apartment about 15’ x 15’, with tan concrete walls, two beds, two dressers, atiny black and white TV, a little ghetto-blaster tape player/radio, and some stacks of scrap wood and discarded furniture piled in the corner. The other six families in the small building share a small kitchen and bathroom amongst them.
A solitary four foot wide window looked out onto a busy square where dozens of rag-tag children were happily playing soccer with a ball that appears to have been kicked to Pluto and back. A roving gang of glue-sniffing teens were working the neighborhood as well…a dangerous reminder of how sad the downward cycle of poverty can be…little relief from the lack of long-term hope.
As we were invited into the room, we didn’t see any chairs, but Marisol gestured for us to sit on the edge of the two beds. So a few of us did. Unfortunately, the workmanship wasn’t designed to hold the weight of five larger Americans, and the frame cracked and collapsed with a resounding thud. It was one of those moments where having a good sense of humor was equally mixed with shame over wrecking their meager bed. Several of us surveyed the damage, and felt that it could probably be repaired somewhat easily, but it didn’t lessen the embarrassment.
We asked our interpreters what they thought it would cost to hire a carpenter to fix something like this. They conferred for a moment and said “probably no more than $10.” I quickly offered it to Marisol, but she would have none of it. We were her guests she explained, and she was honored to have us visit her home…absolutely under no circumstances would she accept any donation. We nervously smiled and moved on with our visit.
Both girls had quite unique speaking voices—much huskier than most girls their age, with a bit of rasp. But because they were so animated in their sharing, the Carol Channing tone actually was mesmerizing.
They spoke with unbridled enthusiasm about how much they had been learning at school, and proudly showed us their stellar report cards. They were quite well-read for their age, and could recite large portions of their favorite poetry and scriptures. When we would ask them about social studies or Colombian history, they would excitedly rattle off information. One of the parents of teens in our group whispered in my ear that they had forgotten what zest towards education looked like in a young person.
All three girls were sponsored by individuals in America through Compassion International. That sponsorship helped them with their schooling, skills training, supplemental nutrition, and school clothing. Marisol was so grateful that it also provided her daughters with a safe place to stay after public school since she had to work ten to twelve hours each day.
The twins showed us prized letters and photos from their sponsors that they had committed to memory. They went on and on about how much they had been encouraged by those letters and their prayers. It was their goal to be worthy of the expectations their sponsors had for them, and to make them very proud. I whispered back to my friend that I could only think of one or two teenagers I knew in the States who could even approach the responsible tone I was hearing from these tweenies.
We asked Marisol what difference did she see in her children because of sponsorship. She smiled meekly and said, “They have learned much more about discipline and good manners. I don’t have to correct them as harshly as many other mothers do their children because they have learned more of the ways of the Lord at the church school.” The girls looked adoringly at their mom, and nodded their agreement.
After our group of twelve people had finished another twenty minutes worth of questions, Monica politely asked if she and Hesblaidy would be allowed to ask us some questions. We were taken back by her politeness (especially in such an unforgiving environment as their thug-infested barrio). We were even more impressed by the depth of their inquiries, like: What cities were we from? What type of careers did we have? Did we miss our families while traveling? When did we come to know Jesus? How were we seeking to serve Him in our work? What did we think of their city and their country? Every response was met by at least two more follow-up queries. What inquisitive kids they were!
While the conversation was going on between the girls and the rest of the group, I once again tried to reason with Marisol about paying for the damage done to the bed. She resolutely refused to accept anything; despite the fact that I knew she was raising her daughters on a very meager income of $60 per month. As I kept digging in my wallet, she put her hand over mine and said “Please, no,” in broken English.
A member of my group asked if the twins would like to sing a little acapella duet for us. What ensued was the loveliest rendition of a medley of Hispanic hymns that you can imagine. It was obvious that they spent much time singing together, and their sibling harmonies were terrific for such a young age. They reinforced that they really wanted to use their talents to sing for God—and none of us doubted that they indeed could do just that.
As it was getting close to the time for us to return to our bus and cut through the late afternoon Bogotá traffic, I suggested that we gather around and have some time of prayer together. Normally when we would do this at a home visit, different folks in our troupe would take a turn at leading. But before we could say anything, Hesblaidy asked if she could have the honor of praying for us. “Why, yes!” we all replied. We asked Marisol and the three kids to all gather in our midst so we could lay hands on them as a sign of encouragement and unity.
The twelve-year-old’s ensuing intercession was the definition of meekness. She tenderly expressed deep appreciation for the opportunity to meet brothers and sisters from America who traveled all this way just to visit them. She thanked God by name for each of their sponsors, their children, and even their pet dogs. After many more words of appreciation for their health, provision, and unity, she then pondered Christ’s love for all of us, and pled forgiveness for when she had let Him down with her selfishness. With the utmost respect and humility she asked God again, “If it be Your will, we would very much like to serve You with our singing, and we patiently wait for You to lead us.” We were all in awe of the gentle spirit of love that had descended upon this household and was demonstrated in and through these little women.
While everyone had their heads bowed in fellowship with her heartfelt yearnings, I quietly stepped back from the circle and tucked $50 under the well-worn Bible that was on the rickety dresser.
May those amazing ladies continue to find good rest in Him. Sleep well, you Bogotá beauties.