Four members of Zion’s Church, Hamburg, took a six-day trip to Peru in March. This journey really started two years ago, however, when Senior Pastor Randy Bond challenged the congregation to sponsor La Gartera, a village in Peru’s coastal region.
“We decided as a church we would give $25,000 to sponsor this Compassion International project in this very rural village,” he said, and he asked for 50 sponsors for individual children, as well. Zion’s members surpassed the goal, committing to 120 children in the village, and 30 more in neighboring areas. They sent monthly financial aid and began a letter-writing program to connect with the children.
By 2014, many at Zion’s were eager to see how this had impacted the villagers. So Pastor Randy, Creative Arts Pastor Kathy Bond (no relation), church member Jim Stella and Clyde Kershner, an elder at Zion’s, packed their bags and flew south.
The team’s carry-on luggage held personal items. Their six big suitcases, however, were filled with gifts from the congregation to the villagers, including church and school supplies, sports equipment, flannel graphs, special items for sponsored children and a Bible for the village pastor.
In La Gartera, extreme poverty was all around. Nicer homes are made of adobe brick, but others are constructed out of sticks. Dirt floors are the norm; there are no bathrooms, electricity or refrigerators; and cooking is done over open fires. Water is gathered with buckets at community wells.
The village church provided the physical space for the Compassion center in La Gartera, and Zion’s financed projects included construction, plumbing installation and furnishing the site. Funds also provided training for teachers to work with local children as well as expectant and nursing mothers.
“People like coming to the center because it’s colorful,” Pastor Kathy said, noting that bright colors help children with cognitive development. All Peruvian children attend half-day elementary school classes, but the educational system is ranked fifth worst in the world. Compassion projects help fill the gap by providing another half-day of school for sponsored children.
Typical foods are rice, chicken and beans. Delicacies are goat, guinea pig and chicha morada, a drink made from purple corn. Anemia is a big problem, as is undernourishment. Compassion workers teach proper nutrition and provides instructions for boiling water to purify it.
Pastor Kathy recalled meeting Ida, a 20-year-old single mother raising two young children. The project provided her with a bed, vitamins for her children and several ducks. “She breeds them and sells them now,” the pastor said, “and that’s how she’s making a living.”
It usually takes five years to establish a Compassion project, but because of the surge of support from the Zion’s congregation, the La Gartera project was running in just one year. The Zion’s team also got a glimpse of what the project will be in the years ahead while visiting a second, decade-old project in a nearby village.
There was a celebration when the team arrived at this project, with children dressed in regional attire singing and waving American and Peruvian flags. “It was very festive,” Pastor Randy said. “They just wanted to touch us. I think the thing that hit us all, that was very emotional, was the extreme appreciation.”
Since this project is older than the one in La Gartera, it now provides teenagers with higher education and vocational training. Pastor Randy recalled meeting one of the cosmetology students who shared what Compassion International meant to her “It changed her life,” he summarized. “It caused her to trust in Jesus for salvation It saved her life.
“In my opinion, the biggest thing was the fact that the program gives them hope,” he said of the girl and others in Compassion projects. “This girl rose from a place of extreme poverty and is at a point where she is optimistic about her future.”
Key to this optimism, both pastors agreed, are the letters sponsors send to their children, letters which speak of love and a hope for the future. “It builds them up, because all around them is despair,” Pastor Randy concluded.
When talking to the local pastor on his first day in La Gartera, Pastor Randy said, the man referenced problems in the initial stages of the project. “There were multiple times when they felt like giving up. And then the first letter came. The pastor said he prayed for us to come.”
Some of the villagers were uncertain when the team arrived, not understanding why strangers were helping them and worrying the Americans would take their children. But as the visit progressed, trust began to develop. One day, a mother presented Pastor Randy with colorful, hand-crafted items. He has several of these items, including table linens, in his office. “This was the best thing she had in her house,” he says, smoothing the fabric, “and she gave it to me. Their generosity was unbelievable.”
In fact, the suitcases they brought packed with gifts for the villagers were equally full with gifts when they returned home. This generosity was in contrast with the poverty that is a way of life for the villagers.
“We don’t realize that [the majority] of the world is a lot poorer than us,” Pastor Kathy said, noting a recent experience while watching a home-improvement show. “I thought, this is ridiculous. For that granite counter top, you could give thousands of dollars. How many kids could you sponsor instead? It’s hard to separate my thinking now. We have so much.”
The cost of supporting a child in the project is about $38 a month, which may not seem like much to us, Pastor Randy explained, but can change the life of a child living in poverty.
In fact, there are many more in La Gartera and surrounding areas in need. Over 50 thousand Peruvian children are currently sponsored through Compassion International, but thousands more apply for the program each month. If interested, readers may contact Zion’s Church at (610) 562-2300 for sponsorship information.