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The Last Thing I Expected to Find

day one compassion DR lisa leonard-09

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting today, but I know it wasn’t what I found.

As we made our way through the snarled traffic of Santo Domingo, and the neighborhoods slowly devolved from the upscale business district to the down-and-out neighborhoods closer to our destination, my heart slowly sank.  I took it all in, sheltered behind the tasseled teal blue curtains of our mini bus–the barred windows, the graffiti, the litter. The vacant stares on the faces that we passed.  The dirty river, the razor wire on top of cement block walls, the unattended children running through the streets in nothing but their underwear.

And I wondered how my heart would bear the despair I was about to encounter.

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But then the bus stopped and we were greeted by an entire street full of smiling, happy children.

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Despair was nowhere to be found.

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Within seconds my eyes were blurred by the tears of joy streaming down my cheeks, with nothing but the two little hands in either of mine to guide my way.  They pulled me into the center, sat me down on a chair in the back of the room, and didn’t leave my side.

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These two precious children were soon joined by several more, and together we sang and talked and laughed.  They stroked my hair and inspected all the photos on my phone, showed off their English skills and laughed at my pitiful attempts at Spanish.

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And my heart was so full, I thought it might burst.

I’m not sure what I was expecting today, but it sure wasn’t hope.

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I certainly wasn’t expecting hope when we went to visit Juan Carlos and his family in their tiny cement block home.  But as we walked into the tiny living room–smaller than my bathroom at home–all I could see was their beaming faces filled with joy.  They weren’t just happy to invite us in, they were proud of their home and everything they had built, literally with their own hands.

I learned that Juan Carlos was one of four siblings, and that he had been a part of the Compassion program in their neighborhood for eight years.  The Compassion policy in the Dominican Republic is that only one child from each family is eligible for the sponsor program.  This is so that they can reach as many families as possible, because there are SO many families still waiting to be accepted.

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I learned that sponsorship in this neighborhood, for a family, is often the difference between hope and despair.  A child who is part of the program learns skills and has access to resources that he or she is able to share with his or her entire family.  In these poverty-ridden neighborhoods, basic life skills are not taught or passed on from generation to generation.  There is no nurturing, no thought given to emotional needs or to planning for the future; there is only survival.

Sponsorship means hope for a better life.

I learned from Juan Carlos that sponsorship is not just a matter of writing a check–or having $38 withdrawn from your checking account each month–but it is the opportunity to make a real and lasting difference in a child’s life.  Juan Carlos showed us, with tears in his eyes, how he had saved every single letter his sponsor family had ever written him.  To a child that lives with next to nothing these letters are the most precious possession he has ever known.

Juan Carlos Compassion Letters

I’m not sure what I was expecting today, but it certainly wasn’t to see the hidden beauty in those barred windows and ramshackle cement block homes, or to realize that hope comes in many forms.

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Sometimes it is a great big hug from a tiny little stranger.

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Sometimes it is a song sung in a language I don’t understand.

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Sometimes it is a big bowl of oatmeal to fill a hungry tummy.

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Sometimes it is a simple jigsaw puzzle from the dollar store–the first they’ve ever seen.

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Sometimes it is the beaming face of a father who now sees the possibility of a better life.

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Sometimes it is the relief on a single mother’s face knowing she is not alone.

All this for $38 a month.

$1.27 a day.

Pocket change for most of us, but the difference between hope and despair for some.

Don’t turn away friends.

These lives matter, and your pennies mean something, far more than you could ever imagine.  The work being done here in the DR is incredible, life-changing, not just for a few, but for whole families and entire neighborhoods.  And there are so many kids here still waiting for their chance, their opportunity for a better life.

Our goal this week is to sponsor 300 children, and as of right this second, 32 kids have been sponsored so far!  That’s more than 10% of the way to our goal, and it’s only Day 1!  It’s not a small decision, but my hope and prayer is that you will open your heart this week and say yes to these kids.  Or just to one.  Think about it.  Pray about it.  Talk to your family.  But say yes.

Please say yes.

Hope is literally in your hands.

And it’s only $1.27 per day.

*   *   *

Click here to sponsor a child.

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P.S. If you sponsor a child this week you will also receive this beautiful limited edition necklace from Lisa Leonard–just a small token of thanks for saying yes!

23 Comments

  1. February 16 at 09:11PM

    I wish we could sponsor more… we have four now. And have been blessed with meeting one in this group, one who I ‘co-sponsored’ at one time, and one who has since aged out of the program. I would give up a lot of things before I’d give up one of my kids.

  2. Chuck
    February 16 at 09:27PM

    Ruth, I am so proud of you! We take so much for granted living where we do. I can’t wait to show the girls what you are doing and why it is so important that you are not with us at home this week. Can’t wait to hear more tomorrow. Miss you!

    • Anonymous
      February 18 at 12:14AM

      Well said, good dad!

      Hugs!
      Jackie

  3. Laurin D.
    February 17 at 12:08AM

    After having my 5th daughter move out, I felt alone, well, I mean I know Christ is with me, but I miss the pictures on the refrigerator and the noise. Sponsorship had always been a thought so I did it! I am looking forward to learning more and more! I pray that all of us have wonderful experiences doing this and that we accept all things that happen as working to the good of us all!!

  4. Joan Young-Santiago
    February 17 at 02:24AM

    How long again will you be in DR?

    • Ruth Soukup
      February 18 at 12:54PM

      Until the end of the week–we fly home on Saturday 🙂

  5. February 17 at 04:05AM

    This is a great story and there really is a need for sponsors. You may think that you are drowning into debt, or you don’t make enough income to afford your dream home or car. But you are still richer than most people in the world. We need to appreciate more what we have. We need to realize that it does not take that much to make a powerful difference in someone’s life. These letters and sponsorship is a dream come true for many children and families. Making a difference in their lives gives these children and families a chance to make a difference their friends’ and neighbors’ lives as well. So they too can change the world!

  6. Melissa
    February 17 at 09:30AM

    Ruth, I am so touched by your article. Although, “article” is too simple of a word to describe it. Of all that you have accomplished, I am most proud of you for this endeavor. Looking at these pictures of you with the children, I see PURE LOVE. There is a newness about you that is making you glow. I love you dear friend and admire the help you are providing for these children and their families. I can’t help but think, who is changing who’s life? Hugs and prayers as you continue on this amazing eye opening, heart filling journey of human love. XO, Melissa

  7. February 17 at 09:32AM

    Ruth:

    Quick question: Are you related to the Soukups in Sheffield Iowa? Anyway – we began sponsoring three girls in Ecuador this month. We talked about going to visit them someday as a “missions” trip. I think your experience would be life changing for our family if were able to manage such a trip. Thank you for giving us insight into what the Lord has allowed us to participate in. You always wonder if you are really giving to something that makes a difference. I am so glad He has allowed us to do that through what He has given us. God bless and please let us know if there is more we can do for our families. God Bless your faith!

  8. Janet G.
    February 17 at 10:29AM

    We went to DR for our honeymoon almost 15 years ago. We left our resort to travel into neighborhoods that were just as your photos show. We toured a “house” and small local villages. While there was great poverty, there was also so many friendly people and beautify vibrant children. When Compassion was brought to my attention, I found Disleini in DR who was waiting for a sponsor and I knew I was being called to help. Thank you for making this journey and sharing. It is heart warming to see that Compassion is making such a difference. God Bless and safe travel to your whole team.

  9. February 17 at 10:30AM

    Beautiful post, Ruth. Thank you so much for sharing your heart and these precious children with us. The children and families and Compassion workers are just precious. Praise God for them. What a blessing to see their hope and love, and what a privilege to partner with Compassion! I look forward to hearing more from you this week. Thank you!

  10. Mrs. Turner's Class
    February 17 at 03:21PM

    Ms. Ruth (from her daughter’s kindergarten class):
    We are so proud of you! We loved looking at your pictures of you laughing, hugging and playing with the children.
    We will be praying for your work and for the kids you are helping in our morning prayers!!
    Love,
    Your G.S. Family

  11. February 17 at 10:53PM

    Wow, this really touched my heart. We sponsor a little girl in DR and that nation is really close to my heart. I hope we get to visit one day but in the mean time I am living vicariously through you this week! Bless you and may you reach above and beyond your sponsorship goal!!!

  12. February 19 at 09:31AM

    Oh I love this. This reminds me so much of when we honeymooned in St. Lucia and were unexpectedly taken to the slums , far away from the comforts of our resort, that I saw what real poverty looks like. It was a struggle for me since we had saved and saved just to afford a luxury vacation when only a few miles away from our gorgeous resort were people living in shambles, not knowing where their next meal was coming from. I love the work that y’all are doing and I love reading your DR stories – so much hope.

  13. February 19 at 11:42AM

    This post brought tears to my eyes, half way through I noticed I was holding my credit card. What an inspiring post! I’m going to share it around because it’s like a “behind the scenes” of one of those sponsorship commercials. God bless!

  14. Deana
    February 19 at 05:40PM

    Hi, great article. Brings tears to my eyes. Where does the money go and how can we be certain it’s going where it should be going?

  15. February 20 at 05:33PM

    Just added another little guy to our sponsorship fold – Angel. He had been on the waiting list the longest. So excited to share his pic and story with our boys once we know more. Love you for sharing the posts this week, Ruth, and for making the journey with Compassion.
    xo

  16. February 20 at 05:45PM

    Congratulations on such an amazing trip! I shared your post today on FB and hope it will encourage folks in my network to help. Best to you.

  17. Debie
    February 21 at 07:20AM

    Loved reading about your trip. My 17-year-old daughter has been on 5 mission trips to the Dominican (the last one was less than 2 months ago) and she is also planning to go a Uganda mission trip with our church this summer. The first 3 trips to Dominican were with Go Ministries and they used to go to a place called The Hole, which was like what you described in your email, a dirty river with mounds of garbage, wild pigs running around and homes made of tin and wood. The past 2 mission trips were led by Children of the Nations and they visited the Bateys (sugar cane plantations) where displaced Haitians live. They are a people with no citizenship, unclaimed by Dominican or Haiti. These people practice voodoo, but when our mission teams come in to feed & play with the kids and to put new roofs on their barely standing homes, they allow the team to pray over them.
    We currently sponsor a child in the Dominican and one in Uganda. Through Children of the Nations it is $32 a month. and it makes a world of difference to these families, allowing them to eat and to go to school.
    My daughter was so excited to meet our Dominican child and her family, and she was able to bring Perla a gift from us, but the highlight was that Perla’s home was one of the homes that had been chosen to get a new roof, so my daughter was able to help put the new roof on our sponsor child’s home. And this summer she will meet the boy we have sponsored in Uganda for 5 years. Such a blessing to their lives and to ours. Love God, Love others ♥

  18. February 25 at 02:09PM

    Beautiful and heart warming.

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