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Just One

It’s been a long week.  In fact, by this point, you might even be a little sick of hearing me talk about Compassion and the Dominican Republic and all the reasons why you should sponsor a child.

I get it.  I really do.  Extreme poverty is heavy, and it is overwhelming.

It feels so big.  So widespread.  So endless, as far as the eye can see.  No matter how many people you try to help, there will always be a line out the door. No matter how many kids get sponsored, there will always be one more.

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How do we even make sense of it all?

The simple answer? We can’t.

But that shouldn’t be an excuse to turn away.

There is a famous story about a little boy at the beach who, during a low tide, is busily throwing starfish back into the ocean. There are thousands of them dotting the shoreline, and a man walks up to him and asks “why even bother—you can’t possibly save them all. Do you really think anything you could do would make a difference? The boy is silent for a minute, but then he stoops down, grabs another starfish, and says simply “it made a difference to that one.”

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Today we walked for almost two miles in the noonday sun to visit Elba and her three young children. It was hot—almost unbearably so, and the air was sticky and heavy with the sour smell of garbage. The closer we got to the dirty, polluted river, the worse the smell became and the more desperate the neighborhood seemed. Tiny cement block homes devolved into patchwork shacks of scrap wood, tin, and cardboard.

Finally we arrived. Unlike our previous home visits, Elba didn’t invite us in to sit down. Through the open doorway of their tiny tin dwelling, I could see that there was nothing to invite us in to.  There was no place to sit. No couch, no chairs, not even a bench. The tiny room held two small battered tables, and a small portable cooktop stove.

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That’s it.

So we stood there, somewhat awkwardly, in the dirt-floored space outside the door. Elba told us, quietly, that she lived there with her three children and that life was hard.

What an understatement.

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She explained that the land they lived on was prone to frequent floods from the nearby river, and that any time the heavy rains came, her family would have to leave everything behind and head for higher ground. What few things they did own, they lost several times a year. She said she lived in fear any time the skies turned gray.

She also explained that she had lost nearly all her eyesight, which meant she couldn’t work. She tried to help her mother sell snacks and drinks, but in a poverty stricken neighborhood, money is tight everywhere. Her vision was correctable, but the contact lenses she needed to be able to see cost 7,000 Pesos—the equivalent of $175 US dollars—and she simply couldn’t afford them.

But even though life was hard, she had big dreams, she told us, and she wanted a different life for her kids. She wanted to see them succeed in life, to follow their own dreams.

“And what are those dreams?” I asked?

Alba turned to her daughter Darlene Zabala, wanting her to answer for herself.  The little girl immediately shrank back into the doorway, covering her face in embarrassment. She was too shy to speak.

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The mama in me recognized that deer-in-the-headlights look immediately.

I’ve seen it many times before.

Wanting to comfort her, I quickly spoke up. “At home, I have a little girl who’s just like you. Her name is Maggie and she is eight years old, and she is very smart, just like you. But even though she is very smart, she is also very shy and so sometimes people don’t know just how smart she is because she is afraid to talk.”

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Seeing her eyes light up just the tiniest little bit, I continued, “but you know what? Even though she is very shy, God sees her and knows how special and smart she is, and God sees how special and smart you are too, and he loves you very, very much.”

I handed her a necklace that my friend Lisa Leonard had given me to share—the same necklace Compassion is giving away to anyone who sponsors a child this week—and showed her that it was the same necklace I was wearing. I explained what it said, that she was so very loved, and that from now on, whenever I looked at the necklace around my own neck, I would think of her.

And then she smiled.  It was a small, shy, half-smile, but a smile nonetheless.

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And my already tender, fragile heart finally shattered into a million pieces.

It was too much.

In that moment, I wasn’t simply observing someone else’s struggle, I was living it.

That little girl could have been my little girl. She had the same mannerisms, the same quiet demeanor, the same strong spirit….even the same pink tutu hanging in the makeshift closet.

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And I also know what it is like not to see—until getting eye surgery six years ago, I was considered legally blind. Without corrective lenses, I couldn’t see two feet in front of me. And here was a mom, doing the best she could to raise her kids in some of the most horrific conditions imaginable, and she can’t even see.

It could have been me.

When poverty has a face and a name, it changes things.  It makes it real, and once it is real, you can’t ignore it. As Lisa put it, “if everyone could see what we’ve seen this week, there would be a waiting list to sponsor these kids.”

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If I’ve learned anything this week, it is that I can’t help every child, but I can make a difference to the one right in front of me.

I can see that one.

I can let her know that she is precious and loved, and she matters, to me and to God.

You can too.

Please sponsor a child this week.  Hundreds are still waiting for someone to see them, but you only have to see one.  Just one.

Please don’t wait any longer. Start right now. I’ve seen firsthand what $38 a month will do in the lives of these kids, and friends, it is BIG. Huge. Completely life changing. It is the difference between hope and despair. And it might break you too.

But it will be worth it.

10 Comments

  1. February 20 at 05:47AM

    It is so hard to see and witness and hear. Bless you for saying yes.
    Sending my love and prayers.
    xoxo,
    edie

  2. February 20 at 07:30AM

    {Kathy} Yes. Ruth. Just one at a time. That’s what God calls us to do. Great post. Thank you for your reflections.

  3. Tracy Meeks
    February 20 at 12:38PM

    God Bless you. I enjoy reading your blog on a daily basis, however this week has especially touched me. My heart aches for these people. It also makes me appreciate what I have and how much I take for granted. I also sponsor a little boy through World Vision, He is from South America. You have been a blessing to me and the people of the Dominican republic. Bless you dear.

  4. February 21 at 11:49AM

    Thank you, dear Sister in Christ, for this amazing post! I am praying right now for someone with the eye-glass money in the bank to forward it to the Lord, for this precious mother. Thank you for telling this story, which is among the worst-off I’ve seen since following these trips starting in 2010. I believe God will use this post mightily, as well as your others. Bless you and thank you for allowing your heart to break on behalf of these precious ones!

  5. February 21 at 12:16PM

    Wow, you’ve had quite a week. I can’t imagine what you’ve seen, heard and felt this week. My family just sponsored a child. It was too hard to pick so we chose the child who has been waiting the longest–266 days–for a sponsor. His birthday is in early March, so hopefully he’ll find out about it around that time. What a beautiful program and now I can’t wait to get my packet to learn more about our sponsored child.

  6. February 22 at 03:58PM

    Thank you for sharing, Ruth. I am so glad there are so many great sponsors out there, who are changing lives of these little children. We need to spread the word, so more kids could find their sponsors.

  7. Anonymous
    February 28 at 08:10PM

    Dear Ruth,
    You will probably never know how many lives you have touched by sharing your mission trip experience with us. I am in that limbo stage of life where my sons are grown and out of the house and no grandchildren to dote on yet.
    I was so moved by your trip that i decided to sponsor a child from the Dominican Republic. Funny thing, I always thought I wanted to have a granddaughter because I only have sons. But when I looked at the photos, I was drawn to a little boy!
    This is the little boy I am sponsoring:
    Deuryn Manuel Soto Castillo
    Birthday: March 21, 2007
    Gender: Male
    Location: Dominican Republic
    (Central America and Caribbean)
    Child ID: DR3220971
    He looks like he has some sort of deformity with his nose. There were a lot of cute children, but I thought he needed to know that somebody loves him. I feel so happy about my decision to sponsor a child, it fills my heart with joy!
    Thank You so much Ruth!!!
    Barbara Mack
    P.S. I love, love, love your blog!

  8. February 2 at 02:12PM

    As an optometrist, the story about the mom having correctable vision but no money for glasses breaks my heart. I have patients everyday who complain about having 20/25 vision with their old glasses instead of crisp 20/20 vision that they’ll get through an exam with me. I can’t blame them, though, because that is what they expect from me, and that’s what I’ve been trained to provide. OHHH how I wish I could teleport to the Dominican Republic and give her the gift of sight with a simple pair of glasses that would be $40 at Walmart.

    In optometry school, I went on three medical missions trips- two to Mexico, and one to Nicaragua. Due to our limited stock of donated glasses, we could sometimes only get them down to 20/60 or 20/40, but that’s WAY better than 20/400! They would dance and smile and show off their new specs to their friends. And older men and women who can’t read their Bibles anymore because they need “cheaters” that we can get at the dollar store, but they don’t have access to at all. It brought tears to my eyes to how thankful they were for something we take for granted in America.

    Thank you for sharing your heart! I long for the day I can meet my sponsor child in person!

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