By Kristi Sands, CFCA sponsor
I’ve sponsored Maria for 12 years and Isabel for two months through CFCA. They have the same name ó Maria Isabel ó but the younger one goes by her middle name.
Both live in Nicaragua ó a country that 12 years ago I had little interest in and had difficulty pronouncing.
While sponsors aren’t required to write, I knew letter writing would be essential to building a relationship with Maria, my first sponsored child.
Sometimes I was tempted to give up. Communication through letters that CFCA staff members then translate isnít always easy. I felt there were huge gaps in our ability to get to know one another.
Letters took a long time (generally six to eight weeks) to arrive. When I learned that one person does translations for an entire regional project, and that he/she generally translates 30 letters a day, that helped put things in perspective.
So despite the frustrations of not being able to read or write in Mariaís language, I felt inspired to stick it out.
God had given me this precious relationship and responsibility, and I intended to see it through to the end. Gratefully, communication eventually improved.
I didnít know that Maria planned to go to college until she announced she would be studying accounting at a university. She also wants to get her master’s degree and become a CPA.
I tucked that away as something to ask another sponsored child much earlier. I didnít know that college was an option for her, so I never asked what she wanted to do when she grew up.
For several years I considered a CFCA mission awareness trip to Nicaragua, but it never quite worked out.
Finally I figured my opportunity to meet her was now, because she was 23 and would graduate from college and exit the program.
About a month before my trip, during a Holy Spirit moment, the idea came to sponsor a second child now so I could meet both!
I went online and browsed the Nicaraguan girls awaiting sponsorship, and 9-year-old Isabel stretched out her little arms and wrapped them around my heart.
Before the trip, I was nervous about the small amount of time between disembarking the plane in a foreign country with a foreign language and meeting my group beyond customs, and also about trying to communicate.
But this week had been covered in prayer. From the beginning I was anointed with an overwhelming feeling of joy in being able to experience ìmy girlsíî world. Everything was beautiful to me.
In the Nicaraguan airport, I decided to swallow my lack of confidence in trying to communicate, paste on a wide smile, and try to use the language of love and my little Spanish to the best of my ability.
As my spiritual director would remind me, I know how to smile in Spanish!
During the trip, we passed many homes that I suspected were much like Maria’s and Isabel’s ó some in better condition than others.
Corrugated metal roofs, many of which are not well sealed for the rain. Walls of wood, plaster, cement block, tarp, trash bags ó whatever they have.
Many have no windows, no security, no way to lock up at night.
They live on so little and need to work very hard, just to get by. Both girls have dirt floors, and Isabelís home is in ìpoor condition.î
All 25 sponsors on this trip got to meet our friends for the first time Monday evening. I was so pleased that Maria and I recognized each other immediately.
[CFCA staff worker] Ana was very helpful in translating, but before we had anybody to aid in communication we just stood there, hugging and smiling.
Isabel said she was a little shy, but that only lasted a few moments. She was soon attached at the hand and sitting on my lap.
We couldnít speak much in words, but our smiles spoke volumes. I told her weíll have to catch up in letters later.
Whenever she did understand something I said, her face would break out in a wide grin as she shook her head vigorously up and down and said, ìYes!î (very clearly in English).
I enjoyed pointing out anything in Spanish that I know, asking for more words (having the girls write them down for me in my notebook). Not exactly heart-to-heart dialogue, but we managed to have fun.
One sponsor said we were the giggliest three he knew!
On Wednesday, Maria rode with us to her hometown.
I found a page of menu items in my dictionary and we had fun learning Spanish/English words and asking ìDo you like…?î
We discovered we both donít like mushrooms and like baking better than cooking.
I also saw her high school and where she works! She runs a snack bar at a car wash to help her dad with the family income.
A highlight was meeting Mariaís family (mother, father and brother) and seeing her house. I am so grateful for all the benefits her family has received through CFCA.
Twelve years really makes a difference!
I really had no idea how much their living situation had improved. I didnít know that when the family applied to the sponsorship program, they lived in a small shed-type dwelling in the back yard.
When Maria pointed it out to me, I was amazed. I knew that when I first started sponsoring her, the family cooked with firewood. Most families do, often in outdoor kitchens.
Mariaís family no longer needs to rely on firewood, nor do they need to cook outside. For four people, their home is quite spacious.
The most recent addition they proudly showed me was a new bathroom with a flush toilet and shower!
As we were parting, I taught Isabel how to say ìI love you.î
She mastered it beautifully. I wonder what her house is like. I hope CFCA can help her family as it has helped Mariaís.
How good it was to meet them both face to face! They will always have a special place in my heart.
The theme of the trip was so fitting: Esta aventura solo comienza! This adventure is just beginning!
I’ve taken Maria up on her challenge to join her in becoming bilingual and have begun learning Latin American Spanish. So far, so good ó and it’s been fun, too!
I have also come away pumped and enthusiastic to try and find sponsors for other children ó since I’m not able to sponsor them all myself!
I got to see firsthand that CFCA is doing a phenomenal job of helping impoverished families build a path out of poverty.
It serves more than 300,000 children and aging persons in 22 developing countries.
Thirty dollars a month goes so far in these countries ó providing food, education, medical assistance, and in Maria’s case, a much improved housing situation.
I encourage those of us who are already sponsors to go a step further, whether itís to:
- write a sponsored friend for the first time or more frequently
- display photos at work or home and share the sponsorship experience with those who inquire about them
- invite others to join in the sponsorship experience
- take on another sponsored friend
- remember our friends more frequently in prayer or by living more simply on occasion
- if circumstances allow, plan on meeting face to face!
Go ahead and get creative. This isnít an exhaustive list.
Iíll wrap this up with a simple prayer. As they say in Central America, Gracias a Dios! Thanks be to God!