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Aug 28 2009

A special sponsor for a special family

By Cheryl Petroff, CFCA sponsor

I had the pleasure to take a CFCA mission awareness trip to El Salvador in 2008 and 2009.

I can’t convey in words exactly what I experienced, but what I know for sure is that both trips were life-changing and some of the best experiences of my life.

In 2008, I went with a friend who sponsored children in El Salvador. I had sponsored a child years ago, but when she was retired from the program, I never got another child to replace her.

I told Henry Flores (director of the communications center in El Salvador) that I was interested in sponsoring a child with special needs. I know many times the cutest children are picked first and sometimes children with special needs are left behind. Henry told me that he had a special family he would like me to meet. He arranged for my group to go to the home of this family.

After a walk through an alley and up a steep, dirt path, we arrived at their home. I was in utter shock at the condition of this home. It was a small building made of cardboard, wood and metal. It had a dirt floor, and there were four beds against the walls inside. Outside was a small area that had a metal roof, but only poles were holding it up ñ this was the cooking area.

I meet this wonderful mother who you could tell loved her family and was doing the best that she could. She appeared very sad. She was raising four children on her own. Her husband had abandoned her and the children. All three of her sons had disabilities.

Her youngest son, Omar, was in bed and was rolling from side-toñside, making noises. He was severely handicapped and totally blind.

Her middle son, Luis, was blind in one eye, but was smiling and happy to have visitors.

Her daughter, Kenya, was very shy but was without any handicaps. She was attending school and had hopes of being a teacher or secretary.

The eldest son, Alonso, was lying in a hammock and swinging. He was totally blind and was so thin that he looked like a young child instead of his 20 years of age.

I told Henry that I wanted to sponsor the child with the most need. He said that he would ask the mother which child she wanted sponsored. She indicated that she wanted Alonso or Kenya sponsored. She indicated that Omar had little hope for improvement with his condition, but the two that she picked could have a better life if sponsored.

Cheryl with Kenya and Alonso in 2008I decided to pick Alonso. As I stood there watching this family, I felt the strongest desire to do more if I could. I left that hilltop sponsoring both Alonso and Kenya.

Through the year, I received beautiful letters from Kenya. She wrote for herself and her brother. Her letters were like a Christmas present each time I received them. She told me over and over again how thankful she and Alonso were. She told me about her schooling, and that Alonso was being tested so he could be taught a trade. The letters have become an important part of my life.

I had decided on the second day of my 2008 trip that I would be going back to El Salvador.

I went back this year thinking that there was no way that I would have a better experience than the past year. Well, I was very wrong!

We visited Alonso and Kenyaís family again this year. I knew the way up the hill, so I went ahead of everyone. When I got to the top, I didn’t recognize the home. I actually started to walk back down the hill, but when I looked back, I decided this had to be it when I saw their mother looking out at me. I went to her and got the biggest hug. She looked so happy!

The house was now larger. Bunk beds replaced the mattresses, and she even had a sofa in the large room. The place actually looked larger. There was a difference in her, too. She was smiling and was so happy. The kitchen now had walls, and she had an actual stove. The place looked much neater and cleaner.

My two sponsored children greeted me and hugged me. I felt like I was in heaven. The kindness and love I felt in that home was like nothing I have ever experienced before.

The difference in the home and family was unbelievable. Alonso had gained weight. Omar was walking and was not as thin.

Cheryl with Luis, Alonso and Kenya in 2009And then there was Luis, who was still smiling and kept looking at me. In his eyes, I saw that he too needed someone to sponsor him. I decided right then and there that I would sponsor him. When they told him, he couldn’t believe it. He was so happy and hugged me so hard. I will never forget this visit. I found out later from his mother that he had cried last year when he was not sponsored. I think God was right there in that spot, guiding my heart.

I can honestly say that this year was better than last year.

I love CFCA, and I love the people who work for this organization. I love El Salvador. I would encourage anyone who has or has not sponsored a child to take a trip to one of the countries where CFCA works to see what it is really like. You will never be sorry. It is the best investment I have ever made.

Aug 27 2009

Children want to hear from their sponsors

In spring of last year, CFCA sent out special postcards to sponsors to encourage them to write a letter to their sponsored friend. The response has been wonderful. Many children who had not yet received any letters heard from their sponsors for the first time.

Jilma holding one of the CFCA postcards sponsors sent.ìI am very happy because I have received letters before but never one like this,î said Jilma, who lives in El Progresso, El Salvador. ìMy sponsor has told me in her letters that she has a beautiful garden and lots of flowers.î

The Vellore project in India saw an immediate increase in communication between sponsors and their friends because of the postcard campaign. Additionally, nine children received their first communication from their sponsors.

In the Zamboanga, Philippines, project, an estimated 140 individuals received their first correspondence from their sponsor. Project coordinator Maribel Mandi said the children and aging were delighted with the postcards, and it helped give them motivation to openly express their emotions.

ìA short message from a sponsor adds life and growth to the child and sponsor relationship,î said Mandi. ìThe postcards created a SMILE.î

Many children in the Quito, Ecuador, project had not heard from sponsors, and the postcards brought them much happiness.

Letters are an important benefit
ìI can tell you with great certainty that the kids and their families value the letters and photos that sponsors send more than anything,î said Dan Pearson, project director for CFCA international operations. ìImagine the lives of these kids. It is hard for them to believe that someone they have never met chose them and is sending help every month to give them a better chance in life.

ìThe sponsor is often a central figure in the child’s life, and they want to know who this person is. They want to know what they look like, who is in their family, and why they decided to help.î

In an age of instant information, emails and text messaging, letter writing is becoming a lost art. It is one of the many gifts that our brothers and sisters in developing countries can give to usóto remind us of the joy that can be found in taking the time to sit and write a simple note of love and encouragement.

On behalf of the sponsored children and aging, we thank you for writing, and we encourage you to continue growing your relationship through letters.

Below are the three postcards we mailed to sponsors

2friends postcard

If friends were flowers postcard

Love in a letter postcard

Aug 24 2009

A thankful trip

By Kathy Cvetko, CFCA sponsor

Imagine walking a gauntlet of men, women and children who are thanking you for the help you have given them. At the beginning of these lines, children are waving American and Honduran flags. At the end, they are escorting you to front-row seats at a Honduran cultural extravaganza rivaling any off-Broadway performance you’ve ever seen.

That is only one of the many extraordinary occurrences that my family and I had on our June 2009 mission awareness trip to Project Ocotopeque, Honduras. However, it serves as a relevant starting point for the story of our visit.

The theme of giving thanks was revisited again and again. At times, it left us sponsors feeling both confused and amazed at such appreciation. Most of us were just as much, if not more, thankful to our sponsored friends for allowing us to experience the full beauty of giving. And yet, looking into the eyes of the people of Project Ocotopeque, we sensed only their deepest sincerity at finally being able to meet us and tell us with a look and a smile that, “It means so much to me that I matter to you!

YessikaOur story of connection with Project Ocotopeque began in 1998, when we first laid eyes on a picture of Yessika del Carmen. We had just finished listening to Jim and JoAnne Rogers speak about a sponsor trip they had completed, and they were inviting those in the audience to sponsor a child or elderly person.

Three things struck my husband and me as reasons to say ìyesî: 1. We could afford the amount each month; 2. CFCA did not advertise, so more of the contributions would go to the sponsored friend; and 3. The organization helped both children and the aging in poor countries across the globe.

We asked our daughter and son, then ages 12 and 7, to help us pick out a child or elderly person who needed a sponsor. They took this decision very seriously as they carefully reviewed each folder. They finally agreed upon a 10-month-old, beautiful baby girl named Yessika.

So, began a lifelong association with a little girl more than 3,000 miles away from our home in Portland, Ore. It was delightful to receive pictures of her every year and to read letters about her and from her as she learned to write. Admittedly, we wrote much less frequently and didnít send pictures. Still, she was always in the back of our minds, and weíd pray that she was thriving and getting the care and love she needed and deserved.

In 2003, my mother, Helen Wyninegar, passed away at the age of 86. She left us a small sum of money, and she was such a giving person that it seemed a fitting memorial for us to use that money to take a sponsor trip to Honduras to meet Yessika.
Read more

Aug 21 2009

Can I provide additional educational assistance to my sponsored child?

Ask Sponsor ServicesQ. I understand that the cost of education sometimes exceeds what my monthly sponsorship can provide. What options do I have to provide additional assistance for my sponsored child as he or she gets older?

A. As more sponsored children pursue higher education and costs for education continue to rise, our projects find it increasingly difficult to stretch sponsorship dollars to cover higher education costs.

For sponsors who have the means and desire to provide additional assistance, we can inquire at the project whether your child requires additional assistance beyond what sponsorship provides.

It helps us to know if you are interested in providing a modest incremental amount or if you want to help fund higher education or a degree. If you are interested in providing additional educational assistance, please call our Sponsor Services team at (800) 875-6564 or (913) 384-6500 or email mail@cfcausa.org.

Aug 20 2009

Our pilgrimage

By Nicole Mirti, CFCA sponsor

My family and I started our involvement with CFCA about 10 years ago when a priest spoke at our parish. We were really moved and touched by the work CFCA does for those less fortunate, so we decided we would become sponsors. Upon learning of the countries where CFCA has projects, we chose Colombia. Colombia was an easy choice for us because that is where I was born. I was adopted from Bogota, Colombia, almost 24 years ago, and the country still holds a special place in our hearts.

Nicole Mirti, her mother and Wendy, their sponsored childMy family and I sponsor a 7-year-old girl named Wendy, who is part of the Bogota project. We have been her sponsors for about two years. When we first learned of the mission awareness trips, we thought they sounded interesting but had to wait for a summer trip as I am a teacher and my mom also works for a school. I remember when we first got word about the 2009 Bogota mission awareness trip, I was so excited. My parents knew how much I wanted see Colombia and thought this would be a perfect opportunity for us to go and meet Wendy. Unfortunately, my dad had to stay behind and work.

In the weeks prior to our trip, I had a mixture of feelings going through my mind. I was happy, nervous, excited and scared all at once. It would be an amazing experience to see and meet Wendy, but it would also be one of wonderment. I have looked at many pictures and read articles about Colombia, but being there first-hand would be completely different.

Nicole Mirti, her mother and Wendy in ColombiaA big surprise came when we exited the doors of the El Dorado Airportówe were greeted by Wendy, her mom and baby sister. She was there along with Bob, Cristina, CFCA Bogota project coordinator Judith, and translators Jamie and Lindsey. My mom and I felt so welcomed after meeting everyone and felt an immediate connection with Wendy.

The trip was an amazing experience. One that is extremely difficult to put into words. I consider the trip to be two-fold for me: we got to meet Wendy, and I got to see my birth country. The trip was one only those who had the privilege of going can understandótogether we went on a spiritual journey filled with many laughs, tears, love and appreciation. The feelings I walked away with from that week led me to sponsor a child on my own. I cannot wait to go back to Colombia and see Wendy again and meet my new sponsored child Kevin.

Bob was with us on the trip, and I remember a quote he said on our last day together, ìLife is a pilgrimage.î The people who were on the 2009 Bogota mission awareness trip will always hold a special place in my heart because they were with me on that incredible pilgrimage.

Aug 17 2009

Bob’s notes – visit to Guatemala

Guatemala mission awareness trip
Aug. 1-8, 2009

A solidarity walk, including an estimated 1,500 CFCA scholars and families, took place in San Marcos two days before the arrival of the mission awareness trip group, and was televised on three local stations. The next day, the CFCA rural livelihood project turned over 75 young bulls and cows to the San Marcos mothers groups.

Guatemala livelihood project

CFCA has two projects and 103 subprojects in Guatemala. A total of 94,500 children and aging are sponsored, plus 56 vocations candidates. Those awaiting sponsorship total 5,407.

Lots of inspiration
We are most grateful for the presence in San Lucas of the parish groups of Church of the Risen Christ, Denver, Colo., and Holy Trinity, Lenexa, Kan. A few notes shared by participants:

From Rich Swan: ìThank you, CFCA, for touching my familyís hearts. Kara and Chris are who they are partly because of our first trip back in 2003. Thank you for helping us help you to reach others at at Church of the Risen Christ and in Denver.î

Another sponsor: ìWe all experience Godís love in different ways. I love seeing Godís love and joy in the Guatemalan way of life.î

Another sponsor: ìThe experience I had with my sponsored child was amazing. It warmed my heart to see how much I mean to the family. They were so kind and respectful. I look forward to seeing them for years to come. The experience made me rethink what is important in life.î

From Ilene: ìThis week has been very special for me. I have been able to open myself up to be here in this place and see what is really important in this life. Thank you for a fabulous experience and thanks be to the Holy Spirit for bringing me here.î

Read more

Aug 7 2009

°Hola, mis amigos!

By Cassie Wright

Wow … we just got back from our mission awareness trip to Guatemala a couple of days ago. (ìWeî being my parents, a group of teens and adults from the Church of the Risen Christ parish in Denver, Colo., and myself.) Before we left, I thought about what I wanted to get out of the trip. I really had no idea what to expect, except that we were going to be going to a very poor country, and I wanted to keep an open mind so that I could experience everything to its fullest. In the end, I decided that my goal was to see how different cultures interact with each other, as well as to learn about the culture and people of the country. I had no idea what an eye-opening, educational and wonderful experience this trip would be!

After we arrived in Guatemala City, we drove about three hours to San Lucas Tolim·n. During the drive, it was almost a culture shock going from our air-conditioned houses in Denver, to seeing banks guarded by men with guns in Guatemala City, down to the little shacks that people call home in each of the cities we passed.

Cassie, her parents and Maria, the woman her mother sponsors

Cassie, her parents and Maria, the woman her mother sponsors

The staff at CFCA in San Lucas Tolim·n was extremely friendly and accommodating to our group. They made us feel like one of the family at once. On our first day of work, we took a boat to Santiago Atitl·n, the city where we helped build a house. Walking up the streets of Santiago and looking at all of the stores and homes, I realized just how poverty-stricken the country is. At the same time, I realized how incredibly wealthy the people are through their relationships with their families and with one another. Back at home, itís so easy to get attached to your Blackberry, iPod and other gadgets that you neglect your relationships with the people around you and with your family. One thing that really stood out to me was that everyone was so incredibly happy even though they had little money and next to nothing by ways of physical possessions. What they do have is an exceptionally deep understanding of how their communities work, as well as a connection with the people around them.

When I was packing my suitcase at CFCA in San Lucas Tolim·n, I was truly embarrassed by the amount of physical possessions I had in one suitcase. While packing for the trip, I was fretting about which pair of pants I wanted to sacrifice as work pants. After being at the work site for four days, the pants I wore really did not matter. What did matter is that I spent an invaluable amount of time with my parents.

Cassie and her parents standing outside the house they helped build in Guatemala.

Cassie and her parents standing outside the house they helped build in Guatemala.

I also realized that happiness does not depend on the newest electronic device that I just bought. Happiness is strengthening the relationships around me. This trip has really got me thinking about the amount of ìstuffî around my home that I do not need. In the next couple of months, my goal is to purge myself of things that I donít need and donít use. Also, I really want to strengthen my relationships with the people that mean the most to me.

Related links:
Generosity will bring joy
Building a foundation

Aug 6 2009

Bob’s notes – Visit to Colombia

Mission awareness trip to Colombia
July 19-25, 2009

From the moment they emerge from the crowded exit doors of the Eldorado Airport in Bogota, sponsors are put at ease by the poise and talent of our young CFCA co-worker, Jamie Mora. Now in the middle of post-graduate studies (languages), Jamie handles several translating jobs, plus teaching, and is the main economic support of her family. Jamie leaves no doubt that the presence of the David Malka family, her loving sponsors for 15 years, and her CFCA Bogota family, has played a major role in her lifeís journey.

About Colombia
In Colombia, many peopleóespecially in the rural areasósuffer from malnutrition, poverty and insufficient education. Colombiaís biggest challenge continues to be the struggle against guerilla warfare, city gangs and illicit drug cartels. Most of the countryís wealth is concentrated in the hands of drug traffickers.

Education costly
Public elementary education is tuition-free, and children are required to attend for five years. However, many children do not attend past age 7. Instead, they help their parents on the family farm. Parents also find it difficult to afford school supplies and various school fees. In remote areas, children may learn through radio broadcasts of school lessons.

Sponsors play a great part in the education of their sponsored children. <i>In this picture: sponsors Nicole Mirti and Elyse Tyson with Wendy</i>

Sponsors play a great part in the education of their sponsored children. In this picture: sponsors Nicole Mirti and Elyse Tyson with Wendy

CFCA has six projects in Colombia with 2,203 children and aging awaiting sponsors.

Colombia’s reality
Judith Bautista, coordinator of the Bogota project gave us an overview of Colombia: 7,000-plus sponsored children; squatters searching for food in local markets; very young population; we have grandmothers who are 25 years old; educational system failing and 8th graders sometimes cannot read; overcrowdedóeven up to 70 in a classroom; in Bogota only 1 percent of students eventually find work in the field they studied; very serious problem of domestic violence; robbery is the most common crime of teenagers; children are set up by unscrupulous adults to commit crimes because of the impunity of their age.

Our solution to some of these challenges is the CFCA communities of compassion in the neighborhoods, the love of the staff for the families and the solidarity, love and power of our mothers groups.

Spirit of Sopo
I was impressed with the great community spirit among the CFCA families of Sopo. The main sources of income are the flower industry and farming, especially dairy. CFCA walks with 430 children and their families in this community.

The Sopo community welcomes Bob and the mission awareness trip travelers

Mothers are meeting twice a week, once for program activities in which they read the sponsorship manual piece by piece, the other for livelihood projects planning and execution. Today, they had organized a solidarity walk through the beautiful and green countryside and the trek took the better part of two hours with a marching band, four teens on stilts as giants and stops to welcome the next group of walkers.

Motivated sponsors
Iím happy to report that members of this group sponsored five additional children during the week. Listen to these thoughts offered by sponsors on this trip:

ìI think of CFCA as my surrogate parents and grandparents, knowing they will instill the religious values in my child, along with the other values.î

ìI feel the Lord is calling me to go through a new door.î

ìTrust in God. I am learning to trust in othersÖespecially for love rather than having to go it alone.î

As Cristina and I head back to Guatemala via the scenic route through Lima and San Salvador, please join us in prayer and solidarity with our families in Honduras. We look forward now to seeing the groups from Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kan., and Risen Christ Parish from Denver, Colo., and then our next mission awareness trip to Guatemala on Aug.1.

Godís blessings,
Bob Hentzen

Jul 30 2009

Notes from the Field #9 – Colombia

During the mission awareness trip to Colombia, Adrian Velazquez, manager of parish outreach, saw how art and dance play an essential role in the development of the children. These creative outlets are helping the children grow in many positive ways, making this a benefit that goes beyond the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter.

Watch more Notes from the Field.

Jul 28 2009

Bob’s notes – Visit to Guatemala

Mission awareness trip to Guatemala
July 11-18, 2009

Mission awareness trips are windows of insight into the spirituality of CFCA. The trips also provide insight into our sponsorsí growth in grace by walking with the poor.

Guatemalan children

In mutual respect and search, the spiritual journeys of the sponsors and sponsored become one. They appreciate their need for one another. Members of this mission awareness trip described their spiritual journey in this way.

ëThey are my familyí
Sponsor Andy Carr stood before the gathered CFCA community on July 13 and stated:

ìIíd like you to meet my sponsored children, Sandra, 16, her brother Douglas, 14, and their mother, Caroline. They are my family.î

At age 81, Andy surely was light on his feet when invited to dance with Sandra and Douglas.

Sponsor/advocate Karlyn Distler: ìI know that God has truly blessed me by giving me my precious ìsonî Edwin. I have sponsored Edwin since he was 6. He will graduate as an accountant this year. I am so, so proud of him.î

Finally meeting each other
Sponsor Mary Anne Cullen: ìAfter these years of sponsorship, itís so good to hug and to personally share this day with the children and their families.î (Mary Anne is the mother of nine children. Her family currently sponsors 26 children and elderly.)

Sponsor Debbie Rovito: ìCFCA staff members have a calling, and it shows. They are passionate. They are creative. They care. They have pride and confidence in who they are, and they wish to lift up their communities, their people. To see this is empowering. It uplifts the soul. Itís very spiritual. This mission awareness trip is an opportunity to leave family, country and work behind, and find time to reflect. We long for peace, for a safe environment, for meaningful work. The relationship with our sponsored families is a glimpse of the solidarity that is possible with all the worldís people.î

The potential of the poor
Sponsor Josefa R. de Caraballo-Puerto Rico:

ìThe experiences lived during these past days have helped me to grow spiritually, making me hopefully a better Christian and a better person. I have seen the love and dedication with which the CFCA staff treat the sponsored families and how these families respond with love, respect and gratitude. This week has been for me a lesson in the potential of the poor when they are given a helping hand.î

Our day with the sponsors on Monday was of great significance for everyone. I heard lots of discussion with students about their current studies and future plans. About 30 of our elderly from Quixaya were here, too. During each mission awareness trip, the sponsored elderly really look forward to their day at CFCA.

Widow keeps children in school
We drove awhile and then walked through the corn fields to visit Dona Emilia, her four children and her aging father. She explained in her native Quiche language that four years ago, her husband took ill with a fever and died. CFCA has been able to sponsor two of Emiliaís children and her father. Recently she received a nice, secure home, as a part of the CFCA housing program. Her piece of ground includes about one-half acre of fertile soil, on which she now has a very healthy crop of native corn. By sewing, washing for others and embroidering, Dona Emilia has all four of her children in school.

The members of this mission awareness group have sponsored nine new children and one aging person. In addition, they have asked for 90 folders to inform, to invite and to share the joy of sponsorship. Several have talked about working with their parish or with other groups. Let us keep their efforts in prayer.

Bob and some children from Guatemala

As you read this, Cristina and I will be in Bogota with the mission awareness group. We thank you for your solidarity with us and with all CFCA pilgrims. Godís blessings.

Bob Hentzen