Colombia! That’s where I’m writing this post. I first visited here 4 years ago for my work with Compassion. This time I’m here on a Compassion Sponsor Tour and was able to bring my wife, Lisa with me to meet our sponsored child, Julio. It’s been an absolutely incredible trip!
Before I get into details, you need to know that Colombia is as safe as most any other Latin American country. The problems that existed in the past with the drug wars has been largely under control for quite some time. It’s actually probably more dangerous to visit a town on the US/Mexico border than it is to visit Colombia. Bogota is surrounded by mountains and has a rich cultural center and historical area that is stunningly beautiful, Cartagena is an absolutely beautiful city on the north coast with sandy beaches along the edge of the Caribbean Sea. Colombia is the only South American country that has a coast on both the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean. I highly recommend you take the opportunity to visit. If you want to make it the best possible experience, do it with Compassion on a Sponsor Tour. It doesn’t matter if you sponsor a child in Colombia or not. It’ll still be an amazing experience. If you do sponsor a child, you’ll get an even more incredible experience because you’ll get to meet your child. Lisa and I did and it was one of the most awesome experiences of our lives.
The story starts four years ago when I first came to Colombia on an informational gathering trip for my work. One of the Compassion children I interviewed was a nine year old boy named Julio. Julio was a very smart child. He was well spoken, confidant and had a very mature outlook for being so young. When I asked him about his sponsor, he looked down at the ground and quietly said he didn’t have one any more. He got a message that they had stopped sponsoring him shortly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He told me he hoped they were ok and that he still prayed for them every day.
Compassion children without sponsors breaks my heart. And Compassion children like Julio, a child with so much potential makes it that much worse. When we got back to the US I tracked down Julio’s information and found out he still hadn’t been sponsored. Needless to say, I became Julio’s sponsor and immediately wrote him a letter and explained to him that I was the one who interviewed him and was very happy to be his new sponsor.
For the past four years we’ve been writing letters and sending pictures back and forth. Julio is one of the top students in his class. He has an artistic side and he draws pictures for us and and told us he was learning to play the guitar. He dreams of becoming a worship pastor some day.
One of the benefits we get as Compassion employees is an anniversary trip . Every five years Compassion will pay for an employee and their spouse to go on a sponsor tour. Lisa and I chose to go to Colombia so that she could meet Julio. Lisa hasn’t had the opportunity to travel as much as I have and this is the furthest she has been away from the US. Compassion makes it so easy that she has been having an incredible time. But the real experience was meeting Julio!
One of the projects we visited as part of the trip was the one Julio attends. Everyone on the tour was greeted like a star! There were fireworks going off…screaming fans…confetti…and a band playing music as we entered the church that runs the project. There was Julio up on stage playing guitar and singing with the band! After everyone had made their way to their seat Julio announced he was playing a special song for Lisa and me. He played a worship song called Dame by a Latin American singer, Adrian Roberto.
It was fantastic! He then came down and gave us gifts that symbolize what our sponsorship has meant to him. All very thoughtful and meaningful things to us as well. When he was finished we hugged and smiled and I told him the song he played was beautiful. I asked him if he would play it one more time for us but with one difference. I asked if he would play it with his new guitar and then presented him with the present we had brought for him. The song was even more special listening to him as he played it one more time.
We got to visit his home and talk with his family. His father and mother are so proud of Julio. His older sisters adore him. They told us they he grow up to be a pastor. Julio has an amazing family who loves him and gives them everything they can.
His father, Rocu Julio, works two jobs, one growing flowers at a greenhouse and one making sure boxes are sealed properly before they get loaded onto airplanes. His mother, Avielia works a job that pays minimum wage, or $250 a month. His oldest sister, Dianne has a job working in the Finance office at the Compassion country office. His other sister, Christina volunteers at the Compassion project that Julio attends. They all love Jesus, each other and life. They want the best for each other and do everything they can to make their lives the best it can be.
We got to spend the next day with Julio at a zoo and water park. He loved seeing the animals but when he saw the water park his eyes lit up and he just had to go down the water slides. Again and again and again! He wasn’t satisfied going down the “small” slide so we hiked the 500 meters up the side of the hill to the entrance to “Megabogan!” That slide takes over a minute to slide down through two or three tunnels and a twisting maze of twists and turns before splashing down into the pool. We played in the pool and then had to get ready to say our goodbyes.
Julio is an amazing 13 year old boy. Lisa and I are so honored to be a part of his life. The potential he has is amazing. I’m sure he will grow up and be fulfill everything that God has in store for him. He’s got the ambition, the drive and the heart to achieve anything he wants.
Thanks for spending time with us and for being a part of our lives, Julio! We’ll be back to see you again in three years for my 10th anniversary trip!