At the International Lutheran Church, we were able to see how the program works over time. As I said, Compassion’s vision is “releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name.” One of the most important learnings for me was what Eugene Peterson calls “a long obedience in the same direction.” Poverty is not a quick fix. No Band-Aid will do the job. No mission trip where we do a few things for someone will change their life situation for good. Compassion’s work is more like a consistent, holistic, long-term strategy to truly transform a person. Like a long, steady, consistent irrigation. I said this on the van one day, “What we’ve seen is how Compassion changes a child, which changes a family, which changes a community, which has the potential to change a whole culture.” But that’s a long-term commitment, not a short-term flash in the pan.
When we gathered in the sanctuary of this small oasis in the middle of a city of poverty, we first met Ayune. Ayune grew up in a very poor family in the nearby slums. Her parents were not believers, and her mother died when she was 8, and her father when she was 12. She was raised by her 2 older brothers – the oldest of whom was 16 when he became the caregiver. She reflected that the church and Compassion became her family and helped her brother to raise her. Ayune grew up as a Compassion sponsored child, and was a member of the very first group at this particular church. She and several friends who came through the program are now young leaders in the church, and she now works for Compassion. She is also on the Compassion board at the church and serves in the church in a number of ways as a volunteer leader because it is her home church. She serves alongside of Abeje who is the now the Church Administrator and Tilahun who is one of the evangelists. These three - and several others - grew up together in the church. They called each other “family.” The church is now about 1000 members – 250 of whom are children. By the way, the children who are members of the church are not necessarily Compassion Children. Some are, but many (if not most) Compassion sponsored children are Orthodox, Muslim, or sometimes animist before coming into the program, and it is truly an evangelistic endeavor. The church has a 5-10 year vision to plant churches that preach the gospel and minister to people holistically – and they said that the DNA of Compassion and the care of poor children is so embedded in their church that if the partnership with Compassion were to be discontinued, they would continue the work on their own. That’s creating indigenous leadership and transformation. Did I mention? All of these centers and the Country Office are run – not by Western missionaries – but by indigenous Ethiopians? They hope to build some mixed space facilities – like a library – that the community can use, and that they can use as a third space for evangelism. They have 12 full time workers at the church, 6 of whom are evangelists (which is basically a pastor who’s focus is people outside the church who are far from God, helping them find their way back to Him), 5 are directors, and 1 pastors the church with another part time pastor. Notice, the bulk of resources are focused outside the church body.
Though Ayune wasn’t ever in the Child Survival Program, she and her friends Abeje and Tilahun are definitely a testimony to the long term development of young leaders who received Christ, received help to release them from poverty, and who are now next generation leaders in the church. This is the long-term development strategy: Crisis Intervention -> Child Survival Program (womb – 3 years) -> Child Development Sponsorship Program -> Leadership Development Program (I’ll write about an LDP later).
I mentioned in the previous post that Ayune’s parents died when she was 8 and 12. This was not an unusual story for us to hear. In fact, it was one of the most prevalent stories we heard. Even as we looked through files at the center and read each child’s family information, many had lost at least one parent, if not both. Many are being raised in community by the church, the neighborhood, and then at home by older siblings. It was not uncommon to meet children who were being raised by 14 and 16 year old siblings. One home visit that a part of our group made that we were not on was to a home with 4 children, the oldest of whom was a 15 year old boy who was raising the rest of the family. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be either raised by my brother, or have my oldest daughter have to raise my other children. These kids may not have much, they may be uneducated, but they are amazing!
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