Slum : a squalid and overcrowded urban street or district inhabited by very poor people. synonyms:
I was a naive twenty year old walking down a lower middle class tree lined street in Santo Domingo with the directory of Young Life Dominican Republic talking about life and ministry in a foreign and third world setting when we turned the corner and I saw for the first time in my life a slum. I had been on Mission trips to a very impoverished Indian Reservation in North Dakota to paint homes and hold a revival, the back woods of Kentucky to build houses and the old mill villages of West Virginia to reroof and conduct VBS but nothing could have prepared me for what I would see that day. As far as the eye could see were one or two room shanty homes built of cinder blocks, bricks and tin roofs. As most American teenager poverty tourist I got out my camera and began to take photo after photo as my guide described the nearly 70,000 people who lived in these barely livable homes. Later in the week I would accompany her to a Young Life rally right in the heart of the slum, hosted in the back space behind one of the leaders shanty houses. The home was dark with only a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling and it had two rooms, one was a make shift kitchen with a small wooden table the other the bedroom was covered with mats and thin blankets on the floor. Out back there were Christmas lights strung up over the falling down fence and dozens of children sitting on the dusty ground singing Bible School songs. During the evening I had to use the bathroom and the owner looked at me nervously and embarrassed for all he had to offer was an outhouse shared by multiple neighbors. I tried to reassure him it was of no consequence to me but in reality out in the dark of that out house my eyes were opened to how the other side lived and and they would never close again.
Tonight my kids were able to go to the same slum I went to 18 years ago only we didn't fly on a plane, we drove to a church parking in Rock Hill, SC. They were hosting the Compassion Experience and without leaving our own figurative backyard we got to see how the other side lives. For the experience a huge truck folds out into a giant tent transformed to look like two different impoverished countries. As you enter you are given head phones and you listen to a former Compassion child tell his/her story. They are stories of hardship turned redemption through their personal experience with sponsorship. The little boy Jonathan from the slums of Santo Domingo tells his journey of selling juice on the streets, battling the temptation to join a gang, the struggle to forgive his absent father and the Compassion school director who through his forgiveness of Jonathon showed him the forgiveness of Christ. My children were wide eyed like their mother years before as they walked through the home of Jonathan in the slum of Santo Domingo. They touched the holey pair of ladies shoes Jonathon had to wear to school each day much to his embarrassment, they examined the jug of juice he would attempt to sell on the streets, they opened the money box revealing two small coins not enough to even feed him for the day. Like I did years before they got to see how the other side lived.
After my kids saw how the other side lived they saw how the other side found hope.
The compassion expereince doesn't just leave you in the dimly lit room of the slum with barely enough food to survive and clothes stained and too small for you to wallow in the reality of poverty they move you on to show the you the hope that it possible. You walk from the home of the child to the compassion center or school the child was a part of. The room is bright and cheery the walls are covered in Bible illustrations and scriptures and the story continues as you hear about how the child's sponsorship gave them the opportunity to rise out of the darkness into the light though education, food, medical care and most importantly the message of the the love of God.
And the story goes on to explain where the child ended up and how they today our contributing back into their own community. They speak of the sponsors who wrote them letters and reminded them of Gods love with each note. They tell of how their story was changed forever by a single decision from a person who lived on the other side. The side with running water, the side with enough food to always fill a tummy, the side where education is free, the side where it is really easy to forget the other side where these basic needs are not readily available.
My kids exited with eyes more open than when they entered, sure they didn't walk the actual slum like I did back in 1999 but they still got to clearly experience how the other side lives and I am so thankful. We were able to engage in some awesome conversations tonight about poverty, hope, Jesus, sacrifice and privilege and I believe more conversations will come. Tomorrow the kids asked to do something we haven't done in a while, they want to write our Compassion Child Martha, so tonight before I go to bed I will lay out markers, crayons and papers and we will send a little hope to the other side because the other side sent us hope through the story of a slum boy named Jonathan.
A few ways to HELP!!
To be a story changer of a child on the other side go HERE and choose a child!!
To Find a Compassion experience near you go HERE!
To Inquire about hosting the Compassion Experience go HERE!
Please if you end up doing any of the above please leave a comment or send me a message on social media letting me know I would love to hear the exciting news!