I had heard about Compassion International since I was a high school student. The father of one of my classmates worked in the Quito office for Compassion for some time. I remember when Michael W. Smith came down to Ecuador to visit a Compassion child that he sponsored in Guayaquil. He gave a free concert at my church during his visit to Ecuador.
However, it wasn’t until I was a graduate student in late 1999 when I decided that I would try to sponsor a child through Compassion myself. I remember the feeling of nervousness I felt when I mailed a letter to Compassion saying I was interested in sponsoring a child. I knew I was making a monthly commitment and I prayed that I would be able to remain faithful to it.
I was extremely excited when I received the information for my sponsor child. Was it coincidence or God’s hand that they selected a little girl from Guayaquil, Ecuador to be my sponsor child? Such a joy surged through my soul as I looked at the photograph of the dark-haired, chubby little four year old by the name of Kiara Zulieka Reyes Cruz.
Those first few years, her older sister or her cousin would write letters on Kiara’s behalf and began to correspond to each other in that way. Eventually, she was able to start writing letter to me by herself. Eventually, her elementary handwriting developed into swooping cursive letters. She was starting high school and growing into a little lady.
When Stephen and I moved to Quito, Ecuador, we decided that we would try to visit Kiara at least once while we were living in the same country with her. Looking at the calendar, it seem the best time to make the visit would be during our Thanksgiving holiday. Not only was it a good time for us to visit, but it was a special time of the year for Kiara. Her fifteenth birthday was coming up two days after our visit. For Latin Americans, the “cinceanera” birthday celebration is similar to the idea of the “sweet sixteen” for girls in the U.S. So, we set up the “individual sponsor visit” with Compassion and booked our flight to Guayaquil.
Ten years after I started sponsoring this little girl, I was finally meeting her in person. I had been sending her pictures of my husband and my growing family. Now, I would finally get to introduce them to her in real life.
We met up with the Compassion project manager, Kiara’s uncle and Kiara in front of a large mall. Jared was a little shy at first. Luke warmed up to her right away. And Stephen just smiled a lot, because he couldn’t understand Spanish. We all crammed into one taxi and rode to the Compassion project where we got to see the church area and classrooms were the kids would come for help with their homework and to study the Bible.
Afterwards, we went to another mall and wandered around a little bit before eating lunch. Then we had to cut the visit short, because the baby boys were in need of their daily afternoon nap. It was hard to say good-bye to Kiara after such a short visit.
We gave her a new Bible, a journal and a devotional for her birthday. We hope and pray that she will continue to develop into a wonderful woman of God that he has created her to be.