Bonnie Gray is the soulful author of Whispers of Rest and Finding Spiritual Whitespace. An inspirational speaker and retreat leader, she has touched thousands of lives through storytelling, visual arts, nature, prayer and meditation. Bonnie’s writing is featured on Relevant Magazine, DaySpring (in)courage, and Christianity Today. She lives in California with her husband and their two sons. Visit Bonnie at www.thebonniegray.com and connect with her @thebonnigray on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.” Henri Nouwen
I thought I was safe.
I exhaled a breath of laughter with two little girls who stuck to me, the moment we stepped out of the Compassion van, like two graham crackers melted into a marshmallow s'more. The girls drew a circle of beautiful children to follow me, children who make a home among shacks of tin-rusted roofs and walls made out of metal sheets, huddled along the polluted waters of "The River". This is not a river you go stand in to go fly-fishing, but rather used as sewage and garbage that runs through the neighborhood's backyard.
I knew in my head Compassion would never take bloggers anywhere that risks our safety. But, as our van moved into the "City Belt" -- the most dangerous strip of land in the Dominican Republic -- I noticed we stopped. A policeman who holstered a metal pistol climbed on, to sit alongside me.
Jonathan, Compassion's Dominican Site Leader, announced we needed security because the City Belt is where stories for many boys and girls are hijacked into tragedies of human trafficking, drugs, and violence. This happens daily.
But, these adorable girls were Compassion children. Safe. Loved by Jesus.
As they led me to the church where Compassion children meet for worship, a moving cocoon of smiling boys and girls took turns hugging me, bobbing with excitement.
I felt all was right and beautiful as they sang and danced for Jesus. The Compassion children were brightly lit from within, clapping and singing at the top of their lungs like it was Christmas everyday here.
I felt like a little girl somehow invited to a party where I belonged -- a perpetual VBS in a joy-filled-Jesus "Safe House", created daily by Compassion workers and the local church they partner with.
This was a Safe House paid for by loving Compassion Sponsors who are giving purely by faith -- having never received the gift of feeling these precious arms physically encircle them.
I felt humbled and overwhelmed by the love these children were deeply longing to give to their sponsors as they hugged me -- and held my hands.
Later in the Compassion Classrooms, as I showed the kids my photo album and told them about my family & asked them to guess how old I was -- we laughed as if we'd never known anything sweeter in life.
In that moment, I felt safe --- from my brokenness.
But, God was about to show me true compassion is not safety from brokenness.
What I didn't know is that true compassion from Jesus steps into brokenness to transform it into beauty. I was going to step into the heart of Jesus -- by stepping into one Compassion child's story -- to being transformed and fought for along The River. I met Braudy.
One Tin Roof Shack
I found myself sitting in one of those tin-roof shacks, to meet Braudy's mom and his five siblings, one metal sheet away from The River.
There were no doors to this home. Fabric hung as curtains. I could see The River as I followed the family out backyard.
"I fight for my children everyday," Braudy's beautiful mother told us with strength and dignity. "My husband and I work hard everyday, because I want my children to succeed in life."
Compassion International was this mother's secret weapon. Braudy's Compassion Sponsor equipped him with real help: classes that taught him God's ways. Classes that taught him to read and write. Food to feed his body and a community who love Jesus to feed his soul.
Braudy was quietly, respectfully listening to his mother tell us all about it.
Then, something seismic happens.
Jonathan turns to Holley, Mark Gerth and I (the three of us were there in this home visit) and begins to translate for Braudy.
"My sponsor doesn't write any letters to me." Braudy says with a face broken by anguish and pain that needs no translation.
Braudy is a twelve year old, but when he spoke looking into my eyes, I heard the voice of a little boy -- like a seven-year old girl I knew from long ago when her father left her. Me.
Braudy was looking straight into my eyes.
Something broke me in a thousand pieces. Shattered like the rubble the shed sat on. Shattered like the broken driveway I stood on day my father drove away and left me.
I became the eyes of Braudy's sponsor -- and he asks me the one question that breaks his heart every time sponsor letters arrive for all the little children. Except for him.
No letter. For four years. Since he was eight years old. Braudy is now twelve.
"Why?" Brody asked me. Por que? "Why doesn't my Sponsor write? I pray to ask God why. Again and again. But no letter.
I don't think my Sponsor loves me." Braudy would cry and cry and cry. Because Braudy would write and write and write. And all the reasons that made sense ... all the reasons why his sponsor wouldn't write... all ran out. Braudy doesn't want to write anymore letters. Because he says he doesn't want to cry anymore.
My heart could not stop breaking. And I began to cry. Pain for Braudy. Pain for the little girl in me who asked long ago --
why did you leave, Daddy? why not one word? don't you love me?
I am no longer safe, standing on the side. I see his Compassion Tutor Ana, who cries with Braudy year after year, because she has no sponsor letters to give him.
And in their cries, I find my voice.
Your Story Matters
"Brody, I want to tell you something." Jonathan translates. "I understand how you feel. My father left me when I was seven years old. I cried to God year after year -- Why? I didn't hear an answer.
But, now I look back and I see. God sent me friends like your tutor Ana -- who cries with you when you are sad. Jesus cries with me -- through their arms. Jesus loves me through them.
Jesus loves you too. Jesus loves you through Compassion.
All of us visiting here will tell your story, Braudy. You will inspire people everywhere to become sponsors. More children will be loved with letters. Your story matters.
Then, Braudy smiled the biggest smile and a thunder of clapping blew the rooftop with cheers. And that beautiful home lit up with love like fireworks to celebrate Braudy, his beautiful mother and family! To celebrate Jesus!
Don't sit on the side, sweet kindreds. Tell a child his or her story matters. Let Jesus use your heart and hands to love a little boy or girl like Braudy -- who is longing for someone to sponsor them.
Will YOU be their sponsor today? Click here to see all the children who are praying and waiting for a sponsor -- EVERY DAY -- in some cases more than a year. Let's be God's answer to their prayers!
Sponsor a child & receive a special Lisa Leonard Necklace created just for this #CompassionBloggers Trip! I cannot begin to describe how much love these children have for their sponsors. You are their safe haven. Your love is Jesus.
Something Super God-Amazing!
As I looked through the pictures taken of the day, I noticed the first boy who tapped me on the shoulder during the worship service to say "Hola!" -- was BRAUDY!! Totally unscripted!! #UnscriptedCompassion
** Our U.S. Compassion Trip Co-Leader Sean also explained with great compassion and clarity to Braudy, his mother and Tutor Ana that although his sponsor has not written him letters, his sponsor REALLY DOES LOVE Braudy, by faithfully giving money to support him all these years.
Sean explained in the U.S., sometimes people sincerely express their love by giving money, as a commitment to give children the best opportunities to dream and succeed in life.