I have been sponsoring Antonio since 2011 and visited his family in 2013. Last year when I was in the Philippines, my friend Kayla Groth took over his sponsorship but when I returned to Australia, circumstances allowed me to take him back.
I was apprehensive about this visit. To give you an idea why, this was my Facebook status immediately after I visited them last time:
I cried today. Mama is so young at 23, with an 8 y.o. boy and a 1 month old baby. She's just moved into this "house" (brick-box), with her equally young husband who sells newspapers at the market, and her loneliness is palpable. This was the first time on my trip I did not ask to take pohotos of their house. I could not bring myself to do it, to preserve their dignity. For all the possessions, knowledge, money and "stuff" that I've been blessed with, standing in this family's backyard, looking at the hole in the ground that is their toilet, all I could do for this Mama was hold her and lift her up to almighty God. It was a holy moment. She was so broken, but God was there, and I could feel her respond in her spirit. Even as I fervently prayed for this family, my words felt so empty and trite, and I realised how much I needed to increase my own faith. Without Jesus and the help of Compassion, she has nothing. However, there is hope, and for this Mama it comes in the form of her 8 y.o. son, my sponsored boy Antonio. This kid is a riot, joyous and full of life, and "smart as a whip" (whatever that means). He is a fount of knowledge of all things animals (from the Discovery Channel) and I could see the pride and love emanate off this Mama as we squeezed into their house, and she sat feeding her baby, while her boy rattled off fact after fact and entertained us all. My relationship with this family is definitely a gift from God, for me as well as for them, and may it long continue....
I was brought apart. I could feel their brokenness, and it was all the more personal since they weren’t just ‘some poor family in Nicaragua’ but we were connected through Compassion sponsorship. It hurt to see their situation and know that that in all honesty I couldn’t do much for them on my own. God used this visit to remind me that without Him, we have nothing.
So, these were the thoughts and feelings swirling through my head as we travelled to Leon. We arrived at the church, and Antonio arrived soon after. It was clear right from the start that his personality had not changed since our first meeting, which is a very good thing. He is a riot; he did not stop talking the whole time, which made hard work for our translator Carlos, and I was left laughing at some of the random stuff he came out with. He is an intelligent lad, a very good big brother to two-year-old Jovie and I believe he is a future leader.
Antonio is very good at maths and said he wants to become an architect because they make lots of money and he wants to help his mother because she has taken care of him. Wise words, well beyond his years.
We met at the Project and after greeting Antonio, the first thing I noticed was the difference in Mama. Aside from the fact that the newborn bub she had last time was now an energetic two-year-old, her whole disposition was more positive. She looked relaxed, confident and started talking with us straight away. This indicated to me that something had changed since my last visit and I was keen to find out what this was.
It turned out that two years ago (about six months after my visit), Antonio’s paternal grandmother bought them a house. In Nicaragua, as with many developing countries, this is a huge thing. Having a place of their own, with no need to pay rent or possibility of getting evicted with no place to go was a huge burden lifted off their shoulders, and it showed. I was so happy to hear this.
I had met Antonio’s grandmother on my last visit, and was deeply impacted by her love for Antonio and his family. Even though her son and Antonio’s Mama were not together, she still treats her like a daughter and is active in their lives. This incredible act of love and sacrifice of buying them a small property had changed their lives forever.
Accompanied by cans of Coke, we had a good conversation about normal everyday stuff, including what we did on our last visit. My translator Carlos was impressed by how much Antonio remembered from two-and-a-half years ago. It just shows the impact that a visit has, even if only for a few hours. I also talked to mama when she wasn’t busy wrangling the two-year-old. She sometimes sells fruit at the local market for some extra income, and has a dream to open a vendor store at her home, which would make things a whole lot easier for the family.
I showed Antonio updated pictures of my family including my nieces and nephews, and for some reason he became besotted with one particular nephew, three-year-old Seth. He just captured Antonio’s imagination, and he would talk about him repeatedly during the day.
We took a tour of the Project and met many of the staff.
It was clearly evident the bond Antonio had with many of the Project staff, and they have a big impact on his life. When introducing them he would sidle up to them and put an arm on their shoulder or around their waist.
During the day he clearly enjoyed having the attention of two males, me and Carlos. He would repeatedly pat us on the back or the arm and say things like “I’m so glad you are here,” or “I am really happy you have come.”
We were also able to see the recently-opened Child Survival Program, which cares for pregnant women and their babies up to three years old.
Antonio was something of an advocate, telling me all about it and showing me some of the materials and resources the mothers receive. At one stage he became a bit jealous and said “Look at all the toys!” I replied with “Do you want to become a baby again, so you can play with the toys?” He answered in the negatory. I think he’s quite happy being 11.
It was then time for a brief home visit before heading to lunch. For me personally, even though it was amazing to hear they have their own house, the state of the actual house still made my head spin. It was pretty much a room which was 4m x4m (12 feet) at best, and the bed took up most of the space. Their kitchen and shower are next to the house with a roof over the top, but no walls. Barbed wire surrounds the property and there is an enclosed toilet out the back, which is an improvement from their last house. With much pride, Antonio showed me a thriving tree he had planted when they first moved there.
My initial reaction to the house showed I was failing to see things from their perspective. While I looked at the condition of the house and compared it to what I knew, to them it was completely different. They were in a safe neighbourhood with a place they could call their own. I could sense the security, contentment and satisfaction that came with this. This isn’t to say that they wouldn’t move to a better place if the opportunity arose, but rather than looking at and yearning for what they don’t have, they were thankful for what they do have. God has provided for them through the love of Antonio’s grandmother, and this freedom of home ownership provides a good foundation for their future.
After this we went into town for lunch. Burger King was the venue of choice today and the two brothers had fun on the little playground.
During lunch, somehow the conversation got onto WWE Wrestling. I had no idea he liked this, and it’s also something I enjoy. We talked about our favourite wrestlers and then I dropped a bombshell. He mentioned how it was sometimes quite violent and, I figured to reassure him, I said “You know they’re not actually punching and kicking each other?” His face fell and he said “You mean it’s not real?” and I explained they were just actors who were pretending. I said they are still athletes and it’s for entertainment but no, it’s not real.
Next stop was the supermarket, where we loaded up some much-needed supplies for the family.
I’d say it was probably little brother’s first ride in a trolley and Mama faced that conundrum that all parents face at some point: keeping the little one occupied and keeping the trolley far enough away from the shelves so little fingers can’t grab stuff.
We also went to the market to buy a couple of gifts for Antonio. He chose a watch and a soccer ball.
I brought him a soccer ball last time but unsurprisingly, with the amount of barbed wire around, it didn’t last long. While we were at the market I saw a little 25 centavo coin on the ground and pointed it out to Antonio. He slowly approached it, picked up, held it up with a smile on his face, then shoved it in his pocket. The kid had won the lottery!
Finally we went back to the family home for some time together. By this time little brother was a bit tired and grumpy, but it’s amazing what an Australian football can do to cheer little ones up. He took a while to warm up to me, but by the end we were sweet, and tossed the ball back and forth as I chatted with Mama and Antonio.
I asked Mama “If there was one thing you need above everything else, what would it be?” She took a while to answer, and seemed uncomfortable and slightly embarrassed by the question, maybe misunderstanding me. I quickly moved to reassure her and Carlos helped me by conveying to her that as Antonio’s sponsor I wanted to help them in any way I could and I was just trying to understand their situation better, but there was no pressure. She seemed put at ease by this and answered that since they only had one bed for all of them, another one would be helpful.
During the day, one thing I was blown away by was the impact that his previous sponsor Kayla Groth had on the family in the space of one year. Like I mentioned, Kayla was impacted by the family’s story and agreed to sponsor Antonio for me while I was in the Philippines in 2014. When I came back I was able to take over the sponsorship, but it was evident that in the space of twelve months Kayla had worked her way into their hearts in a huge way.
While we were talking, Antonio made a couple of videos for Kayla and showed that he still has all the letters and pictures she sent. He also made a video for my nephew Seth, in which he imparts 11-year-old wisdom to the little guy which I’m sure will set Seth up for a good life.
We finished with a kick of the footy, which I left with them as a gift. Not sure how long it will last, but anyway.
This day was a real blessing, and it went about as well as I hoped it would. The contrast between the two visits could not have been greater, and it was so good to see the progress that was being made in this family’s life thanks to God’s provision. It is an honor that I get a front row seat, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for them.