Last week, I was in Ecuador with Compassion International.
At the church Compassion partners with outside of Riobamba, Ecuador, we sat on wooden benches in a huge church building, surrounded by students and staff. We watched as two little guys crossed the stage, dressed up all nice in their black pants, white dress shirts, and brightly striped ponchos. Each grabbed a microphone. I don’t know their ages (I would guess five or six?), and as the music began to play, they danced and sang a song about Jesus like they were on Ecuador’s Got Talent. (You can see a video clip of it here.)
Between verses, the taller of the two shorties would say, “Clap your hands!” like he was legitimately performing for a concert hall full of fans. And to be fair, he kinda was. All the Compassion staff, our team, and the hundred or so children in the church were all hanging on his every word.
It was a highlight of the trip for me — this four minute performance. Because it spoke volumes.
What it told me is that those kids feel safe.
Not just physically, though that is obviously true. They clearly feel like they are in a safe environment, where their physical well being is not only being protected from harm, but is also grown and nurtured through healthy meals and play time outside. None of the children have worried faces when they are at the church. They look peaceful and happy.
But more than that — I saw how those boys feel safe to dream, safe to hope, safe to be creative, safe to explore, and safe enough to try and fail.
This wasn’t the first performance for either of them. But at some point, there was a first. And on that first day, there was an adult — probably a tutor or director or pastor — who said yes when the little guys asked to sing. There was someone who taught them how to hold a microphone and someone who was willing to press play on the background music.
What the staff and leaders at Compassion have done is built a safe place for kids to be brave. And that matters to me. Meeting their physical needs is a priority, and rightly so. I expected that. But what I didn’t expect was the way the leaders believe in the children, the way the staff builds up the character and person of each kid, not just the body. And how their love for the kids gives each little one the opportunity to try something new — like singing or dancing, or dreaming about a different life than the one in which they are being raised.
The kids are brave and free because the Compassion staff loves them well.
Psalm 16:6 says the boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places, and I feel like that’s exactly what the Ecuadorian staff at Compassion have done. They’ve given these kids safe boundaries where they can explore, grow, play, and learn.
I didn’t know releasing kids from poverty in the name of Jesus looked like that.
But it does.