A little compassion can change a person’s life.
Eleven Briercrest College and Seminary students experienced that first hand thanks to a week-long course they took in Ecuador earlier this month.
The students just completed the course, Child, Church and Mission, which came about through the partnership of Briercrest and Compassion Canada. Barry Slauenwhite, president of Compassion Canada and Myra Daugherty, Briercrest’s instructor in Children’s Studies, co-taught the class.
According to feedback from the class participants, the venture was a success.
“The students were impacted, the professors were impacted and the Compassion staff were impacted,” remarked Aaron Gonyou, Briercrest alumnus and Compassion Canada’s director of marketing. “I believe everyone left this experience changed by God forever!”
“I can boldly say that it was the class of my dreams,” class member Allysha Beaulieu raved. “When searching for a program after high school, I had a specific type of class in mind. I went from University of Ottawa, to Briercrest, to CrossTraining Global. Every step became closer to the class that I had been searching for. My first day (in Ecuador) I realized that this was the class that I had been searching for all these years.”
Compassion Canada’s president, Barry Slauenwhite, said that equipping students like Beaulieu was one of the main objectives for offering this course.
“Since both Compassion and Briercrest have a strong passion for kingdom-building and especially for equipping students to impact the future generations of leaders, it seems right to us that we join together in investing in tomorrow’s Christian leaders,” he said. “Spending the week with these students was a kingdom investment and I was thrilled to see the passion they have for holistic child development. Their passion for Christ and for children is a winning combination for the kingdom.”
The class consisted of course material and lectures that focused on holistic child development – caring for children’s needs physically, spiritually, cognitively and socially. In the afternoons the students went on field trips to observe how Compassion is facilitating that development at several of their project sites housed in local churches in Ecuador.
“One of my favourite parts aside from learning in class was visiting the projects,” class member Chrissy Misfeldt said. “Compassion feeds the children, educates them and provides tutors and medical assistance.”
David Guretzki, Briercrest’s executive lead for strategic and ministry partnership, was impressed by how thorough this process was.
“We learned about how Compassion seeks to track each child that is sponsored,” he explained. “Every child has a file that records regular reports about their home life, their schooling, their medical and physical well-being, their spiritual learning, and their financial situation. Someone sitting next to me remarked that there is more intentionality about how these kids grow up than our own children in Canada. Of course, the situation is completely different, but I did begin to wonder if a little more intentionality on our parts would be beneficial!”
Class members were given the chance to personally participate in Compassion’s work in Ecuador by sponsoring a child, whom they got to meet and spend time with. The sponsors committed to send $41 each month to Compassion which helps to provide for the care of their child.
Misfeldt says this was the high point of her trip.
“My specific highlight was choosing a sponsor child and getting to meet him and his dad during the week,” she said. “Seeing how excited and thankful he was broke my heart (as well as) seeing other children and how much they valued the letters from their sponsors.”
Class instructor, Myra Daugherty, says selecting and meeting her sponsored child was also a highlight for her Ecuador experience.
“They had an (information) packet for each child that still needed a sponsor at the different projects,” Daugherty said. “I studied them very carefully. I actually chose (my sponsored child) because he likes to sing and my son likes to sing. I got to meet him and his family and take them out for the day. Our hotel was on a lake and he had never seen the lake before, so I took him out on a little paddle boat.”
Class members visited three different projects that Compassion houses in several local churches.
“Each place we went had over 250 children,” Daugherty explained. “They hire two or three people to help run the projects. The rest is done by volunteers – the cooking, the feeding, the tutoring, the Bible studies – it’s really quite incredible.”
The children who benefit from the programs come from very impoverished families.
“Let me describe the houses that we saw,” Daugherty said. “(There were) dirt floors or mud because the roofs are basically made out of tarp with sticks and mud and bricks. There’s really no such thing as a door or window. If there is a door it would have holes in it, so you’ve got chickens running in and out – cats and dogs running in and out. You would have one room for the children to sleep in (four to five children per bed) and their bed would be a slab of wood that gets them off of the cold floor.”
Even though the level of poverty was very sobering, the team could see hope in some of the families they encountered.
“As I observed the little family we visited, it was abundantly clear that Jesus had made a difference in their home,” Guretzki reported. “As a class, we later observed how different these families’ disposition and countenance was compared to even some of the people we saw on the streets who were obviously deeply poor, but had a look of hopelessness and lostness in their eyes. I wouldn’t have believed someone if they told me that you can tell the difference, but after seeing it with my own eyes, I can testify that there was a difference.”
“The way the students experience life will never be the same,” Daugherty said. “Yes, we experienced the poverty, but what we saw is people who know Jesus, who were living in the poverty, still have joy. It’s not the poverty that brings them down but Jesus who brings them up.”
Seeing this kind of resiliency in the midst of challenging circumstances deeply impacted class members.
“Many of our students processed as they went,” Daugherty said.” Some of them processed internally and were not really affected until the end and they just completely fell to pieces. They did not want to leave – did not want to say goodbye to Ecuador.”
Now that the students have returned home, they are focused on writing the paper assigned for the class, and turning in their journal entries and book review.
Although the final marks for the class aren’t in yet, Daugherty has had some humorous offers from students who liked the class so much they want to take it again next year.
“(They said) ‘Well, why don’t you just flunk me?’” she recalled with a grin.