Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
On Friday, Jan. 17, a long trailer pulled into the parking lot of Macon Center. Inside was an “interactive tour of life in the developing world.” In fact, for four days, The Compassion Experience drew more than 500 visitors, who stepped inside, donned headphones, and journeyed into a real child’s life of poverty in such countries as the Philippines, Kenya, Uganda, and Guatemala.
Coinciding with The Compassion Experience, which is an immersive program that includes about a half dozen trailers that travel throughout the United States, was Compassion International child sponsorships at the Macon Center-located Discover Church during all three Sunday morning (Jan. 19) services. Pastor Ben Windle pointed out that although Discover Church offers Compassion International sponsorships annually, it was the first time the event coincided with the actual Compassion Experience.
Attendees to Discover Church were shown a video that explained how sponsorship of a child in an impoverished country provides access to clean drinking water, food, education, and more.
Around 200 children received sponsorships, as of Monday Jan. 20, due to The Compassion Experience and education about Compassion International presented by Pastor Windle and John Adams, also with Discover Church. Sponsorships were for children in Honduras and Haiti, since Discover supports ministry efforts in those countries. However, sponsorships through Compassion International are available for children around the globe.
Anyone sponsoring a child has access to an app on which sponsors can write letters to the child as well as get medical and school reports and general information about the child’s well being.
P.J. Johnson, a brand ambassador for The Compassion Experience, explained that the hands-on, audio, and visual experience makes a connection with children and adults that statistics and photographs fail to do on their own.
“You can walk into a child’s world … see where they live, go to school … how they have to have a survival mentality. Some people leave the trailer somber, or in tears. It’s so realistic that it’s as if they’ve visited the country, even if it’s just for a few minutes. The experience speaks to them.”
Sheila Myers, who attends Discover Church, volunteered to assist visitors to The Compassion Experience.
“You don’t realize what your sponsorship and involvement in a child’s life means to that child until you go through this,” said Myers.
For example, “entering” Guatemala unveiled details of the life of young Carlos. He explained how his mother wanted him to go to school, but his father was an alcoholic who, from the time Carlos was five years old, just wanted him to work. The simulated “house” was a tiny, minimalist space of pieced together walls, cloth for doors, rusty metal chairs and tables. Carlos shared in the audio that as a small boy he worked dyeing yarn, collecting pieces of wood to sell in markets, and making shoes so that his family could have money for food. When Compassion International told him he had a family that wanted to sponsor him, his life changed for the better. He was then able to attend school, graduate, and is now an internal auditor and teacher in Guatemala.
“Compassion International changed my story,” he said. On the walls of Carlos’ final “room” is a photograph of him with his mother on graduation day, and him as a young adult.
“The whole thing is about understanding what kids in other countries are going through,” said Myers. “And you realize that something like a sponsorship can actually help some of them get out of poverty.”
On Sunday, Myers chose to sponsor a girl from Haiti.
“It’s important for our kids to see how some children are growing up poor – especially when children here have so much,” said Yvonne Johns, who has sponsored Compassion International children for the last few years. “Children in other countries have to pay for school. If they don’t, they can’t go. And children here often take school for granted. The Compassion Experience shows clearly how life in some other countries is very different.”
So far, The Compassion Experience has been in 150 locations and has been seen by 600,000 visitors. Upcoming locations are available online, and anyone can sign up to host The Compassion Experience, volunteer at an event, and sponsor a child.