“I had always wanted to go to Africa,” said Brynn from her home in Colorado Springs, Colo. “I said, ‘I’m going to Tanzania. I want you to go, but if you’re not going, I’m going without you.’”
Compassion International, with headquarters in Colorado Springs, is a Christian child-advocacy ministry that focuses on children living in spiritual and economic poverty and enables them to become responsible, fulfilled Christian adults. Both women sponsor young girls in Tanzania through Compassion and serve as advocates for the organization.
“Advocates are volunteers that speak up for the children who can’t speak up for themselves,” said Susan, an advocate for two years and area coordinator of Kansas for the past year.
“We’re essentially trained to talk for Compassion, so we’re all available for presentations or whatever.”
The purpose of the trip, she said, was to experience aspects of Compassion’s ministry, including the Child Survival Program, which teaches mothers better ways to care for their children. Many children in Africa die before the age of 3, she added.
Susan made a home visit with one mother.
“She had a 6- or 9-month-old really healthy-looking little boy,” Susan said. “She lived in a 10-by-10 (foot) mud hut with a tin roof—no electricity or running water, really no bed. Boards were all the way around (the interior of the hut). She cooked outside.”
Through Compassion, mothers also learn a vocation with which they can help provide for their families, as well as participate in Bible studies.
“They’ve taught her to have a market business,” Susan said about the woman she visited. “She sells avocado and bananas…. She goes to another market, buys them and brings them back (to sell).”
The Paine women also spent time at Compassion centers, where they worked on projects managed by Tanzanians.
“The center I was at we painted two rooms and re-poured concrete floor,” Susan said, adding that the job had to be done without typical tools and equipment, such as buckets and paintbrushes.
“They have no supplies—they use what they’ve got,” she said.
Concrete was carried in sheets of plastic. The paint, purchased with funds provided by another Compassion program, was watered down to make it go further, she said.
“Talk about a culture clash—you don’t paint over dirt.”
Through Compassion International, individuals can sponsor children for $38 a month.
“What I love about Compassion is the one-on-one sponsorship,” Susan said.
While money helps, it’s the relationships that make such a difference for the children, relationships cultivated through correspondence.
Brynn has sponsored Maua, almost 12, for nearly three years.
“I learned how to pronounce her name over there,” Brynn said. “I had been pronouncing it wrong.”
Susan has sponsored 7-year-old Catherine for two years; they share the same birthday.
“That’s the reason I chose her,” Susan said.
While in Tanzania, the Paines met and spent a day with the girls they sponsor.
Through the letters they exchanged over the past years, Susan had certain expectations about Catherine.
“I just expected to meet this shy, withdrawn child cowering behind her mother,” she said.
But that wasn’t the case.
“When we pulled up (on the bus), my daughter said, ‘Mom, there’s Catherine.’ She was jumping up and down. It just blew me out of the water. I had no clue she would comprehend (what it meant to meet someone who had been writing her).”
Catherine came with her arms spread wide to meet Susan after she stepped off the bus.
“How she comprehended I was coming, I don’t understand,” Susan said.
Her mother wasn’t able to come, so Catherine traveled 18 hours on crowded public transportation with her social worker to see Susan.
“She drove six hours one day and they spent the night and then they drove 12 hours the next day to spend six hours with me to turn around and do it the next day,” Susan said.
They met in a park where Catherine was able to play on playground equipment for the first time in her life. Susan, who had brought a backpack of educational toys for her, said she learned that Catherine is very social, loves to sing and has the gift of prayer.
“She not only comes to the children’s prayer that are an hour long, she begs to come to the adult prayer meetings that often last three or four hours and she prays with the adults,” Susan said.
Brynn said she values sharing memories with her mother of their trip to Tanzania. Being able to live the experiences with another adds richness to those memories.
“(Going alone) is not the same as sharing with someone who has seen it together,” Brynn said, adding that the trip “continues to fuel our ministry with Compassion and their ministry to children in poverty.”
Elliots in Zambia
While the Paines spent time in Tanzania, the Elliots traveled with a Teen Missions International team to neighboring Zambia. Teen Missions International is an interdenominational Christian mission organization that runs short-term mission trips with youth, teenagers and adults.
The TMI team included 12 teenagers from across the United States, leaders Jessica and Karen and two Zambian interpreters who had graduated from the organization’s missionary school.
The Elliots’ eight-week experience began with 21?2 weeks of intensive training at Merritt Island, Fla.
“The purpose of (the training), without them verbalizing it, is to break you,” Karen said. “It was a time to break you physically, emotionally, spiritually and socially.”
As the team’s main cooks, Karen and Jessica prepared meals in rural locations without Western conveniences of running water, a stove or refrigerator.
“We didn’t even have a place to buy a banana,” Karen said. “We cooked 60 meals a day on charcoal for our team and our interpreters.
“We were given these three little grills. We didn’t have matches, so you always had to go to a village and find someone with a red coal (to ignite the charcoal)….so we had classes on how to cook from scratch.”
The TMI group prepared for its evangelistic work with classes in puppetry, music and sharing their faith using the “Wordless Book” one-on-one and in a group, Jessica said, and how to drive and maintain a motorcycle.
Once the team left Florida, members knew their responsibilities, Karen said, whether that be collecting and transporting 50-pound duffels, carrying and boiling water from the river or washing clothes by hand.
“There wasn’t a relaxing moment all summer,” Karen said.
The team arrived in Ndola, the location of the main base for TMI Zambia and where the nationals are trained at the Bible college. The team then rode motorcycles to villages where children—many orphans—would come to rescue centers established by Teen Missions for Bible lessons, playtime, food and minimal medical care.
“There are a lot of orphans, but there is no place for the orphans to sleep,” Karen said. “The rescue units are run by nationals. A rescue unit is a big area that is filled in with sand. It’s a safe place for the orphans to be during the day because they get abused a lot by men.
“At nighttime, they have to leave the unit because there’s no place for them to sleep at the facilities. So they go back to their extended family village. They have to stay on the edge of the sand and the tall grass because the people have their own large families.”
If there’s leftover food, then the orphans will get it, she added.
“But they don’t go to school and they have no place to go during the day,” Karen said. “(The children) just kind of wander, so they have these units for a safe place to come.”
TMI establishes rescue units rather than orphanages because with so many orphans, an orphanage wouldn’t be effective, said Jessica, adding, “In the African culture, if a parent dies and leaves a child orphaned, the aunt, uncle, sister or brother, they’ll be in charge of the child.”
Every morning the team would bike to a different village, riding an hour to five hours on narrow paths with 7-foot grass on either side.
“If we had a road, we were very lucky,” Jessica said, adding that people tipped over with their motorcycles, but no one was hurt.
Karen said, “I had quite a few crashes. They were always in 6-inch sand.”
A flatbed truck with supplies would follow the team if there was a road to travel.
“We would unload it and we’d walk into Sunday school right off our bikes and start performing,” Karen said.
Jessica, who plans to attend Huntington (Ind.) University, as a sophomore in fall, shared the story of Violet.
“She was the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” Jessica said about the little girl. “Her face had been burned in a fire and she had burns on her arms.”
When Jessica first arrived, Violet followed her but kept a distance.
“She had no emotion,” she said. “She would hardly talk.”
Jessica tried to play with her, but she would walk away.
“After two days of trying to engage her, she was a totally different person,” Jessica said. “She was laughing and smiling and yelling my name…. This little girl stole my heart.”
When she had a chance, Karen would bike out into the bush with an interpreter to visit people who were ill and couldn’t get out, and she would pray with them.
On one memorable visit, she met an ill man who couldn’t talk anymore. Karen was overwhelmed with his situation.
“I just cried,” she said. “I was so embarrassed (because Africans don’t show emotion). I just asked that God would give him the grace he needed to endure the new life he was living.
“He was so appreciative. He gave us sweet potatoes.”
Asked about having a mother and daughter working as leaders, the Elliots agreed they worked well together.
“I feel like I’ve gotten really close to my mom by having this experience with her,” Jessica said. “I know it changed our relationship…. I feel like she looks at me more as an adult now.”
Her mother agreed about the experiencing growth in their relationship.
“I feel like this trip has allowed me to release her into adulthood with much more confidence,” Karen said.