This piece was originally published on June 25, 2016 on http://tanyadennisbooks.com as is being reprinted with permission.
Whenever everything you need (and nearly everything you want) is within 15 minutes of your house, driving 40 minutes for a free event says something.
This weekend the kids and I attended The Compassion Experience. This traveling exhibit invites you to experience for yourself what it’s like to grow up in a third-world country. Participants walk through detailed and immersive environments that tell the stories of real children who have been helped by Compassion International.
Before I say any more let me make this clear: This is not an advertisement. I am not affiliated with Compassion, Intl., or this project. I’m not even associated with the church that sponsored the local event. It was just a really, really cool experience and I want to tell you about it.
You all know I am passionate about fighting poverty, human trafficking, and supporting those who are oppressed and in need. I’ve written a number of times about raising mission-minded kids. This is just an extension of that.
The event is held in what looks like a large shipping container. Inside is a small registration foyer and steps to several small rooms. I also noticed handicap accessibility.
Each guest is provided with headphones and an ipod or smartphone to guide them through the tour. The ambiance and sound is so real, my son swatted at flies that weren’t really there! (He also enjoyed dancing to the music. )
The tours included homes and bedrooms plus neighborhood scenes and Compassion centers. At schools like this (pictured below), sponsored children are given meals, an education, and Bible teaching, but they’re also provided with security, belonging, and hope. These are the components that change lives.
You go through in small groups. We went just the three of us, but you could probably fit six people at a time. Not more than that. This makes it a very intimate experience. Personal. Affecting.
We were able to tour two different stories. Both were lives riddled with poverty.
One was of a boy whose father was abusive. Alcohol and drugs threaded through his story as a ready escape. Gangs seemed the only reasonable survival. An advocate from Compassion provided safety and hope to this young man, but generational habits are hard to break. His journey was difficult, but we were able to see how the investment of others saved his life and his future.
The other was of a young girl from Uganda. Her father had died and her family had little means to support themselves. The reality of child marriage consistently hung over her head. She knew that if her mother sold her in marriage, the family would be better off. Instead of $1 a day, they would gain $3000 or more instantly. Through her sponsorship, she not only avoided child marriage and human trafficking, but was able to finish school and move to the United States to continue her education. She is currently studying social work at Baylor University with hopes to return to her country and help other children like her.
While you progress at your own pace (pressing “Next” on your device when ready to move on), our tours took about 15 to 20 minutes each and ended with videos showing the real towns and the real people represented. They verified the truth behind the tours and encouraged us to prayerfully consider what we could do to help other children in similar circumstances. We had the opportunity, then, to select a child to sponsor from the many waiting.
Yesterday Ellie showed me a new community she’s building on Minecraft. It holds a village with a “Hope Center” in the middle to help the children who might need food or schooling. She went on to tell me this is the first world she’s created that doesn’t make her house the biggest and best. “In this village the biggest house is for everyone who needs it.”
It’s so difficult living in this nation, in our Christian and economic bubbles, to teach our children that most of the world isn’t like us. Most of the world possesses a fraction of what we take for granted. Short of mission trips, opportunities to widen their perspectives — and ours! — are few. This was an awesome experience and I highly recommend it.
Now, doing this experience won’t instantaneously change our perspectives. My kids still asked for ice cream and Starbucks on the way home, but — it made us all think. It made us all grateful. It made us all remember how God desires for us to be generous and compassionate to those in need.