A compassionate experience

Compassion Experience gives a glimpse of what living conditions are for underdeveloped countries around the world

By May Soricelli
Surveyor Contributor

Darcy Soricelli and Bennett Soricelli listen to an audio narration of the Compassion Experience at Grace Place Church on May 7. The experience was intended to give people an idea of what living conditions are like for people in underdeveloped countries around the world.   Photo by May Soricelli

Darcy Soricelli and Bennett Soricelli listen to an audio narration of the Compassion Experience at Grace Place Church on May 7. The experience was intended to give people an idea of what living conditions are like for people in underdeveloped countries around the world.
Photo by May Soricelli

The Compassion Experience came to Berthoud for four days and offered families and individuals a chance to “Experience another world without leaving yours.”

That’s precisely what my children and I did as we walked through the Compassion Experience this weekend. We were confronted visually and audibly with the hopelessness of poverty in a tangible way. The visceral experience impacted me as I forgot my American comforts, if only for a few minutes, and encountered the situation of others’ impoverished lives. The event helped give my family, and over 2,500 individuals who walked through the Compassion Experience this weekend, a first-hand encounter with how sponsors through Compassion International can “Change the Story” for these children in hopeless circumstances.

As my children and I lifted the curtain of the first exhibition, we entered a stark reality of darkness. Five-year-old Carlos, of Guatemala, narrated his story into our headsets as we stood in a replication of a hut made of mud and thatched roof where he lived with 15 others. I noticed the apprehension on my children’s faces as they saw what looked like a dirty, dark, and sad-looking home, with barely a bench and a couple of tools.

Carlos’ tragic tale began with working from the age of 5 with his father. They would wake early to buy a pig, butcher it, and sell it at the market. “I wonder if the meat tastes good” said Carlos, because he never got to taste it and was only allowed half and egg for lunch and dinner. While his mother wanted him to go to school, his father said, “He needs to be a man and work.” So Carlos worked.  And his father, in fits of alcoholic anger, scared Carlos. His father became ill from over-drinking and died when Carlos was only 7.

One of the things that took me, as a spectator, by surprise was the background noise coming through the headset. As the little Guatemalan voice told the story, the scene had lots of sounds of voices, markets, stomping, yelling, playing. It was easy to feel what the child must have feltm because it was like stepping directly into his shoes.

We entered the second room of Carlos’ life where we took in a harsh work space full of woolen cloth and bins for dying the fabric. The potent dyes burned his eyes and his throat. My children reached out and touched the hanging fabrics; their young faces solemn, sensing the gravity of the situation.

The third room brought my family from the dark space to a bright glow of a Compassion Center where children had church, school, meals, and letters from their sponsors. There was furnishing in this room that my children recognized right away, whereas before they were uncertain of the objects around them. There were desks, chairs, books, chalkboards, bowls filled with food, pencils and papers. Carlos’ mother insisted he go to school and visit the Compassion Center. But he was worried about giving up his opportunity to work. What changed his mind about the Compassion Center were the hugs.

“My favorite thing is the hugs,” he said. “We don’t give hugs in my family.”

He told of how his mentor would say, “I believe in you Carlos.” This moved me. Knowing there are people who are making that difference in the lives of these innocent children was beautiful. How precious and young the voice on the headset sounded, and how overjoyed he was to have friends and people who deeply cared for him, especially his Compassion sponsor who sent him gifts and provided for his care. The presents he received for Christmas, a toy robot and new socks, were like gold to him.

In the next room we entered we were met again by a darker setting; a dirty bar littered with trash and filled with loud chatter. My children, who were engaged with the sensory dynamic of the experience, decided to sit upon the chairs in the room and even picked up the empty beer bottles. Though I knew this was a staged scene, something in me wanted to usher them out quickly, and say don’t touch that, and don’t sit here. If this was real, it wouldn’t be a place for kids. Yet Carlos’ mother had been in places like this so frequently he would wait outside or follow her in, holding onto her apron strings. He was very afraid for his mother.

What occurs to a mother like me in this moment is, if I can’t stand the thought of my own kids in this space, how concerning it is that for other children this is reality. As much as I would like to protect my children from this scene, I thought it was relevant they know what others encounter in their daily life, and ultimately that they know they can help.

I was uncomfortable, but it was a good thing to be made so at the benefit of a child who needs mine as well as other’s understanding of what darkness they live in.

The last room of our journey with Carlos was a home filled with hope and light. I could tell my 6- and 9-year-old liked this room; their faces became less pensive and they began to look around more eagerly. Carlos, now a young man, told of how he prayed for God to help his mother, “Por favor Dios, will you protect her.” After that, women from church had begun inviting his mother from the bar to church, and was overjoyed as he describes how she dramatically changed and even hugs him now. Pictures on the wall in this room displayed the real Carlos and even his sponsor, Neil Jensen, who over the years stayed in contact with him and encouraged him.

Others were impacted too − 307 children were sponsored as a result of the Compassion Experience. And nearly 2,500 people walked through the Compassion Experience this weekend. This opportunity gave my family, as well as many others, the ability to participate together, no matter the age, in a meaningful experience. The Compassion Experience also became a gateway for conversations with my children about the topic and how together we might “Change the story.”