My AU Summer: Dr. Cynthia Watson

August 1, 2019

Anderson University Cynthia Watson

Anderson University professor of physical therapy, Dr. Cynthia Watson, recently returned from El Salvador as part of a humanitarian trip and to meet the child she and her family sponsor through Compassion International. This is her story. 

A handful of years ago, my middle school-aged children came running up to me one Sunday after church with a small card covered in protective plastic. On the card was the face of a sweet little girl that was about their age. It was mission Sunday, and our family friends, David and Beth Robinson, had just shared some of their experiences with Compassion International from the pulpit. They had been on mission trips to El Salvador multiple times with groups from our church and they personally sponsor several children. After seeing the conditions that the children endure, they were so committed helping that they were encouraging other families to become sponsors.  

As we exited the auditorium, there was a table covered with little cards and each with a child’s picture, name, and some background information about their community and personal circumstances.  My kids were so enthusiastic about this little girl, Briseyda, and I thought sponsoring her would be a great way for them to broaden their understanding of how others live. The purpose of Compassion International is to rescue children from poverty in Jesus’ name and they go about this in multiple ways including: medical checkups for the child, nutritional counseling, after-school tutoring, teaching skills (woodworking, sewing, shoemaking, computer literacy), providing food for the family, and sharing the Gospel. When you sponsor a child, you do so not only through a financial gift of $38 per month, but also through personal support through letter writing and prayer.  

When we started corresponding with our Compassion child, Briseyda, we got to know her and her family over the course of about two years. We packed a special shoebox for her at Christmas, and when David and Beth made their biennial trip to El Salvador, we packed up a Ziploc-sized bag with personal gifts for her. (Compassion sets limits on what you give to the children because they want the relationship, rather than the gifts, to be the emphasis of the bond they form with their sponsors). Even though we were corresponding with Briseyda, I maintained some healthy skepticism about the organization. I mean, was this child really benefitting from the donations of time and money that we were investing in her? 

One day we got a letter from Compassion saying that Briseyda’s circumstances had improved and she no longer needed a sponsor. We followed the suggested procedures to end our sponsorship, wrote her a loving goodbye letter, and encouraged her to continue to follow God and continue to glorify him in how she lived her life. I have to say that my skepticism began to fade; would an organization that is just trying to get my monthly payments tell my that I am no longer needed at this time?

Enter Nahum. About six months later, it was “Compassion Sunday” at our church, when another mission group from El Salvador returned and told us about the experience. Not surprisingly, my young teenagers picked up another card! My son really wanted to sponsor a boy this time, and we all thought this little five-year-old was the one. David and Beth were so excited that we had decided to sponsor Nahum and it was around that time that they started to plant the seeds of thought that we could actually go meet him on the next sponsor trip.     

Two years passed and we changed churches, but God continued to work on our hearts to go to El Salvador and meet this child. I wrestled with all of the reasons not to go: It’s expensive, it might be dangerous, we have to get immunizations, what if we get sick while we are there? But somehow, God held the door open and we walked through it. I talked to several people who had been on this type of trip and they all said it would be a life-changing experience. I continued to think about that and how my children, who have so much, would understand how blessed we are. So my 15-year-old twin daughters and I boarded a plane to Central America this summer on a “Compassion Child-Sponsor Mission Trip” with our friends from church.   

The experience was simultaneously eye-opening, heart-breaking, and inspirational. We had no idea the magnitude of poverty in Third World countries like El Salvador, where unemployment is so high, there is government and police corruption, and gang violence. To see the vast shantytowns, the people trying to scrape out a living, stray dogs wandering in the streets—it was heart-breaking to go to their homes and find the conditions they live in every day and the unfulfilled desire they have to make a better life for their children. Dirt floors, small structures for shelter, contaminated water, scant electricity—and no way out. Now comes the good part: It was inspirational. Organizations, Compassion International and others, are working through the local churches to lead children toward God, to give them hope, and give them a hand up to a better future.  

People are taking action to help. There are approximately 270 church-affiliated Compassion project centers in El Salvador, each with approximately 250 children. Compassion not only has a presence in Central America, but also in Africa and Asia. Children are sponsored up to the age of 18 by individuals in many countries including the United States, Europe and Canada. We are blessed to be a small part of that effort.

Our Compassion child, Nahum, met us on a Sunday where we worshipped together at a church in Sonsonate, El Salvador. When we spotted each other across the room we lit up with smiles from ear-to-ear. He was real now, and he was the cutest, busiest little seven-year-old boy!  He was just as we had imagined him to be through his letters. He hugged us so tightly and took turns pulling each of us by the hand to show us around. We could tell by the way that he looked at us, through his smile and the little kisses he planted on our cheeks, that we represented hope for him. What a tremendous blessing to be the hands and feet of God for this one person.  

After a week of getting to know Nahum, his family, and their hardships, it was hard to leave. It was hard to recognize that we would go home to our comfortable lives and that they would continue to live in such desperate conditions. We pray that Nahum will make it out of poverty as he walks with God on the right path and works for a better life for himself and future generations in El Salvador. We have him in our hearts now, we think of him and pray for his family. We are committed to sponsoring him and encouraging him to work hard and put his hope in God. It is hard to convey the impact this experience has on you. It has made us appreciative of our country, our access to healthcare, water, food, and, most importantly, it has helped us to realize that the beautiful people in El Salvador are just like us but living under desperate conditions. If you get a chance to serve through Compassion International, or in some other way with your family, I highly recommend it. It will be a life-changing experience.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  (James 2:14-17)

Anderson University Cynthia Watson