And this is just the first day

I’ll just be honest. I have no idea where or how to begin this. So I’m going to do something completely novel and start at the beginning.

I was born in Houston, Texas in 1971.

What? Too much?

Okay, so P dropped me off at the airport on Monday morning. I caught a flight to Dallas. And then Miami. Once I arrived in Miami I met up with all my fellow Compassion travelers and ate a salad at the Fridays in the Miami Airport that left me full of regret. That’s what I get for trying to be healthy.

We finally boarded our plane bound for Quito and I had the joy of sitting across the aisle from Sophie while the man in front of her decided to lean his chair so far back that I feel quite certain she could have performed a root canal on him had the need arisen. (Arisen? Arose? I have struggled with it for the last three minutes. Moving on.) And after almost four hours, the pilot announced we were making our descent into Quito. Unless it was too foggy. In which case we would be routed to Guayaquil. Well. Sure. No cause for panic. Except for all the panic.

But we were able to land in Quito, discovered all our bags made it, and took a shuttle to the hotel. By this time it was 2:00 a.m. so the last thing I remember is passing out face first into my bed.

And when the sun came up this morning I looked out the window and had this moment of I AM IN ECUADOR. Because there are mountains on the horizon and we don’t have those in San Antonio.

The group left the hotel around 9:00 and made the hour and a half journey to Cayambe. On a very windy road. Up a mountain. In a bus. I had to practice some deep-breathing to ward off the car sickness but I managed. Tomorrow I plan to take a Dramamine.

But on the way there we made a quick stop at the Equator and I can now say that I have stood smack dab in the middle of the Earth. We also stopped to go to the bathroom at a Pollo Loco gas station but it really lacked in the cool factor compared to the Equator.

We finally arrived at the Child Development Center and, after a brief welcome from the pastor, divided into three groups to go make home visits. Amanda, Chris, Carmen and I loaded up into the back of a truck and were driven to our visit over cobblestone roads that didn’t do my bladder any favors, but I mind over mattered that whole thing because we were about to experience what Andrea, our Compassion leader from Ecuador, termed A Day In the Life of A Compassion Child. Or as I now call it The Day I Discovered I Am A Soft, Spoiled American.

Because, y’all, we went to visit two precious kids, Alex and Amie, who are being raised by their grandmother since their mother passed away from cancer two years ago and their father left. Alex is a sponsored Compassion child and immediately pulled out his letters from the family in Colorado who sponsors him. They showed us their tiny little rooms situated right next to where they keep the guinea pigs and broke our hearts as they talked about how they missed their mom.

And then the grandmother showed us the large garden in the back of their house where she grows food for them to eat and also to sell in an effort to provide for the family. That’s when she handed us all various garden tools and showed us how to till the dirt so she could plant beet seeds. First of all, I had no idea that beets grew from seed. Mainly because I’ve never thought about it. Secondly, I have no future as a farmer. Or a gardener. Or basically anyone who does a lot of manual labor involving a garden hoe.

But that sweet grandmother hoed about four rows in the time it took me to finish one half. Amie and Alex followed behind her carefully planting beet seeds and taking turns climbing up the nearby tomato tree. Because, yes, tomatoes grow on trees here.

The thing that struck me was that we visited this family with two of their Compassion teachers, Maria and Myra, and it was clear how much these women love these children. They have worked hard to step in to help fill the gap that has been left by the loss of their mother and father. And you could see that the children love and trust Maria and Myra and their faces lit up when they talked about the time they spend singing and drawing pictures at the Child Development Center. It’s a bright spot in a world that could have gone totally dark after they lost their parents.

Speaking of a bright spot (How about that transition? And I’ve only had four hours of sleep in the last twenty-four hours!) I met the sweet little girl that we just started to sponsor before I left for this trip.

Her name is Heydi and she’s six years old and I could have put her in my pocket and carried her around. I’m not kidding. She was that cute with a shy smile that totally melted my heart as I gave her a little tiara I bought at Target. Because what girl doesn’t love a tiara? It’s a universal love language.

And it was the smile that really got me. Three years ago on my trip to the Dominican Republic I had a chance to meet my sponsored child and she never smiled. Not one time. And I understood. I was a total stranger to her and she’d already seen enough of life to know that it may not be a good idea to hand out your heart. But it made me sad to see a little girl without some joy.

(Just so you know the most recent photos I’ve received of my child in the DR show a little girl with a faint hint of a smile. I’d like to believe Compassion is responsible for that.)

Anyway, when I received my sponsorship packet of this little girl in Ecuador named Heydi, I was immediately hit with how somber she appeared. No smile. Just a grim little face looking into the camera. Even Caroline noticed and before I left on Monday, as she helped me pack a little backpack full of things to give to Heydi, she said, “Mama? Do you think Heydi is going to smile when she meets you? I really want her to smile.”

And I said, “Well, let’s just pray that she does.”

She did.

At first it was just an unsure smile.

But before I left it was a full-blown grin. Maybe even with a little laugh.

And it turned my heart inside out. I hugged her goodbye and promised my family would pray for her every day. I told her God has plans for her life and I’m going to write her letters to encourage her to follow Him. And then I waved at her through the window of the bus and she waved back and I fought back tears as I left more than a little piece of my heart at Child Development Center 478 in Cayambe, Ecuador.

But I get to go home and tell Caroline that I saw Heydi smile and show her photographs to prove it. And as much as I love the experience of actually getting to meet one of my sponsored kids in real life, the real gift is what it has taught my family. The photos of the kids we sponsor through Compassion are on a bulletin board in our kitchen, I have bookmarks with their pictures on them tucked into my Bible, and we pray for them every night.

Sponsoring children through Compassion has allowed me to give Caroline a larger picture of the world around her and to know that there are kids who wonder where their next meal will come from or where they will sleep that night. We get to have discussions about the things God has entrusted to our family and how we can use those gifts to help the world around us.

Compassion has helped me teach compassion.

And I will be forever grateful for that gift.

There are lots of kids waiting to be sponsored at Child Development Center 478 in Ecuador.
You can click on this page to see all their sweet faces.

Or there are plenty of children all over Ecuador who need to be sponsored. You can see them all by visiting this Ecuador page on the Compassion site.

At the very least it will change your life. At the very best it gives you a tangible way to change the life of one of these precious kids.

(All the photos on this post are courtesy of the brilliant, amazing Keely Scott.)

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  1. says

    I adore that you brought her a tiara. The beauty in that makes my heart smile….and I am so glad she smiled. It’s the little things like that our heart remembers.

    Prayers ascending for all of you and for every person you come into contact with on your trip. I just know all of you shine Jesus. :)

  2. Tara G. says

    I was undone at the tiara. She is precious! I echo your thoughts on getting the kids involved- our house comes to a quiet standstill when Padmani’s letters arrive and we have had so many great discussions. Praying for you and the team!

  3. says

    Thanks for sharing. Praying God would be near all of you in this trip, and that His Kingdom would come through the many stories shared, and many children sponsored. Love Compassion International.

  4. says

    spectacular pictures, thanks so much for sharing them. Heydi is precious. We have two compassion kids already, but maybe we need a third. Keeping you in our prayers this week!

  5. ANDREA says

    O I WEEP..



  6. says

    Heydi is beautiful! What an honor that you could meet and HUG her!

    Oh that you would continue to leak God to the people of Ecuador!

    Go God!

  7. says

    She’s beautiful – and your daughter is going to be delighted to hear (and see) that she smiled! I love your stories of the day. Thank you for sharing His love and your heart this week.

  8. says

    We adopted our daughter from Quito Ecuador a little over a year ago. Our 8 week stay was hard, eye opening, and beautiful. I love the photos of this little princess. She is so blessed to have your family to add to hers in Ecuador.

  9. Mary says

    I Want to get on a plane right now and come hug every one of those kids. This post made my heart so happy. Compassion is doing great things

  10. Sherry says

    Tears flowing! So happy that you got to meet Heydi. Makes me wish I could go hug our compassion girl Honorine in Togo. Love, love the pics of her smile and the tiara. So great!

  11. Kelly says

    Outstanding post, as usual. You bring us into your world so easily, I thank you for it and am praying for you daily on this trip. Oh, and tell Sophie, WAY TO ROCK the MSTATE!:)

  12. Ina says

    What a great start to your week! I have been thinking of you all and praying for you. My dad is on a church work trip to Haiti this week, so I just pray for all of you “south of the border”:) And seeing the people on the Amazing Race this week use some sort of hollowed out tree canoe to cross a lake in Africa made me think of you girls. We will be anxious to hear about all of your adventures!
    The picture of Heydi in the tiara is precious – I am going to show it to my Esther Bible study ladies on Thursday night, because we have talked about getting some, but seeing her in it is even better!

  13. Leigh says

    That picture of you holding Heydi? That’s what started the tears here in H-town. You don’t look like a gal who has only had four hours of sleep in the last 24. You look like a proud Mama. You look so full of joy. I am convinced that what we as sponsors do for our Compassion kids is huge more for us than them. And your face shows that. Praying for you, Mel. Thanks for taking us with you.

  14. Steve Jones says

    What a great smile! SO glad you got the smile on this trip. And so glad you got to go on another trip so you could see that smile. What a great start!

  15. says

    I love, love, LOVE that you brought her a tiara. What a perfect gift. I never thought of that. Because what girl doesn’t love that? Oh, the symbolism…

    Praying for you all there! Say hi to Shaun, Ann, Keely, Patricia, etc. for me.

  16. says

    Just. so. beautifully moving. I am following you all and praying for you…and also for the hearts that will sponsor these precious children this week. Blessings to you!

  17. Lori W. says

    all I can say is Thank You… tears of love and joy speak more than that but there are no words now, but THANK YOU!!!

  18. Kat says

    The picture of you holding Heydi with her beautiful smile? Totally made me weepy. What a sweet girl.

  19. nlynch says

    Tearful from the beginning, bawling at the end. That picture of her waving goodbye just about did me in!
    We have a Compassion child in Ecuador named Esther. I would love to meet her one day.
    Many prayers your way.

  20. Jenny F. says

    Absolutely beautiful! We sponsor 2 children. Our little gal from Zimbabwe has never smiled in the photos that we have of her. I pray that she is just a bit camera shy and that she really does have an oppurtunity to smile. I’m praying for you and all of your compassion travelers this week. So thankful that you can show Caroline an answered prayer!

    • anotherlisa says

      our sweetie in Rwanda told us in a letter, that “teacher says cameras are expensive and we must be serious”. so we listen for the “smiles” and joy in Aimee’s letters, rather than her photos.
      hope this helps you wait for your smile from Zimbabwe.

  21. says

    Have y’all on my heart! Oh my goodness! I may have to print the picture of you giving Heydi the tiara… beyond precious! :) Wish I was with you all… such a blessing! Praying! Emmy :)

  22. says

    It blesses my heart to see the grin on that little girl’s face! Going to be praying for you all today. Your trip prompted me to post about Operation Christmas Child today…it’s something my girls love to participate in every year. :)

  23. Robin Mckinzie says

    What amazing pictures… You can absolutely see the brightness you have brought to that child!

  24. heidig says

    I have a HUGE lump in my throat after reading your story. Just so you know, my family and I sponsored a little girl in the DR because of YOU. And then we had to have a little boy so we sponsored one from Kenya. I think we need to add to our family now – someone from Equador. Thanks Melanie!

  25. says

    The wave good~bye…slayed me.

    Thank goodness those smiles helped me otherwise hold it together.

    OF COURSE you thought to bring a tiara! J’adore! (it even made ME smile). Compassion teaching compassion and teaching to teach compassion. Yes…that :).

  26. Whitney says

    Note to self—I shall wait til after reading tomorrow’s post to put on my mascara and eyeliner. Thank you Big Mama :)

  27. Dustin says

    1971…the best year ever! I loved your post, it is amazing how a smile can warm your heart and say so much. Sounds like a great beginning to the trip.

  28. says

    Ok, I have had tears running down my face this morning after reading this post. I will need to redo my eye makeup. LOL The picture of the little girl waving goodbye did me in.

    This brings back memories of my mission trip to Guatemala. I think that working with the children is so rewarding.

    You all are in my thoughts and prayers as you go and minister to these children and their families.

  29. says

    I’m overwhelmed with emotion. What a beautiful picture of His love through His Body. Just this morning when my five-year-old started whining and complaining about having to get dressed for school and not having ice cream for breakfast, I showed her some of these pictures and shared with her what Compassion is doing. What a difference that made in her attitude.

    I’d love for you to join me in prayer regarding something… I recently reconnected with my Geometry teacher from high school. He was my favorite. It’s been such a blessing to have reconnected with a man who is every bit the man of integrity I thought he was in high school. I have his and his wife’s numbers and have made phone calls and kept in touch. Back here in Denham Springs, LA where he no longer lives, he still joins his old church for missions trips to Ecuador. They will be going next July and he has asked me to prayerfully consider. The desire is there. I am praying if it’s in the will of the Lord that He line it up. PLEASE join me!

  30. says

    You made me cry. We have been looking for a new way to help and your post called out to me today. I went to the link and picked out a child. You are doing a wonderful thing, praying your time there will be blessed.

  31. Christy says

    So thrilled that God orchestrated a smile from Heydi. The picture of the 2 of you sent the tears that were formerly welled up in my eyes down my cheeks. What a sweet picture of God’s grace to you.

  32. Kelly says

    Wow the tears….

    Love this post and love your heart. And, love that you made that little girl feel like a princess…..b/c every little girl should have at least 1 day where they feel like a princess.

  33. says

    Love this post! I especially love the expression on the girls face to the left of you as you are pulling out the tiara. Then the photo of little Heydi waving goodbye is so sweet.

  34. barbara says

    Wow!!! I lost it when little miss H. began to smile and then grin. The pic of you holding her is BEYOND precious. I hope she gets a copy of that to keep for herself. I had to stop and wipe the tears rolling down my face. What an amazing experience for everyone involved. Thank you for taking us along as you show them the love of Jesus. Humbling indeed.

  35. Kristen says

    Melanie ~ That is precious! Soo Precious!!
    praying for you and your journey with Sophie!
    Embrace each moment girl ~
    kristen lowe

  36. says

    Thanks for working on me in a special way today. I sponsor a child from World Vision but rarely send letters. Thanks for the reminder. Praying for the work you’re doing.

  37. says

    “It’s a bright spot in a world that could have gone totally dark after they lost their parents.” That’s what Compassion is all about. Beautiful post on behalf of God’s beautiful children. Thank You.

  38. says

    These pictures have melted my heart! You had me with the picture of you giving your sweet child the tiara. And I just have one other questions while my heart is melting….how is that you, Amanda, Sophie, and Kelly all look so cute in your jeans, shirts, and work boots. I would look like a complete bum!

  39. says

    I am a missionary in Ecuador- thank you for coming here and working with these children who live in my backyard. God is using you in mighty ways- thank you.

  40. Alyson says

    OH WOW! The tiara, Heydi’s smile, the picture with you holding Heydi, her beautiful smile, all just brought tears to my eyes. Blessings to you and your team!

  41. Lyndsey says

    that pic of that little wave goodbye just ripped my heart out! Praise God for that sweet beautiful smile! God bless you in your time there and praying for yall!!! Now to wipe the tears off my cheeks:)

  42. Celeste Hill says

    Praying for you and the team. Tiara=universal love language!!! Love your heart and your wit. Thank you for sharing your journey, believing HIM for big things as you all are purposed to “Do some good” (excerpt from Mama siesta’s teaching on Life Today).
    Love ya,

  43. Jerry Homuth says

    How wonderful to be able to share directly with the child you are sponsoring. My wife and I were blessed a few years ago to be able to visit the child she had began to sponsor some 12 years earlier in Ethiopia. We went on our own, not with a group but also visited her home where she lived with her grandparents. The Holy Spirit was with us the whole trip and allowed my wife to lead her sponsored child (by then 18 years old) to Christ. It was truly an amazing day and we were so blessed. Hope the same can happen with this little girl Heydi on one of your future trips. God is good and He loves His kids.

  44. Traci says

    Day 1, and tears already. Great story. I want to do this one day. Soak it all in, Melanie. Each moment. You are blessed. (Not that I need to tell you that.)

  45. says

    I cried when I read Kelly and Amanda’s posts, and I did the ugly cry when I read yours. The picture and story behind Heydi and giving her the tiara was too much. I love God so much for all He has done and is doing! Thank you for sharing your story.

  46. says

    Oh man…the picture of her waving goodbye. Break my heart.
    So glad you got to meet your sponsered child…I would love to do the same one day!
    Praying for a safe trip as you all continue on your journey!
    Especially the upcoming canoe trip…. 😉

  47. says

    “And as much as I love the experience of actually getting to meet one of my sponsored kids in real life, the real gift is what it has taught my family.” – YES! Although I’ve been involved with Compassion for 17 years, just recently my husband and I made and intentional move to pursue sponsorship as a family. The ministry of Compassion continues to shape us each day and I love encouraging other families to experience sponsorship together.

  48. Michelle says

    You and Ann have changed our lives. After reading your blogs today, I searched for a little girl with my daughter’s birthday. Tomorrow, for her birthday, my little girl will learn about another little girl far away that needs our help and our prayers. Thank you for opening our hearts to sponsorship! God Bless!

  49. Talia says

    What a testament of your faith! Absolutely a beautiful and favorite post. Heydi’s smile would light up a room.

    Prayers to all…

  50. Karina says

    Melanie, I am so touched by your kindness & love. Thank you for giving of yourself to the less fortunate. I was born in Ecuador and know first hand the despair that many people in my country experience because of poverty. Children are precious no matter where you are. Keep on showing them the love of Jesus. I am praying for you all!

  51. Jana says

    Great read, Melanie! Glad to see what’s happening in Ecuador. I’ve been watching your house and, so far, it hasn’t burned down or anything. Thought you’d want to know. xo, Jana

  52. Gail says

    Melanie, sponsoring a Compassion child has been on my “I Can’t Wait Until We Can Do That” list. For too long. Because we CAN do that. And I sat her bawling my eyes out as I read about you and Caroline praying that Heydi would smile and how God answered that prayer. And I sit here thinking about how one of my daughters is doing a read-around-the-world independent study for her gifted and talented class because she loves the world and learning about life out of this country… why haven’t I done this yet? Sponsoring the kiddo right now. It cannot wait another minute. Thank you.

    • Gail says

      And done. We are now the delighted sponsors of Jhoselin who attends the Nazareno Student Center in Ecuador. She’s almost the same age as my youngest daughter. I can’t wait to write her!

  53. Meredith says

    I thought “Caroline” too! And the little smile she’s wearing in the tiara picture — something about those lips made me think of Caroline too.


  54. Leslie Mackey says

    Aw, Big Mama!
    A tiara for Heydi — Perfect! She’s a daughter of the KING! Thanks for sharing!
    Praying for y’all in Arkansas!

  55. says

    Reading posts and praying for your trip! I’m tucking this sweet post and Heydi’s smile in my heart tonight, too. I remember being in Madagascar and struck by the fact that we hardly saw *any* child smile in the area surrounding our housing. It was incredibly sad and disturbing, and very telling of their lives and circumstances. Thankful that you are able to see smiles and remind these precious ones of God’s presence and promises.

  56. Susan says

    I sponser a chld in Equidor but couldn’t afford to go on the trip. Your story makes me wish even more that I could have gone to meet my child Allisson. I love getting her letters so much. Thank you for going and sharing with us.

  57. Jenn in Tenn says

    I’ve been reading your blog forever and don’t think I’ve ever commented. Just wanted to say this post brought me to tears…I love that you are there doing what so many of us only wish we could do. Thank you for that. And I’m so glad you got a smile from your sweet Heydi…for you and for Caroline. Take care!

  58. says

    What a beautiful picture of you and Hedyi. I’m so glad you were able to make her smile. Thank you for writing about compassion and everything you are doing. It is very inspiring.

  59. says

    Why oh why do all these trips involve a middle-of-the-night arrival followed by a handful of hours of sleep followed by a long bus ride on mountainous terrain? We did the same in Bolivia and I really have no idea how we managed to write anything remotely coherent after all the emotion on top of the fatigue.

    Your little girl is absolutely adorable. I LOVE the photo of her with the backpack half her height!

  60. says

    Beautiful. I love the image of her smiling, in her tiara. Like the little Princess that she is.

    This brings back so many memories of meeting one of our sponsored children in the Philippines this spring… it took quite a while to get a genuine smile out of him (he was 14 and totally unsure and who could blame him?), but when he finally did smile and warm up a little, it melted my heart. I know exactly what you mean about leaving a big piece of your heart behind. These kids are so very precious and I am floored that we have the privilege of being a part of their lives and speaking hope into them.

    Praying for you and the team this week. Strength & energy, anointed words that flow onto the keyboard, restful sleep, safe travels, and maybe a little good coffee and decently clean bathrooms along the way. :)

  61. says

    I too am cursed with the motion sickness…and Dramamine is my friend.

    On another note…I loved this post. What a precious way to learn and teach compassion through this wonderful organization. That smile is such a beautiful and precious gift. So glad you were able to see that smile and capture the image to show Caroline. A beautiful, answered prayer. =)