Haunted by their faces

I did 26 hours of travel on two hours of sleep. I don’t recommend this. My body and mind feel sundered–torn apart. This afternoon I started shaking. I’m so tired–physically, emotionally, mentally–that my body started freaking out on me without sending a warning note first. Mariela’s face haunts me:

Mariela poured confetti on my head--the traditional Bolivian form of blessing and rejoicing

I met Mariela at the special-needs center in Colomi. Her uncle, in the words of Mariela’s mother, “es muy malo.” Very bad–meaning, his special needs are severe, overwhelming for a family already entrenched in deep poverty. Mariela wouldn’t let go of me. She held my hand, asked me to draw pictures for her, kissed my cheek repeatedly. Mariela has no father. Her mother is a single parent, recently returned from Argentina where she tried to find work. Mariela was too skinny for her age. But she knew how to love. She caressed my hand and stared into my eyes.

After she poured confetti on my head (the traditional Bolivian way of bestowing blessing upon someone), she finally smiled for me:

Mariela doesn’t have a sponsor, her mother hasn’t even registered her yet for sponsorship. I begged her mother to register her–because I will be her sponsor. Most of the children in the Colomi ADP do not have sponsors. In the video that Matthew Paul Turner and I made, Mariela is sitting on my lap. I’ll never forget how light she felt. Too light. Too thin. I didn’t want to squeeze her too tightly because she felt breakable.

And now sitting so many thousands of miles away, I can only pray for her, hoping against hope that her mother will register her soon.

My hands are trembling as I type this. It’s my first day back and although the love, joy, kisses and embraces of my family help make this transition easier, I am filled with a deep, penetrating grief. I didn’t do enough.

This is how the poor cook ©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

This is how the poor cook: a beat-up old pot over an open fire. So many children are malnourished that 10 year olds look like they are only 5. Lord Jesus, forgive me, it has taken me 34 years to finally care about the poor of this world.

Without kitchens, rural Bolivians cook their food over makeshift stoves: small fires built between bricks ©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

Anne Lamott writes that nobody gets into Heaven without a letter of recommendation from the poor. I have a lot of work to do–and I’m thankful that I now know exactly how to do it: sponsoring a child doesn’t just save one life, it saves an entire community.

Poor Bolivians wash their clothing in buckets and hang it to dry on a line ©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

And so, for the sake of children who do not have running water and must bathe in buckets outside their homes:

Most families do not have indoor plumbing and must bathe and do laundry in buckets outside their homes ©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

And for the children with battered shoes and dirty feet:

Arminda--the girl whose parents adopted her after she was abandoned on the street ©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

And for the mothers who take in abandoned children–despite their own impoverished conditions:

I gave Elena my necklace as a sign of gratitude for taking in an abandoned baby girl ©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

I will speak, I will write, I will love.

To earn YOUR letter of recommendation from the poor, please click HERE to sponsor a child. (And when you sponsor a child, send me an email so I can thank you personally).

And now…..

my wrecked, ragged body must rest for awhile. Will you carry on the work?

  • http://www.theoutdoorwife.com Nish

    I love you. Thanks for your heart. It carried me many times this week, without you knowing.


    Hello.. I love your blog.

    As a result of your visit I felt called to sponser a child and chose Bolivia- his name is Alex. Thank you for inspiration and may God bless you abundantly.


  • Lindsey Talerico-Hedren

    This is absolutely beautiful. Reading this post reminds me of the exact reason why you were invited on this trip–to share your sweet and poetic thoughts with those whom call themselves your friends through this blog. Thanks for being the one who helped to break my heart multiple times this week. You are endearing EE and I love and miss you very much!!!

  • http://faithfamilyandlifeexploration.blogspot.com/ Claire

    Such a beautiful journey and I think you endlessly for sharing it with us. My husband and I sponsor a child in Lesotho, Africa, but I think we need to start contemplating sponsoring more. That was always the plan, and yet we’ve neglected to make the commitment to another. It’s amazing how something so simple to those of us who live with such wealth can mean the world to an impoverished family and community.

    God Bless.

  • http://www.aholyexperience.com Ann Voskamp@A Holy Experience



  • http://www.littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com Leila

    Thank you, Elizabeth. Because of Calah’s link to you, I just sponsored a little girl, Nelvi, from Bolivia. God bless you!

  • http://dovechronicles.blogspot.com Lisa Auter

    Dear Lovely one, I sponsor 2 children, from different organizations…I just want to sponsor endlessly, but.hubby, who is loving and empathetic, too, tells me we need to be “realistic” with our own money situation. How do you keep yourself from sponsoring every child you see? Or do you? How does your family’s own needs continue to be met, while you continue your amazing work? I want to help so much. How do you find balance? Blessings to you. Lisa.

  • http://Www.hardingadventures.blogspot.com Katie

    So beautiful. I’m a college student and I already sponsor two children. It hurts my heart that I can’t support more, but right now, sponsoring two is all that I can afford (really it’s more than I can afford but I make it work). So thankful that you were able to go and spread the word. Thank you for sharing these precious ones with us.

  • http://www.joyinthisjourney.com Joy

    I love these photos of you — especially the confetti in your hair. Beautiful. And I miss you — I had to put up with MPT on the flight to Miami since you had already left. :D

    Are you wrestling with how to live now that you’re back? I just don’t know how I’m going to buy school supplies for my kids after seeing the lack the way we have.

  • http://soulation.org/breakfastreading/ Molly

    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

  • http://www.bringinghenryhome.blogspot.com Carla

    It took me 43 years…I wish I could have those lost years back…
    but I will do what I can NOW…

    we leave soon to bring home our baby boy…from a foreign country…who was abandoned at birth because of his special needs (cleft palate and arthrogryposis)…who would be left in a crib his whole life because he cannot walk…

    he is our first adoption and our 7th child…

    when people ask “won’t this take away from the children you already have?” I answer:

    It will only take away their self-centeredness….and give them hearts open to love the “least” of this world.

    Bless you and the important work you are doing!


  • Alison

    Dear Elizabeth,

    Thank you for these posts. Before reading them, the thought of sponsoring a child had never even crossed my mind. I would look at all the poverty in the world and think, “That’s horrible, but what difference at all can I make?” This thought was especially pervasive given that I am a university student with very limited funds.

    After reading your posts, I decided to sponsor a child. I couldn’t go through the link you put on your blog as I’m not American, so ultimately I decided to sponsor a girl in Indonesia.

    Thank you so much and God bless you.

  • http://jamiallyn.wordpress.com Jami

    I’m so glad you made it home safely. I can understand how you are feeling but only a fraction of the amount. My hubby and I went to Mexico a long time ago for a mission trip and it still haunts me. The poverty, the smell. The kids were so happy to see us and I felt so awkward to be there. I didn’t know how to act or what to say. Lying in our bed that night felt so wrong -in our nice bed with our fluffy pillows…it felt so wrong.
    I’m glad you are home and know why your heart is still in Boliva.

  • http://www.indiatoappleton.blogspot.com Nancy

    Your undone-ness is beautiful. I know how wrenching re-entry is . . . after our first trip to India, I burst into tears when I ran clean, drinkable water from my own kitchen sink. You will never be the same again, and that’s glorious!

  • Valerie

    God is amazing. Thank you for taking us on this journey with you. Praying as you wrestle with your new-normal…it takes time…

  • http://Mammablogs@gmail.com Jessica

    I just wanted to let you know I sponsor a child through Compassion International and am now strongly considering sponsoring another. I know it doesn’t help World Vision, but I hope it does make a difference.

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