What does it mean to be released from poverty? It is not uni-dimensional. That is why Compassion takes a holistic approach, addressing the spiritual, economic, social and physical needs of children. In my last post, Changing a Country, I introduced our new friend, Jonathon Almonte, who is a former Compassion sponsored child and a student in their Leadership Development Program (LDP).
Having been equipped through Compassion, Jonathon initiated a four day camp, aptly named “Boot Camp,” with the approval of the Compassion leadership. The original focus was the other (LDP) students. Now the camp has been opened up to Compassion sponsored teens, all kids of poverty. The vision is to produce even greater leadership among the youth of the nation. There is an application process to be accepted and the camp is open to students of all abilities, Christian and non-Christian.
One of the main things that will keep a student from being accepted is medical problems, because it is so physically strenuous and challenging. At the beginning of the camp, they are given a box with food for the four days and they are responsible for rationing it and preparing it. They are not given any salt, so the food has no appeal. When they have graduation, they are served a meal with salt, much better tasting. The object lesson, of course, is that Jesus calls his children the salt of the earth and what happens when even the salt loses its saltiness?
Because they deal with such corruption in the nation’s government, the camp puts the kids in teams where they become the “government.” They are told that if they don’t take the lead, someone will lead them. They are given a set of rules that must be followed and they must decide the consequence for breaking the rules. Once the rule is broken by one team member, the consequence is for the entire team. Why? Because Jonathon is trying to pull them out of self-centeredness, to teach them their actions affect everyone.
Interestingly, Jonathon also emphasizes the need for the teams to follow time constraints, saying that Dominicans are irresponsible, arriving 7 PM when they say they will be there at 5 PM. No foreigner could say that without seeming unaccepting and judgmental of their culture. In this, we see the beauty of nationals, not foreigners, being leaders of a ministry.
When I’m around people like Jonathon, I feel humbled and honored. While it would be easy to be disheartened by the poverty of multitudes of children in the DR, I actually have greater hope for them than many in my own prosperous community. Compassion International is raising up leaders with changed lives—people who are breaking out of the cycle of poverty and who know the joy of serving Christ and others. I’m reminded of the passage: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”