On the seventh day of our mission trip in Guatemala, our leader (Fr. A) needed to return early to the States in order to attend a diocesan program, leaving us with an important task: enroll four children who belong to a family that he has known for many years in Unbound.
Within this family, the two older sisters who Father knew as toddlers (nearly 20 years ago) have grown up and are now mothers. One has an 18-month-old baby boy, and the other has a 3-year-old daughter. The other two children — ages 7 and 9 — are sisters to the new mothers, and aunts to the 18-month-old and 3-year-old. Finally, the grandmother to the babies and the mother to the girls, along with her hardworking husband, are the elders of the family, and also have a 13-year-old son (already sponsored in Unbound).
We all climbed into the back of a red Ford 4×4 truck that the mission uses to transport people, and we traveled up the hill to the Unbound headquarters, called Hermano Pedro. There, we were welcomed with a tour and information about the various programs offered by Unbound.
Unbound currently operates in 24 countries in Central America, South America, Asia and Africa. Its largest presence is in Guatemala, where it started. The organization recently changed its name from Christian Foundation for Children and the Aging (CFCA).
In Guatemala alone, Unbound helps nearly 80,000 children who are sponsored as well as over 4,000 aging or elderly people. But over 6,000 more people in Guatemala await sponsorship, not to mention the other countries where Unbound has a presence.
For $30 a month, a child’s family receives assistance with nutrition, medical care, education, and other needs the family may have. An aging person receives similar benefits according to their needs. There is also a scholarship program for kids who wish to go on to higher education, which in Guatemala has already graduated a physician and attorney. Finally, there are opportunities to sponsor a seminarian.
A sponsor receives letters from his or her sponsored child, and recently Unbound has begun offering low-cost trips to their locations in order to make it possible for sponsors to get to know and form relationships with their sponsored children.
The way our mission group went about enrolling these four precious children was, shall we say, unconventional. But Fr. A wanted it to happen, and our group fell in love with the whole family. Four separate families in our group (including mine), each sponsored one of the children. We first visited the Hermano Pedro headquarters and then went down to the offices of this family’s particular project for enrollment.
I think a lot of people dismiss the “sponsor a child” organizations because it isn’t easy to visualize the reality of a situation somewhere on the other side of the world. Guatemalans are joyful people with a beautiful culture, but the way they live is definitely nothing like the First World. In many cases, all they have is Jesus and each other. True material needs are oftentimes never truly met.
When the San Lucas Toliman mission began in the 1960s, only one in two Guatemalan children here lived past five, and while that has improved there are still too many things to count that these people do not have and we take for granted every day.
It is our responsibility to find ways of helping to provide a future for a people who have been plagued by civil war, corruption, poor infrastructure, inadequate medical care and nutrition.
Every person on Unbound’s website is a real person, with basic needs that without assistance go unmet. Over 90% of the $30 you contribute to sponsor someone goes directly to the sponsored individual, delivering extreme value compared to anything else in your monthly budget.
If you subscribe to a television service, you can afford to sponsor an Unbound child. If you can buy a coffee from Starbucks once a week, you can afford to sponsor a child. If you are using a smartphone, you can afford to sponsor a child.
And if you come here and meet the young or aging person you sponsor, apart from changing that person’s life, it will change your life too. A visit will help you understand what your $30 means. In fact, the family will tell you what it means to them.
In Jesus of Nazareth (Doubleday, 2007), Pope Benedict XVI examines the parable of the Good Samaritan and the use of the word “misericordia” (p. 197). He writes that the word in Hebrew “had originally referred to the mother’s womb and maternal care. Seeing this man in such a state is a blow that strikes him [the Samaritan] ‘viscerally,’ touching his soul. ‘He had compassion’ — that is how we translate the text today,” but in fact a more literal translation of the word means that the “heart is wrenched open.”
On a bright sunny Guatemalan day in July, as I held the hand of a lovely little seven-year-old girl in traditional dress and we walked together toward the centuries-old church, my heart was wrenched open. And all I could do was offer a prayer of thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord Jesus, for giving me this opportunity. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for wrenching my heart open.
When she visited with her family to wish us farewell on the last night before we headed home, my heart was once again wrenched open because she recognized me and received me with affection, as though she had made a place in her heart for me, despite the fact that I must have appeared to her to be a most peculiar pale bearded giant, bringing to mind the possibility that she is my Good Samaritan as well.
Sponsoring someone in Unbound is a privilege that costs almost nothing. Do it!
[originally posted 07/07/14 while on mission, and updated 07/25/14]