It was an incredible conference this past weekend at the Royal Ontario Museum and the Royal Conservatory of Music. The venues and the location reminded me why I love Toronto so much! What a privilege to join together to worship God in one of the key cultural areas of this great city.
Each musician, leader and speaker brought a fresh picture of the beautiful and timeless truth that God has for us today, given so very long ago. The backdrop of the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit and wealth information laid out for us about the scrolls, brought a fascinating reminder of the reality of God's infallible word. I heard someone say that they love the thought that God hid those scrolls for all of those thousands of years, only to bring them to light to our generation. What a gift, and a testimony of God's never failing truth!
A highlight of the weekend for me, however, was a surprise guest. It was a young man who was simply there at the ROM to attend and enjoy the conference. Stopping by at the Compassion table on Saturday, he asked for assistance to sponsor a child from his homeland: the Philippines. Moments later he mentioned that as a child, he had also been a Compassion sponsored child. Hearing that, excited the team member from Compassion.... and soon after, she shared it with all of us.
His story went something like this:
Manuel was the 9th child in his extremely poor family, growing up in a village in the Philippines. They had no electricity, running water or shoes. A missionary from Australia came to the neighbouring village, looking for children to place in the Compassion program - children who were from very needy, poor families. Manuel was chosen and entered into the Compassion International sponsorship program. Soon after, someone began to sponsor him, and his life dramatically changed. In an interview, he was asked how his life was different after he was sponsored, compared to how it was beforehand.
He put the microphone up to his mouth, and as he humbly looked down at his feet, he said: "I got shoes."
Along with the rest of the audience, I made an audible sound of joy for him - such a small thing as shoes, was obviously a big gift in his life as a boy.
He continued. "And I also got a guitar."
Now the audience clapped - and I began to cry. His gentle spirit and shy smile beamed from the stage. He was the real thing. He was living proof that a small amount of money, and a large amount of love in the name of Jesus could dramatically change a life and break the cycle of poverty and hopelessness. I was struck with awe at the way God can use us to reach children around the world, and the tears continued to flow down my cheeks.
Manuel continued to tell us his story. He, and others in his family became Christians, and a number of years ago he was sponsored to come and live in Canada. Here in Canada he met a young woman who later became his wife. She too was a former Compassion sponsored child from the Philippines. Together they have three boys, two of whom join with Manuel playing guitar in the worship band at his church in Toronto.
The real thing. Compassion delivers Jesus' love, and our money and letters to children all over the world like they did for Manuel, giving them the opportunity to live more full, free lives. What a wonderful surprise and privilege for those of us at the conference to meet Manuel and hear once again, in a very personal way, how our loving heavenly Father watches over His children. Manuel's life is proof.