In February of 2020, we had many plans at Compassion Canada. Staff, volunteer and sponsor trips to El Salvador, Kenya and Thailand were pencilled into the calendar. Church events had been booked, and the year was looking open and bright.
But then in a matter of weeks, March came, and the rumblings of a global virus that would put the world on pause became a loud, tangible threat. Just as quickly as it arrived, COVID-19 had changed the world as we knew it.
Ever since those early days of lockdown a year ago, life has looked so different. Little did we know as a small team of writers at Compassion Canada that the stories we would be sharing for the rest of the year and beyond would be those of the pandemic’s immense impact on children living in poverty. And little did we know that these stories would change us forever.
Yhovana’s story is one of them. When COVID-19 hit Bolivia, her husband lost his job. She was left as the sole income provider for her family, working at a local farm. One day, desperate to feed her children, she looked down at the bucket of chicken guts she fed to her employer’s pigs. She had no choice. “I collected the nicer intestines to bring home,” she says, “to cook and eat.” When Compassion’s partner heard, they quickly delivered groceries. Not just because Yhovana’s family needed food, but also because they deserved dignity.
Another is the story of a desperate grandmother in Brazil. She had just been handed a basket heaping with food by Compassion’s local church partner. She was all alone. Concerned, the pastor asked if she needed help to carry it. Her response brought tears to his eyes. “It would be heavier if it were empty,” she replied.
Or Tribin, a mother in Bangladesh. Even before the pandemic, she and her husband struggled to earn enough to feed their little girls. In what is the most challenging season of their lives, she says the pandemic has taught her to believe in miracles. Compassion’s partner keeps providing for them at just the right time.
Mostly, though, after sharing stories of heartbreak, struggle, hope and strength, we are left in awe of people’s courage, dedication and capacity to continually pour out love upon vulnerable families. In 2020, the world shut its doors and closed its borders. But Compassion church partners and supporters opened their hands and their hearts. In a mosaic of different languages, they said ‘What do you need? We are here for you.’
In a year that many of us would like to erase, truly beautiful things happened. 2020 was a year that often felt broken, but at Compassion, we saw how God filled the cracks with streams of light.
Here is some of the light we saw peek through from the year the world changed. These moments represent prayers answered and lives changed.
1. We showed up for one another.
We were separated by distance but fought for any way to remain united. Friends celebrated bridal showers and graduations with drive-by parties and Zoom gatherings. Neighbours dropped encouraging notes in mailboxes and fresh groceries on doorsteps. Loved ones waved from pavements beneath hospital windows.
When vulnerable families in low-income countries needed healthcare during the pandemic, Compassion’s church partners were there. From April 2020 to January 2021, they assisted more than 970,660 individuals to access medical care.
Being separated was hard, but distance couldn’t stop us from showing up for one another.
2. We realized the church is more than a building.
We have always said that the church is more than a building. But in 2020, when many couldn’t attend services in person, this truth set in as a reality. Churches all over the world adapted, shifting online, moving services outdoors and providing support in new and innovative ways to continue being the hands and feet of Jesus in their communities.
When their church doors closed, Compassion’s partners taught children virtually, prayed for families over the phone and even delivered birthday cakes at a safe distance. They distributed over 10.6 million food packs to vulnerable families — each one representing a full belly and a heavy weight off an anxious parent’s shoulders.
3. We learned to smile with our eyes.
Smiling without our mouths — it’s a skill most of us didn’t realize we would need. When face masks were introduced as mandatory, suddenly we had to express ourselves in unique ways, using only the top half of our face.
In some low-income countries, the prices of face masks and hand sanitizer skyrocketed amid the pandemic, making these simple tools of self-protection out of reach. So, Compassion’s church partners sprang into action, distributing more than 7.1 million hygiene kits, helping to protect precious lives.
4. We saw God’s faithfulness.
In all of the challenges, heartbreak, loneliness and fear, we saw God at work through the acts of kindness of ordinary people. He never left or abandoned us and continues to walk beside us as the uncertainty continues.
We saw God provide for those who had lost all hope through the generosity of Compassion supporters who provided a total of 330,734 cash transfers to families in desperate need.
He made pathways through the wilderness and rivers in the dry wasteland just as He promised (Isaiah 43:19). We’re so thankful for the ways that Jesus-followers around the world opened their hearts and hands to be the catalysts of God’s provision in a year unlike any we’ve known before.
2020 — the year it felt like the world changed — was one of widespread changes, quarantines and challenges. But let’s remember the ways God filled the cracks with light by filling needs and never leaving our side!
Words by Laura Phillips and Zoe Noakes.