Walk through a Bolivian market or visit a Ugandan schoolroom to sample the experience of life in a developing nation without ever leaving the Flathead Valley.
Coming to Canvas Church in Kalispell in early February, the Compassion Experience, a project of the Compassion International ministry, allows communities across the nation step into another world for a while by taking a guided tour through a variety of simulated scenarios meant to recreate real-world situations from countries supported by the ministry.
Established in 1952, Compassion International partners people with children across the world, allowing individuals to support a specific child in a developing country by providing monthly funding that will pay for that child’s education, health care, nutritional needs and other needs.
According to the Compassion Experience website, there are about 385 million children living in extreme poverty, defined by World Bank as living on less than $1.90/day.
The unique nature of the ministry not only helps to share the reality of the lives they aim to change with those with the power to change them, but it also puts supporters in direct contact with the child they support, providing an avenue for communication through letters and the potential for face-to-face visits.
Canvas Church Lead Pastor Kevin Geer said he has been working toward connecting his church with a community in Ecuador for the past year since he first visited a Compassion community in Kenya and witnessed the ministry’s impact on the children who lived there.
According to Geer, Compassion works with indigenous leaders within their partner communities to ensure the maximum cultural impact and help influence change through the people who best know the needs of their country.
While in Kenya last January, Geer said he encountered a community Compassion site leader who’d grown up as a beneficiary of the program, went to college, got his degree and then returned to his home village to help the children after him gain the same experience he received through Compassion.
Last year, Compassion International supported 1.8 million children from kindergarten through high school worldwide.
This year, Geer said his goal is for Canvas Church to support an additional 800 children, with each family in the church’s three branches supporting at least one child each.
The Canvas community director, Phil Wilson, said the church will support a community in Ecuador.
“It’s a great way to go ‘hey, here’s a country that we cannot only learn about but we can help change long-term,’” Wilson said.
Geer added that while few people he knows understand much about the specific culture and struggles of Ecuador, his church is made up of people on both sides of the debate about immigration.
“We’ll let that debate happen,” Geer said. “Let’s not just sit and argue. Let’s put action to our words.”
Benefits to choosing Ecuador, according to Wilson and Geer, include the proximity to the United States, which they hope will allow supporters through the church to visit the children every two years.
“It will be interesting to see the difference that makes in the people who want to make a difference,” Geer said.
“We want to make a difference in a country that needs it. Ecuador needs it,” he added.
For $38 a month, families or individuals can directly support a child, providing education, medical care, counseling and vocational training, while also helping to establish biblical teaching opportunities within that community.
According to Geer, Compassion International boasts one of the lowest administrative cost, with more money going directly to the children than many of the programs he’s looked into.
Though Canvas Church will host the Compassion Experience event, Geer said the church will not benefit from any of the financial pledges made by church or community members.
Free and open to the public, the Compassion Experience invites anyone from the community to participate in the guided tour through a semi-trailer and tent set up to represent the living, working and educational conditions experienced by children in Compassion communities.
Following the tour, anyone can choose to support a child, either in Ecuador or in one of the other developing nation partner communities.
Each supporter will receive a packet with the photo of the child their contributions support along with information about how to contact and communicate with that child.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.