Two weeks ago I was in Nicaragua visiting churches involved in some unique ministries that both demonstrate and proclaim the gospel.

The group I was with, mostly pastors from U.S. churches affiliated with the Willow Creek Association, visited church ministries in Nicaragua connected with Compassion International.

Before this trip, I was familiar with Compassion International only as an agency that provided sponsorships for impoverished children around the world. On this trip I saw that these sponsorships weren't just random children, but they were children involved in child development programs at local churches in needy areas.

For example, a few of us visited a family in Ciudad de Sandorino, where a grandmother and grandfather were caring for their orphaned grandson. They didn't have electricity in their three-room house. They supported themselves by selling tortillas made, two or three at a time, on a small wood-burning stove.

The grandson, 10-year-old Axel, attended an after-school program at a nearby church, Joyas de Christo, where more than 300 children were fed, helped with homework, provided medical care, and taught the gospel.

They performed for us some of the songs and dances they had learned. We talked with the teachers and workers. We ate skewered chicken they had cooked there at the church.

The most striking image to me was seeing the modest computer lab where Axel and other children, whose homes would likely never be wired for electronics, were being taught computer skills. The foundational principle: the first steps out of poverty include education and hope. Joyas de Christo is providing both.

"Compassion is the new evangelism," said William Gutierrez, director of the Compassion office in Nicaragua.

By that he did ...

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