In early March 2020, I was on a storytelling trip to El Salvador for Compassion. One minute we were loading the van to head to a child development center, the next we were packing our bags to rush to the airport — urgently called home as COVID-19, a seemingly distant threat, suddenly became very real.
In a matter of weeks, the world felt like it shut down.
Ever since, my days have been spent at home, sharing stories about how the pandemic is affecting children living in poverty. These stories (told by our incredible local photojournalists) will stay with me forever.
Yhovana’s is one of them. When COVID-19 hit Bolivia, her husband lost his job. She works at a farm. One day, desperate to feed her four 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 local church partner heard this, they delivered groceries. Yhovana’s family didn’t just need food, but they also deserved dignity.
Another is a grandmother in Brazil. She had just been handed a basket heaving with food by our 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. The church keeps providing food for them at just the right time. As she puts her daughters to bed, she tells them, “God has taught us that even when times are dark, He will show us a way through the darkness.”
If these stories broke my heart, others made me laugh. In the Philippines, a teenage boy rode a water buffalo with a karaoke machine blaring to spread joy and raise funds for COVID-19 patients. In El Salvador, a family coped with being cooped up at home by creating their own stationary bicycle — using their bodies. Their youngest boy, little Josue, was the wheels.
Mostly, though, I am 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. Yet people like our sponsors, supporters, and church partners opened their hands and their hearts. In dozens 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. In the Japanese art of Kintsugi, broken pottery pieces are repaired with gold. By embracing the flaws and imperfections, it creates a stronger, more beautiful piece. 2020 was a year that often felt broken, but I saw how God filled the cracks with bright, shining gold.
Here is some of the gold from the year the world changed. These moments and lessons represent prayers answered, lives changed, and lessons learned. They show what is possible when together, we rise as one.
1. We showed up for one another. We were separated by distance but fought to remain united. Friends celebrated graduations and birthdays by driving past homes, balloons streaming from car windows. Teenagers taught grandparents to use Zoom. Neighbors dropped encouraging notes in mailboxes. Loved ones waved from pavements beneath hospital windows.
When vulnerable families needed healthcare during the pandemic, Compassion’s church partners were there. From April 2020 to January 2021, they supported 970,660 cases of medical care.
Being separated was hard. It caused excruciating pain to many. But distance couldn’t stop us from showing up for one another, and time together now is all the more precious.
2. We realized the church is more than a building. From the beginning, the church has always been more than a building. But in 2020, when many couldn’t access attend services in person, this truth really shone. Churches all over the world adapted, shifting online, moving services outdoors, and providing support in new ways to continue being the hands and feet of Jesus.
When their church doors closed, our church partners taught children virtually, prayed for families over the phone, and even delivered birthday cakes at a safe distance. They distributed a staggering 10,614,674 food parcels to vulnerable families — each one representing a full belly and a weight off an anxious parent’s shoulders.
3. We saw God’s faithfulness. In all of the challenges, we saw God at work. He inspired the Filipino teenager in his quest to create smiles, He showed up on Tribin’s doorstep through the faithful center volunteers, and He walked alongside the Brazilian grandmother as she carried her food basket home.
He made pathways through the wilderness and rivers in the dry wasteland, just as He promised. If you haven’t seen this in your own life yet, take heart. He is still working.
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 gold.
Zoe Noakes is a marketing writer for Compassion International. She lives in Newcastle, Australia.