Eight men in bright orange t-shirts, combat boots and cargo pants encircled us as we walked to Daniel’s house from the church that serves as his Compassion project. A few minutes into the journey paved streets turned into rocky paths and steep descents.
Dogs everywhere. Voodoo has crept across the border from Haiti and with it the belief that demons take the smallest living thing they find in a home. Having a dog around is spiritual defense.
Sewage everywhere. There is no plumbing in Daniel’s neighborhood. The toilet is any place a person can find a little privacy. Waste is washed into the rocky pass we walked and eventually makes its way to the river that is Daniel’s backyard.
Danger everywhere. Some of the houses in Daniel’s neighborhood are used by drug traffickers to sort and package their goods. The presence of white-skinned visitors makes them nervous – dangerously so. Poverty also creates desperation that can lead otherwise kind people to steal, and hurt in the process.
Several minutes into the heart of Daniel’s neighborhood on foot, suddenly, our entourage in orange was joined by two military men in camouflage carrying automatic rifles and wearing black berets. After a brief back and forth, the two men with rifles disappeared and the men in orange fanned out from us. We were waved ahead after a few minutes of standing still. And the next minute we stopped again and waited for yet another signal to continue walking forward again.
“Are we in danger?” I asked.
“People who live here are not in danger because they have nothing of value to take,” our translator explained. “But some people may think you have something valuable they can sell.”
“Like a huge camera?” I asked. And we smiled nervously at each other and walked on to meet Daniel.
Daniel’s grown up in danger like this. To him it’s not his biggest problem. Loneliness is. His mother was just released from prison for drug trafficking and his father is still there with no date of release set. Daniel lives with his grandmother most of the time while hi mom looks for work or does the odd job here and there.
Daniel is tall and well-muscled for an eleven year-old and with much greater stamina than I have. After a couple miles of steep climbing in the noonday sun, I found a place in the shade for us and we sat, drank bottled water and talked about his life and what Compassion means to him. The conversation eventually turned to his sponsor. Daniel said his sponsor is a man named Benny who has written him once in the last four years. “Do you write Benny?” I asked. “All the time,” he said.
After hearing about all the care Benny’s $32 a month provides for Daniel – education, nutrition, friendships, spiritual mentoring, medicine – I asked Daniel, “If Benny were here, what would you tell him?” I expected some variation on “thank you.” Instead, Daniel looked into our camera and said, “Write to me, please.” And that’s all.
He reads the letters other kids get from their sponsors. He envies them.
Daniel needs Benny’s words to carry him in this dark place more than Benny realizes.