Compassion International, a leading authority on child sponsorship which releases children from poverty globally, has brought its “Compassion Experience” to Calhoun this week.
The four-day event kicks off today at Rock Bridge Community Church and will continue through Monday, giving visitors the opportunity to learn about the realities of life in poverty while also providing them with the opportunity to learn about developing countries.
The Compassion Experience is a 20-minute, self-guided journey that allows participants to immerse themselves in the lives and stories of children living in developing countries like the Philippines, Kenya, Uganda, and the Dominican Republic. With over 2,000 square feet of exhibit space, the experience is highly interactive. Set-ups include imitations of the insides of homes, markets and schools in developing countries, and iPods and headsets will offer visitors a sense of what life is like in extremely poverty-stricken areas around the world.
The hours are Friday and Monday from 11 a.m. to 6:40 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4:40 p.m.
Mark Hanlon, Compassion International’s senior vice president of global marketing and engagement, said the intent of the Compassion Experience is to help people understand poverty while keeping them hopeful about ending the symptoms of it.
“When people think of poverty, they often think of the lack of things, the lack of stuff, the lack of money. Those are all symptoms of poverty. The real issue of poverty is the lack of hope,” Hanlon said. “Through our holistic child development program, Compassion stirs hope in children. And you’ll see that hope come to life at this event."
It was through the holistic child development and child sponsorship programs that Compassion and Rock Bridge first united.
Tony Helton, Rock Bridge’s Communications Pastor, said that the church first began supporting Compassion International in 2011. Since then, 955 children have been sponsored by Rock Bridge families. Beyond child sponsorship, Rock Bridge also funds Compassion's Child Survival Program in Hawassa, Ethiopia, as well as in the Dominican Republic. The funds provide care for 15 mothers and their babies at each of those locations.
“We have a deep relationship with Compassion, especially with their project and church in Hawassa. Several individuals from our church, including some of our pastors, have had the opportunity to see firsthand the impact that sponsorship makes in the lives of the children, as well as their families,” Helton said. “There are 261 children in that center that receive support from Rock Bridge.”
Helton hopes the church’s support of Compassion’s work will only continue to grow. It is one of the reasons that Rock Bridge decided to play host to this year’s experience, which he said is estimated to draw in nearly 2,500 visitors.
“We are bringing the Compassion Experience to Calhoun because it provides the absolute best experience, the realities of global poverty, and how you can change the life of a child through a sponsorship through Compassion International,” Helton said. “For some, going on a mission trip is not a possibility. The Compassion Experience allows someone to have this experience without leaving the country.”
In the areas Compassion serves, nearly one in five children die before the age of 5, mostly from preventable causes, and 124 million children worldwide do not attend school, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS).
Tour-goers will have the opportunity to “change the story” of children living in poverty by learning more about the issue and Compassion’s child sponsorship program.
For more information about “The Compassion Experience,” visit www.rockbridge.cc/compassion. Rock Bridge is located at 905 Curtis Parkway S.E. in Calhoun.