It was a year ago now when they hugged the breath from our lungs, when we waved hard from windows flung wide to catch our last look at Chillanes. Their faces, wet and smiling, grew small as the wheels of our bus picked up speed.


Such a small-syllabled word, but steely; strong enough to shoulder the weight of a love that spans the three thousand miles between us.

It’s funny how we stepped foot in Ecuador expecting to be changed, but still jarred by how the overlap of our lives and theirs unraveled us, left us raw and open and waiting for God.


Over and over again, it was the same: we’d visit a home, meet a mom and her children, sit and pray and listen as she opened her life, word by humble word, to unveil the pearl of her story. And every time I’d think, That’s me. She’s me.

I saw the unmistakable pulse of my own heart in each young mother—in Jada’s fragility, barely daring to trust the world. In Olivia’s fullness, standing so rich in children. In Adelina’s protectiveness, Mira’s redemption, Rosa’s constancy, Cristina’s dogged hope.

I saw myself in their pain and ambition and disappointment and breathless belief, and I understood perhaps what God means when he tells us to love each other like our very own skin.


Near the end of our visit, our team circled glass-topped tables in Quito, sifting through the treasure of the past week. Our fearless Compassion leader, Melissa, related a recent conversation with an LDP student named Richmond. She’d asked him if the letters from his sponsor family mattered much in the grand scheme of things. I’d like to think that his smile was patient when he answered.

“Melissa, I didn’t have a father,” he’d said, “so to have someone writing letters saying they loved me meant everything.” It changed the landscape of his life.

And this fatherly covering of a sponsor makes it a small leap for a boy like Richmond to envision a God who cares for him, who is watching over him with relentless tenderness.


And I find that everything I want for my children I also want for these families we now call our own: a warm place to sleep, food in their bellies. Homework. Medicine. Clean water. College. And the love of Christ flooding their veins like lifeblood.

I want them and us and all of our kiddos to live in light of God’s redemptive love. To live like the rescued, the freshly alive—saved not to scrape in circles of familiarity and ease, but to risk and dream and sweat and pray and extend compassion to others.

at play

These are the little ones God has entrusted to our care, and friends, you are loving them with gusto. The fact that so many of these children are thriving speaks to your sacrificial love and fiery prayer, and to the tireless work of people like Miriam, Angelica, Pastor Pedro, and Patricio on the ground.

But mostly it points straight to a God who lavishes His love upon us; who spots us coming in the far-off gloam and sprints to meet us, unleashes a party, and dances like mad to have us home.

This is love: not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4.10-11, NIV).



**A note from the author: Thank you, Epic Church family, for the joy of meeting the people of Chillanes and the high privilege of sharing their stories with you. I am blown clean over by the munificence with which you love. Keep on keeping on, dear friends. Jesus is our pearl of great price.
-Nicki Owens


white dress

white dress

He carried that plastic doll all the way from South Bend, a doll with honeyed skin and a sweep of dark, sleek hair. Jeremy carted this precious cargo on two planes, a taxi, and a pair of winding bus rides to make sure it ended up with a little girl in the mountains of Ecuador.

His sponsored child.

white dress

Dayana is a slip of a girl, her eyes a solemn pair of wide, dark pools. She’s elegant and quiet and someone you instinctively want to protect the minute you meet her.

On the day of our visit, we pull up to her house and thread down a damp walkway with a string of laundry running its narrow length. Most of the clothes drying are the stripes and knits of everyday wear, but at the end of the line a white dress sways on a hanger, layers of pressed gauze and eyelet.

white dress

white dress

It’s the dress Dayana wore just the day before, when she met Jeremy.

Melissa, our Compassion staff leader, explains how the community likely pooled resources to rent this pristine garment for Dayana to wear. “Clothed in white–it’s a little like the bride of Christ,” Melissa observes.

Dayana’s house is a small clutch of modest rooms, the block walls adorned with posters and bags. We gather in a space that seems to function as a bedroom and kitchen and dining area all in one, with a tangle of bananas hanging in the afternoon light.

white dress

white dress

Dayana sits with her mother and grandmother, her immense eyes still serious. Jeremy flanks her other side, and as they talk he laughs with such warmth that Dayana responds with a grin even before the joke is translated.

They converse for a while, exchange photographs and gifts. Dayana is delighted with the sweet little doll, and Jeremy seems equally elated as she circles a knitted scarf around his neck.

As time grows short, we clasp hands to pray for Dayana’s family, for Jeremy’s family, and for the newly-forged commitment and shared love that now join the two.

white dress

white dress

white dress

The end comes too soon, and it feels impossible to leave. It’s clear Jeremy has already wiggled his way into the hearts of this small family as Dayana’s mom and then grandmother each kiss and grip him in a hardy embrace, weeping whispered blessings over him.

It’s hard to work out the mechanics of this bright, fierce love between sponsor and child, a love so sudden and immense it defies reason. Dayana’s not Jeremy’s child by blood or flesh or coiled strands of DNA. But she is very much a child of his heart, the pair of them bound by a love that can scale every linguistic, geographic and cultural wall looming between them.

white dress

white dress

white dress

We step outside into a sky thick with chilled mist, the light thin but hopeful. And the thought that runs like a current through my head as we say our sad, sweet goodbyes is this: I believe in love at first sight.

I believe because I just saw it, firsthand, between a young dad and his sponsored child in the cobbled mountain streets of Chillanes.


Much of what we walked through in Ecuador were early chapters in the story of Chillanes’ Child Survival Program. Near the end of our stay, though, we met a pair of bright, articulate young adults whose experience shows just how completely Compassion can change the life trajectory of a child in poverty.

This is one of their stories.

lunch with alexis

city streets

Alexis grew up at the edge of a neighborhood known as “the cave of wolves.” He talks with us over lunch in Quito on an afternoon ripe with the scent of rain. His broad shoulders angle and shift as he thinks back to those early years.

The first child of a young mom and dad, Alexis grew up largely in the care of his grandparents. His house had two dusky rooms: a kitchen and a small room for sleeping. Some weeks it was hard to scrounge up a meal, but the people at Compassion made sure Alexis was fed. He remembers racing his friends to the school—“the food was really good,” he explains with half a smile. The boys would inhale a heaping plateful and then race back to the line for seconds.

city streets


We ask Alexis about his sponsors, and his answers reveal the impact of people who loved him well from afar. He still remembers his very first letter from a sponsoring church when he was four. It said they were willing to help, and that every time they met together they would pray for him.

He also describes his most recent sponsors, a family who kept his picture in a place of honor at their dining table. Every meal at that table included a prayer for Alexis. His eyes are shining as he speaks.

“If you could meet your sponsors, what would you say to them?” we ask.

“At first, I wouldn’t say anything,” Alexis tells us. “I’d just hug them. Then I’d thank them for everything they gave.”

city streets

lunch with alexis


Today Alexis is living out a life of beautiful purpose. A promising college student, he’s part of Compassion’s Leadership Development Program. In a few semesters, he’ll graduate with a degree in finance, and he already has a personal business plan firmly in place. He’s aiming to start a candle company to create jobs for people in Quito and beyond.

We love the idea of candles, and our curiosity gets the best of us. “Of all the things you could have chosen, what made you pick candles?” we ask him.

Alexis smiles, and it’s like the sun breaking open at dawn. “When I was a kid, we didn’t have lights. We lived with candles.” He wants to bring light into homes like his that can’t afford electricity.

Near the end of our meal, Alexis shares a favorite verse, Ruth 2:12. “May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” With perspective beyond his years, Alexis explains how it fills him with joy to know the Lord will return to us what we’ve done for Him—that the children we sponsor will in turn bless us.

city streets

lunch with alexis


He grew up at the edge of a neighborhood called “the cave of wolves,” but Alexis sees only the redemptive presence of God. “It may be the red zone,” he says, “but it’s red because of the blood of Christ.”

Alexis is living, breathing evidence of how Compassion—and the tangible love of Christ—can rewrite a child’s future. In a beautiful cycle of hope, this once-sponsored child is now himself carrying light to those in need.




Jada* lives in her dad’s house, a construction of cinderblock and wood topped with a tin hat and propped on leggy stilts. It’s quiet here, with green sweeping out in every direction: neatly tilled fields, seas of damp grass, trees dripping soft taps of leftover rain. Her dad is in a neighboring city now, and her sister lives in Quito, so Jada and her baby pace the shadowed floorboards of this home and try to be company enough for each other.

On the afternoon of our visit, however, Jada is not alone. Her baby’s father, Alvaro, has come from Guaranda, and the two fidget and react to each other in ways that are hard to read.

We start with introductions and small talk, and find out that Baby Elisa was anemic—“She didn’t eat well,” Jada explains. Compassion gave Elisa iron supplements and medical check-ups, and they taught Jada the basics of mothering: what to feed Elisa and when; how to change a diaper; what to do for a fever or colic or croup.

These are the sorts of things Jada might have learned from her own mother, but as it stands, the only relative within reach is an aunt who sometimes watches the baby while Jada works as a cook. It’s hope-renewing to see how Compassion has stepped in to be this young mom’s family.



As Jada speaks, Alvaro watches her, smiling at all the right times, reaching out with an arm on her shoulder. He seems attentive, earnest—but clearly another side to this tale sits untold. Jada tenses beneath his touch, and she sets her gaze on the trees, the sky, the pile of wash by the well, our faces—everywhere but Alvaro.

We ask about the two of them, and Alvaro responds with warmth. They’ve known each other since they were fifteen. When he moved to the city, “at first it was kind of a relief,” he admits. “But then I felt an emptiness not being near my daughter.”

“What are your plans for the future?” we ask them.

“I will wait for Jada,” Alvaro says. “I will come back.”

Jada shrugs and smiles, embarrassed, barely more than a child herself and yet wise in a way that can only come from a crushing familiarity with heartbreak.


Miriam is Jada’s Compassion promoter, the person who mentors her weekly, giving her ongoing lessons in childcare and family health while also sharing hope from God’s Word. At first the word promoter feels stiff, but I keep turning it over in my mind. Compassion promoter. One who promotes compassion, who advocates mercy and a bone-deep, galvanizing kindness.

It fits.

Before we leave, Miriam tells Alvaro that if he wants to be a part of this small family, he must be a husband and father who loves his girls as Christ loves His church. Strong families are built on faithfulness, safety, protection, trust. He must treat Jada with tenderness; she should not know fear at his hands.

Her words are sobering, and my heart is further stilled when we’re back in the truck hearing of the landscapes of violence and grief in which Jada and Alvaro both grew up. Sin can be communicable, generational—and yet the love of Christ is known to break even the deadliest cycles.



As we drive away on streets slicked with fog, I offer up quiet gratitude for Miriam, for Compassion and the humble, life-giving work they do in lives like Jada’s. They are her mother, sister, confidant, friend, advocate and protector. They’re infusing worth and resilience into a girl so thirsty for the peace and unassailable shelter of Christ.

To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory (Isaiah 61.3, NLT).




*Names have been changed to preserve privacy.


stepping in

Chickens scuttle from our path as we stoop beneath the plastic canopy bordering Hector and Olivia’s* home. Filmy light bleeds through this makeshift awning, which keeps rain from lines of wash strung up like garlands of cloth and color.

Stepping into the dusk of this house is like entering another world—life in here is draped in shadow and happy clutter, the whole place fragrant with peace.

In each nook and corner stands evidence of thoughtful intention. Onions festoon the kitchen wall, slung by their roots in a neat, earthy row; a hammock-style bassinet—fashioned from feed sacks and ingenuity—waits for the baby’s next nap. But the most extraordinary fixture of this house isn’t a thing at all—it’s the fellow in a blue polo standing near the door, hands tucked beneath his arms, voice soft and resonant.

This is one of the few homes we’ve visited where a father is fully present, and the sense of stability that envelops his family is nearly palpable.




We gather in a loose circle and chat for a while, passing shy smiles across the gloam as Hector and Olivia talk of life in Chillanes.

They’re subsistence farmers, dwelling on a borrowed hill. The two look at each other and nod as if agreeing on their contentment. “We like our life here,” Hector says. “We have land here that we can work.”

Around us, a passel of waist-high children scratch out pictures on colored paper, watching us watch them with their bright, dark eyes. Olivia croons to their youngest child, a baby circled in ivory cloth worn soft with all the years of babies before her.




When we ask if they’ll have more children, Hector laughs. “Eh, probably not. I think five’s enough.”

Even so, they gaze upon their fifth baby as if seeing a miracle. Just a few months back they’d almost lost this small life. “I asked Miriam [the Compassion worker] to please pray hard for the baby,” Olivia recalls. And with Compassion’s medical help and fervent petitions to the God who gives life, here she is: an answer warm and sleepy, one you can cradle right up to your wondering heart.

Hector shares how recent months have been lean, and how Compassion fills the gaps with tins of meat, oil, and maize flour prayed over and stretched out until every small stomach is nourished.

When our time whittles down to goodbye, they thank us profusely, but it’s we who walk away full—hearts swollen from a newly forged friendship with this pair who, for all the unyielding angles of their days, remain tender and kind around the edges.

Is it strange to miss people and houses I’ve barely begun to know? Yet I think this speaks to a keener longing, a yearning for a place both familiar and unseen. It’s a hunger for rest and the sharp relief of finding ourselves home at last, home for good in the God who creates us for Himself.

the road home


The work of Compassion is meals and buildings and medical care, but it’s also something simpler and more. It’s one soul reaching out to another, and together running headlong for home.




*Names have been changed to preserve privacy.


**Last month we met Adelina and her children, for whom Compassion has been a refuge of peace. Here is the rest of her story.

adelina in the fields

It’s a strange and somber thing to watch diligent years of study fold themselves up and sit on a shelf, collecting dust.

Adelina is a teacher—university-educated, articulate, confident—but there’s little teaching work to be found in Chillanes. So for now she and her two children live with her parents, where her days are spent farming the slope of earth behind their mountain home.

Adelina’s parents, for their part, view her help as an answer to their prayers. Her father’s health has been crumbling before their eyes, and many evenings her mom keeps watch by his bedside, trying to cup this brittle life as it sifts through her fingers.

Now it’s the women and kids who work the farm, who keep the earth churned and seeded, who harvest maize like baskets of sun. And it’s Adelina who pulls the lion’s share of each day’s labor—hands that can diagram sentences and label solar systems are instead gathering calluses in these fields.

adelina's son

To watch her, though, is to glimpse through a window of quietude. The corners of her eyes are tired, it’s true, and she grieves not having her own home. But she moves with a peace that belies the frailty of her father’s health or their dwindling finances. She breathes with the firm belief that God cares deeply for her family, and that He charts every curve of their lives.

The evidence of His love is painted in vibrant, unmistakable strokes all around her, and so much of it stems directly from Compassion. Fried plantains and rice and meaty stew for her children. A safe place to play. Friends for her daughter and son. Friends for her. Wise, biblical counsel. People who hear her, who really listen and remember and pray. Medical care, dental care. Soul care.

Compassion provides all of this, and also a sweet, unanticipated joy: the chance for Adelina to teach her fellow moms during Saturday workshops—to use her education and gifting for kingdom purposes.

with grandma

When we ask how we can pray for her, Adelina says she yearns for work, for a home of her own. But even in this her hope is unflagging. “As long as God gives us life,” she says, “we will keep pressing on.”

And that’s why Jesus comes to the folks in these hills, why He comes to you and to me: to give us life, whole and ablaze with the joy of Him; life that threads from now through eternity.



Just after breakfast, Adelina* kisses two crowns of raven hair and scoots her kids out into the damp, thin light. School is right down the street, but she watches every step of their sleepy amble, exhaling only after the classrooms have swallowed them safe.

Since parting ways with her husband, she lives chest-deep in fear that he’ll swoop in and steal the children away.

“They’re my whole life, and he knows this,” Adelina says. Her voice slips for just a fraction of a second. “The divorce, the whole thing with him–it’s very hard.”

Back when they lived in a different stretch of town, Adelina got a startling call one day at work: her daughter was missing, the caller said. Her thoughts leapt straight to her estranged husband, and she sprinted home with an icy-fingered fear clawing at her lungs.

She turned the neighborhood inside out and found her daughter safe that day, playing with friends. Still, it was too close a call to sit well with this young mom’s heart.


Now that Compassion is working in Chillanes, Adelina’s children often spend their afternoons at the center. “People there know us, and they keep an eye on the kids,” Adelina says. “The Compassion workers–they know what it means to be a mother. They will stand up for my kids.”

And at the same time, Adelina is watching another of her fears ease into a beautiful relief. Since coming to Compassion, she sees her five year old son growing into a person wholly different from his father. “The people at Compassion teach him to be conscientious, well-mannered, attentive. Now he is respectful, both at the project and at home. He is kind. They have given him the fear of God.”

On Saturdays, Adelina helps out at the center, teaching parenting workshops to moms just starting out. We ask her how to be a good mother, and she answers with both wisdom and pith:

“Get over yourself.”

Her laugh is like the rain in these hills, silvery-quick and life-giving. “You need to value the things that are going to help your kids,” she explains. “Be responsible with them, give them a good education, teach them to fear the Lord. So yes, get over yourself.”


When we ask her son what he hopes to be when he grows up, his answer unveils years of brokenness. “I’m going to be a police officer,” he says, “so I can put my dad in jail.”

Adelina has other ideas, softer and bright with hope. “He’s a wonderful artist, my son. Maybe he’ll be the next Picasso.”

Here in Chillanes, Compassion stands as a haven of solace and safety–a refuge of peace in these fractured, uncertain streets. And at its heart is God himself, who gathers wounded, hopeful families beneath his wings and gives them rest.

**We at Epic Church are renewing our $25,000 annual commitment to uphold vulnerable families and children in the highlands of Ecuador. Compassion has also identified 29 children awaiting sponsorship. Would you prayerfully consider investing in the community of Chillanes or sponsoring a specific child?

Please email Karleen Hallock at if you’d like to join in.



*Names have been changed to preserve privacy


He had the smallest voice, pitched high and sweet like a morning lark. The concrete lot was buzzing with kids, and Jamie* ran in hopeful circles, trying to join the rumpus. He’d wait for a frisbee pass that never came, or lunge to snag a ball, only to have it plucked from his grasp.

By the time Peter approached him, Jamie had retreated to the outer fringes of the lot, subdued but still leaning in on his toes. Peter knelt down and asked his name, and that was it for Jamie. He slung monkey arms around Peter’s neck and pulled tight, his delight spilling out both shy and silly.

The pair played for the rest of the morning, chasing each other down and circling jump ropes under a white Andean sky. When it came time to head back to the center for lunch, Jamie walked a good three feet taller. You could almost see the joy dripping from his pores.

We didn’t ever hear the particulars of Jamie’s story, or why the other kids kept him from their games. We just knew he needed a friend in the crowd, and Peter’s hijinks pulled laughter from the depths of him.

Compassion fills an array of roles in Chillanes: nourisher, counselor, doctor, educator, advocate. But sometimes their most vital role is the one Peter slid into that bright April morning: friend.

And this is how Jesus shows up in the middle of a childhood spun in these beautiful, unforgiving mountains: as a companion and brother and Savior and Lord, as One who pours His joy full into small and thirsty hearts.

He sees us standing at life’s fringes, and to our utter delight and relief, He calls us friend.

**We at Epic Church are renewing our $25,000 annual commitment to uphold vulnerable families and children in the highlands of Ecuador. Compassion has also identified 29 children awaiting sponsorship. Would you prayerfully consider investing in the community of Chillanes or sponsoring a specific child like Jamie?

Please email Karleen Hallock at if you’d like to join in.



*Names have been changed to preserve privacy


**Last month we introduced Mira and her pumpkin-cheeked toddler. Here’s the rest of her story of hope.

It’s raining again, and everything slips with moisture—the rooftops, the elephant–eared Philodendron, the air pulling into our lungs. A plank of wood, slick with mud and bowing under our weight, serves as a walkway up to Mira’s mountainside home.

looking out from mira's porch

We press into an open-aired room and listen to the small, steady tones of Mira’s tale. There are parts that make me bloom with hope, parts where I tremble and weep. And the gossamer threads that snake through her story speak of a mother’s love, of devotion fierce and courageous enough to hold a life together.

Mira was young and pregnant and crumbling under the weight of shame and abandonment. But her mother looked at her and saw just one thing: her daughter. Broken? Yes. Hurting? Yes. And also precious beyond all reckoning.

mira's home

mira's mom and her boy

And this is how Christ shows up: through a mother who won’t let go, who looks clear through the failure and sees beauty and worth. It’s the prodigal son all over again, and he’s every single one of us, heaving with wonder and relief to be home, crushed up against a God who refuses to keep a safe distance from our sin.

And now it is Mira’s turn to forgive: to release the father of her child, the man who left them both, from the bonds of her resentment. It’s hard, she tells us. The Compassion staff places steadying hands on her shoulders, and we ask God to carry her heart toward forgiveness.

mira's mom and her boy

Mira looks at her son, his cheeks heavy and round, his face topped with a crown of baby-fine hair. She looks at her son with the same eyes her mom sets on her: a mother’s eyes, blazing with unbridled love for her child.

“I want him to have a full life,” she says, and I can’t help but think that he already does. He has a mom who’d split the sky to make room for his dreams, and a God who is unrelentingly on his side. I can’t imagine a more grace-filled place in which to grow.


**We at Epic Church are renewing our $25,000 annual commitment to uphold vulnerable families and children in the highlands of Ecuador. Compassion has also identified 29 children awaiting sponsorship. Would you prayerfully consider investing in the community of Chillanes or sponsoring a specific child?

Please email Karleen Hallock at if you’d like to join in.



It’s your ageless, time-worn tale of heartbreak: at nineteen Mira* was stunning, sweet, ambitious, and head-over-heels in love. Her boyfriend was older, and he seemed crazy about her—right up till the minute she whispered that she was pregnant.

“He said he’d help, but he meant he’d help get rid of the baby,” Mira explains. “Otherwise, he was gone.”

Alone and reeling at the thought of sinking her mom’s heart, Mira hit that hard, bleak bottom and ended up in the hospital with self-inflicted wounds. But even then, God was holding her tight.

He sent someone straight into that hospital to sit beside Mira, to affirm her humanness and her worth, to remind her that this was not the defining chapter in her life. It was a plot twist, perhaps, but here’s how the rest of the story goes: God adores you, still and always. When the rest of your world up and leaves, He’s categorically on your side.



Then God wrote Compassion into Mira’s story, ensuring nourishment for her baby and bolstering this fledgling mom with food from His word, sound counsel, encouragement, and weekly lessons in infant care. Compassion dusted off this little family, set it back on its feet. Returned the glint of determination and life to Mira’s eyes.

Today Mira is university-bound, aiming to study medicine. Through the whole of our afternoon visit together, her mother stood by her side radiating a fierce and redemptive love. When her mom spoke, tears traced the contours of her skin like rivers of grace. And between mom and daughter stood a sister who swayed Mira’s beautiful boy back and forth, back and forth, keeping time with the heartbeat of hope in this home.



“I can do it,” Mira told us. She was talking about college, but I think also mothering, and life. I studied this trio of women woven into a three-stranded cord, not easily broken, and I knew she’s absolutely right.




*Names have been changed to preserve privacy.