compassion that comes from empty hands :: day 1

Half-way through standing in line to board the plane in Los Angeles, there was a moment where I realized I was going to have to leave things behind. Not bags or stuff, but things. Precious-to-me things. Things like my sense of normal. My sense of everything is okay and at least half-way predictable. My sense of making an impact. I glanced at Kat behind me, who I’d only met thirty minutes earlier. I realized this new person was going to become a comfort zone person, along with every other person on this team. And so we boarded the airplane bound for Tokyo and headed into the blue unknown.

The blue unknown is a lot more familiar than I thought it would be. First, it isn’t blue at all. Manila is a thick haze of green, yellow, and gray. After a short night sleep and an early morning bus ride, we arrived at the country office for our initial visit with the people who work at Compassion here in Manila. As it turns out, Jesus lives in the Philippines.

From the woman who handles the letters to the man who handles the money, Jesus has hands and feet and sometimes holds a calculator. If you currently sponsor a child with Compassion, I want you to know this: Your money is handled with respect, gratitude, wisdom, and great care.

One woman in particular who works in the Compassion office wore a most sincere smile (as do most of our new Filipino friends). She was later introduced as a graduate from the program, which means she was registered as a child with Compassion and now, she works as an adult to help release other children from poverty in Jesus’ name, other children who are coming up behind her.

In a daydream glimpse, I saw my sponsored child Stacey sitting in that office chair, 15 years down the road with her coffee mug and her ring of important keys. Perhaps it won’t work out that way, exactly. But this is a story where gratitude multiplied the offering. Love motivated sacrifice. And compassion birthed compassion. I pray that will be true for Stacey. I pray it will be true for me.

Scarcity doesn’t exist in the arms of compassion. But sometimes it feels like it does. I found that out today when I met Stacey in person. I didn’t feel I had anything to offer her, and I felt small and unable to give much. I walked into the room to meet her for the first time, and I instinctively knelt to her level. She quickly knelt as well, right there in the middle of the room. And I realized this little one simply didn’t know what to do, so she copied me.

She copied me. Me, who has empty hands and left everything behind. She was just as unsure as I was.

She smiled as she took the gift I offered, and we sat together to look through the photos of another world, the one I had just left and will soon go back to. She read the notes my girls wrote to her, and looked up at me as I spoke in nervous English. Our time together wasn’t slow-motion running and teary-eyed hugs. Instead, it was sweetly awkward. Real life. Drama free. Her mother and I made small talk, and I learned she has three older sisters and a dog named Aang. I was never more grateful that I have a dog than in that moment (and you know what a big deal that is for me to say). We had a little something to talk about.

I felt scarce. I felt lacking. I felt I had nothing to give. But compassion speaks a different kind of language. There are a few things that, when given out, don’t go away. We think, if I give it to you, then I no longer have it. But not here. Not with these eyes. Not with this. There is a currency that isn’t dollars or pesos or yen. There is a limitless supply of grace and mercy available, and showing compassion sometimes just looks like showing up. Even more, He can make things show up that you don’t think even exist, things like love, joy, patience. I am not the source of the love, Jesus is. And he picks up when we leave everything behind.

He shows up sometimes in places and ways where we least expect. Today, it was in the midst of some awkward but also delightful moments with Stacey, when I slowly began to remember that it isn’t about me feeling like I have something to offer. I am simply to show up. And because He is in me, I do not show up alone.

When we left the office, the staff asked to pray for us. And I bowed my head and expected to hear individual prayers spoken clearly, but instead heard quiet whispers, words spoken to only the Lord all at the same time–loud enough to know they’re talking, but not so loud that we forget who they are talking to. Here are the people who make it possible for me to support Stacey, the people who handle the letters I will send and partner with the local churches that have the programs that provide her with holistic care. Here are the people, right in front of us. And they are praying for us. This hazy, green-yell0w-gray city is filled with pain and beauty, poverty and hope. And the Spirit of God is in their midst. Just like He is where I live. Just like He is with you.

Incase you don’t know what’s going on around here, I am currently traveling with a group of bloggers in the Philippines to learn and write about the ministry of Compassion International and what they are doing for children living in poverty. You can also follow the team on Twitter. We will be blogging daily.

The last four photos were taken by Keely Scott, our trip photographer.


  1. Sissy says

    Ok, I’m crying already. What a precious opportunity to take this trip and see Jesus in action. I’m so thankful that you were brave enough to leave everything behind and get on a plane. AND I’m also thankful that you are evidently handing your camera to someone else so you are in the pictures to. The joy on your face is making me weep.

    Prayers for a wonderful, enlightening, Jesus-filled trip. Can’t wait to read more.

  2. says

    “And compassion birthed compassion.” ….

    And what a delivery….
    That moment of you smiling in meeting Stacey?
    This room lit up with Joy!

    May what is birthing here — grow up to give our Jesus glory!

    Praying, and praising with you Emily!

    All’s grace,

  3. says

    stacey….oh my…what a doll.
    tears already

    them praying for ya’ll
    beautiful hands & feet of jesus. each of you


  4. says

    Everyone reading this is smiling~just like the ladies in the doorway behind you in the photo where you and Stacey first met. We all get to watch from afar because you went and are sharing the journey with us.

  5. says

    Thank you for being brave and traveling and taking time out to meet people and share their stories in such a real way.

    Can’t wait for your next post!

  6. Lisa says

    Your story moved me so much that I registered to sponsor an 11 year old boy in the Phillipines. Eliminating a few of my Starbuck’s runs will cover the monthly cost. We are so blessed to have all that we need. Thank you for sharing and inspiring.

  7. says

    weeping (the kneeling) and laughing (the dog) as i read this. beautiful, beautiful are your words as you see the same Jesus, who as you so perfectly said, lives in the Philippines too. Grace to you as you pour it out.

  8. says

    Oh Emily. That picture of you and Stacey, oh that picture. I know this trip is not about you, but as much as it is not about you, it kind of in a way is about you, because it is the place and the story and the thing that God has for you right now, and because of that, as your friend, I am so excited for you because you are doing the thing He has for you. And you are doing it well. Does that make sense? Be encouraged, God is going to use your words here to tell His story…

  9. says

    I feel as though a little of my heart has traveled to that faraway place with you Emily. It is miraculous, the way Jesus makes our little so much.

  10. says

    She spells her name the cool way with an -ey

    I love the lady in the doorway smiling and looking on as you knelt to meet :)

    And the way they pray, how precious. We may try that in our Shepherd group.

  11. says

    Thank you for introducing us to the dear woman who works in the office–the graduate from Compassion–a living, breathing triumph of God’s grace through this work. Thank you, too, for sharing your hesitancy and awkwardness. Few of us, I think would know how to speak life and grace to another whose life is so very different from ours. But God fills in where we are lacking, always, doesn’t He? Love seeing the pictures of Manila and the sweet faces of the children there. Brings back so many memories. Blessings to you.

  12. says

    Love your words here-that you don’t necessarily lose all that you give away. It’s always more blessed to give than to receive, but Lord teach my heart to believe it.

    Love seeing the photos and that beautiful girl. Thanks for taking us with you.

  13. says

    Tears friend. Our family’s sponsored child is also in the Philippines. So I’m lingering on your words as I get a glimpse into his world (sorta). Love to you, sweet lady. I’m praying. {Oh and, tell Kat I said hi.} :)

  14. says

    Wow…you post has moved me so much with how raw and honest you have been in just how uncomfortable and how inadequate a situation like this can make us all feel. Your little girl is so sweet and just love how all the staff is watching as you all get to meet your sponsored children. Wishing you all the best during this amazing, life changing adventure.

  15. says

    “Jesus has hands and feet and sometimes holds a calculator.”

    I love that line. :)

    It’s awesome that you were able to meet your sponsor child! It’s times like that where the impact of something like Compassion can really hit home.

  16. chris says

    “And because He is in me, I do not show up alone.”

    what a lovely post. so much goodness and godness in your experience. and aside from that the phrase above spoke to me. in no way related to your experience, but in mine. everyday sahm dealing with a mind that wont stop and feelings of worthlessness and depression. i found comfort in your words. “And because He is in me, I do not show up alone.” to know he is with me in every moment that i find unbearable he is with me. he is with me.

  17. says

    Could Stacey be more beautiful? No, she could not.

    I love that your first meeting was sweetly awkward, because don’t some of the best things in life begin that way?

    Also, I love your shirt and your hair. You might as well know.

  18. Lisa says

    I love the realness of this post. “Sometimes compassion looks like just showing up.” I’m moved and look forward to seeing how the Lord moves in you and through you. Thank you for being there, for showing up, and for giving us a window into the Lord’s work there.

  19. says

    I learned long ago that 5 minutes with another person can plant a seed that grows into something God-beautiful. Your story is a testimony to that. What a blessing, everywhere in your story. Everywhere!

  20. says

    I can’t believe you are finally, actually there…on the other side of the world. And yet I can send you “notes” on the internet just the same. Crazy. I am thinking of you so much and praying for you. I’ll be reading every word.

  21. susan says

    And may you all be richly blessed for what you do…we are never alone, we are never without & empty-handed. He is with us if we only dare to take Him. Love &joy &sweet humanity…awkward it may be but shared it becomes so much more. Love&blessings to all.

  22. says

    I think I am somewhat wary of charities and the way they use our money. Thank you for your reassurance about the integrity you have found at Compassion, it’s good to know.

  23. says


    You are so *real* in this post. And I’m blessed to really *see* more of you, even as uncomfortable as it may be for you. God pulls at your heart and helps you to spill out what your eyes see, and it is evident that your heart is learning things about God – your heart is being affirmed that yes, He is everywhere – and even there.

    I look forward to seeing more of your heart through the words you choose to describe your experience there. And most of all, I look forward to seeing how you’ll be changed because of it, and how this is such a necessary part of your story.

    Rich blessings as you *see* Him more, Emily…


  24. says

    Wow. Emily, seeing you meet your sponsor child totally brought me to tears this morning! What a beautiful picture of Christ’s love. I’m blessed, moved and inspired.

  25. Ann Gemmel says

    So sweet the picture of your first connection. Such honest, vulnerable smiles. As a compassion sponsor it greatly blesses me to hear again of the significant difference they are making, one sweet child at a time – multiplied by so many.

  26. Rebekah Madren says

    Hi Emily,
    Your trip blogging is so authentic! Thank you. I am not much of a blog reader, but stumbled upon yours a few weeks ago. I keep coming back to it. Your honesty is compelling! Thanks for being real and writing truth. I’ve been very blessed by it.

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