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Compassion Experience to show lives of third-world children
Interactive journey to take place during four days at Lakewood Baptist Church
In the Compassion Experience, visitors will walk along a tour designed to show the lives of children living in Uganda and Bolivia. Guests will be given an iPod and headphones to hear the sounds of a third-world country and see the actual sights for the interactive experience. Designed by Compassion International, the experience will take place for four days at Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville.

Compassion Experience

When: 11 a.m. to 6:40 p.m. Oct. 30; 10 a.m. to 5:40 p.m. Oct. 31; 10:40 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 1; and 11 a.m. to 6:40 p.m. Nov. 2

Where: Lakewood Baptist Church, 2235 Thompson Bridge Road, Gainesville

How much: Free

More info:, or 770-532-6307

The definition of the word “poor” varies depending on the country. Poor to some Americans might mean not being able to afford an iPhone while poor to some in foreign countries might mean not having food or water for days.

Gainesville residents can get a glimpse of that lifestyle next week thanks to Compassion International, a child-advocacy ministry that partners children in poverty with an individual willing to sponsor one or more children in the program. The nonprofit will educate the community about worldwide poverty through its four-day event called, Compassion Experience, from Oct. 30 through Nov. 2 at Lakewood Baptist Church.

Its purpose is to bring visitors on a journey of the lives of children in developing countries to America, said Mark Hanlon, Compassion International’s senior vice president of global marketing and engagement.

“When people think of poverty, they often think of the lack of things, the lack of stuff, the lack of money,” he said. “Those are all symptoms of poverty. The real issue of poverty is the lack of hope. Through our holistic child development program, Compassion stirs hope in children. And you’ll see that hope come to life at this event.”

The Compassion Experience is a free, self-guided tour designed to show the lives of two Compassion-sponsored children living in Uganda and Bolivia. The experience allows visitors to walk through replicas of the children’s schools, markets and homes. An iPod and headset add to the 2,000 feet of interactive space.

“You get to hear all the sounds and see all the environments,” said Joy Willis, marketing director for Lakewood. “It’s a great way to see how other countries live without leaving Gainesville and a good reminder of how good we have it.”

After the tour, visitors will not only have the opportunity to learn more about childhood poverty, but change a child’s life through a sponsorship program.

Some Gainesville residents, including Chestatee High senior Rebecca Braun, are already involved in the program.

“I got involved when my family decided to sponsor two children in Germany in 2010,” Braun said. “I picked a little girl named Estefania Roxana Castro Fuentes. She’s 8 now. She was 3 when I started sponsoring her in Peru.”

Braun’s family also sponsors 17-year-old Haitian Darnelle Maxis. Braun visited her during a mission trip with Adventures in Missions in June. Despite the language barriers, the two ate lunch, exchanged gifts and painted each other’s nails.

“It’s a lot of body language,” Braun said. “She was smiling and hugging me the entire time. It didn’t matter to her that we didn’t speak the same language.”

And she is not the only one to be lucky enough to meet her Compassion-sponsored child.

Willis’ husband met and visited the Honduran child they have sponsored since 2008. He took a trip to the Compassion Center in the Central American country, where the $38-a-month sponsorship provides the child with hot meals, school supplies and schooling, as well as Bible studies, ministry, and outreach.

Compassion serves more than 1.7 million children in 26 countries around the world.

Willis hopes this experience will have a lasting effect on those who attend and increase those numbers.

“Coming to this event is a great way to broaden your perspective and see that the world is bigger than Gainesville, Georgia, and even the United States,” Willis said. “We’re always seeing such awful things happening on the news, but this event actually offers a tangible way to help a child.”

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