Alyssa Esparaz, 19, is a full-time International Development Studies student at the University of Toronto, an anti-poverty advocate for Compassion Canada and a zealous follower of Christ. She also writes regularly for LIM and attends The Meeting House Uptown Toronto, where she’s a youth group leader and contributes to video curriculum for the children’s ministry. She recently sat down for an interview with LIM senior editor Crileidy Liriano.
Alyssa, it seems to me that you serve God with everything you’ve got – and that God has really blessed you for that including with a nearly full university scholarship thanks to your grades and volunteer work at Compassion Canada. How did you get started with Compassion Canada?
Alyssa: My first connection with Compassion was as a sponsor when I was 12 years old. I begged my parents for Christmas to sponsor a child on my behalf. We eventually came to sponsor a little girl in the Philippines and we went to visit her when I was 14. Coming home from that trip my family was transformed. We wanted to do more so we got started volunteering at Compassion. Right before my Grade 12 year, Compassion was putting together a youth curriculum called True Story: What God wants us to do about poverty, and they wondered if I was willing to host the video series that goes with the curriculum. Last summer between first and second year I did an internship at Compassion and it continued on into the school year. I’ve been working with Compassion for almost a year now.
What inspired you to want to want to sponsor a child when you were only 12?
Alyssa: It was actually reading about Compassion in a Christian youth magazine, much like Love Is Moving! I read about some teenagers who were sponsoring kids with their family and going to visit. It sounded like such an amazing thing to do! I didn’t know a ton about it at the time, and since getting involved with Compassion I have learned so much more about it and become more passionate.
When did you get started with LIM?
Alyssa: Also about a year ago. Ben and Joel [LIM founders] heard about what I was doing with Compassion and asked me if I was willing to write for Love Is Moving. I’ve always loved to write, I’m so passionate about youth and young adults who are really building Christ’s kingdom, and I’m super passionate about Compassion, so those three things really come together nicely for these articles I write for LIM! I get to learn more about other youth who are passionate about Jesus and Compassion.
Hearing you speak, you sound super busy. How do you balance everything?
Alyssa: A lot of people hear about all the different things I’m involved with and expect me to be running around all the time and be really busy. But I think for me – this isn’t something that comes naturally to me – I have to make a conscious decision to pace myself and slow down, breathe and create margin and space in my life to just be. I do say no to a lot of things, and those are things that people just don’t hear about because I said no to them. I definitely do try to make that space in my life to be able to say yes to really great things like Compassion and LIM. That’s something I have to be really conscious of, to just really be instead of doing things. This year I’m really trying to centre around this idea of “presence” – being really present where I am and being really aware of God’s presence. Being open and available to what God is doing in this moment.
What do you want to do when you “grow up”?
Alyssa: That’s such a funny question! I definitely want to stay in the space of being an advocate for the poor and people who are marginalized, and being part of building God’s kingdom – whatever that looks like. When we ask that question it’s all about what do we want to do for work, but I think there’s more to growing up than working – I think and hope [laughs]. When I grow up, I want to be open to what God is doing in all aspects of my life, including my work.
Do you ever get scared going through so much school and not being “sure” exactly what that career title looks like?
Alyssa: At times – in high school there was a lot of worry. Somewhere in grade 10 or 11 I sat down and really thought about it, Man, there’s so much worry about something that’s already in God’s hands. It’s definitely a struggle and something I continually surrender to God. Now that I’m in university what I concentrate the most on is learning and being, and understand that what I’m doing now is important. It’s not just a means to an end, but in itself it’s something that can be used for God’s kingdom. Just because I’m in university doesn’t mean God can’t use me right now. The struggle that other people go through helps me realize that my story is insignificant unless it’s plugged into a greater story – and that’s God’s story.
How does the resource True Story: What God wants us to do about poverty link in to God’s story?
Alyssa: It’s an invitation to look at the entire Bible as this story of, Yeah, things are broken, things are messed up, but God has a story of redemption for the world –and that’s Jesus. Today that means following Jesus and being a part of what He started. In Revelation Jesus says, “I am making all things new” [Revelation 21:5]. For me that’s such huge hope. There’s so much brokenness in the world, and looking around [it’s obviously] so messed up, that sometimes you’re thinking, What can I even do? Where do I start? Just understanding Jesus is making all things new, our invitation is to plug into that story and be a part of that. That takes a burden off of you to save the entire world, because Jesus has already done that.
The struggle that other people go through helps me realize that my story is insignificant unless it’s plugged into a greater story – and that’s God’s story.
What’s your advice to youth and young adults?
Alyssa: You’re never too young to make an impact in the kingdom of God. Often in the church youth think, When I grow up (or when I’m an adult) I can do something for God’s kingdom. I often think how Jesus talked about children being the greatest in the kingdom. The smallest and most insignificant people in God’s story have been the ones who have made the biggest impact. We as youth have a potential, responsibility, privilege and calling to build Christ’s kingdom on Earth. We are never too young to start or to have an impact.