There was graffiti everywhere I looked. Walls, fences, bus stops, statues, businesses and even homes are tagged with spray paint throughout the city of Fortaleza. It's a city on the northern shore of Brazil with beautiful people and breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. But when looking back toward the city's skyline, the graffiti and iron bars indicate it is a place plagued with violence. Here the graffiti is used to mark gang territory. The iron bars and barbed wire serve to keep danger out.

And dangerous it can be. Northeast Brazil also suffers from the highest homicide rate in the country, with the state of Alagoas reporting an annual murder rate of more than 66 homicides per 100,000 people. That's higher than New York City, Detroit and Chicago combined. On our recent trip with Compassion International, we heard first-hand stories of the violence. In our hotel elevator, a traveler warned us to stay close. Walking only a block away would put our lives in jeopardy. Compassion Student Centers are often located in the most dangerous areas of a city—places where the need for such a program is clearly evident. Only a few days earlier, a murder took place outside of one of the churches where such a center operates.

We visited that same student center, and outside I noticed something different. The exterior of the church building had clean tile walls that were free of graffiti standing in contrast to the neighboring walls. After some questioning, we discovered that the church is respected in this neighborhood. It is considered neutral ground, not controlled by any of the area gangs. These walls were rare—free from graffiti, free from violence.

The church is physically walled off from the community, but its gates are open to the most vulnerable. Inside those iron gates sat dozens of smiling children. We walked through a courtyard. Every day in this humble space, the children play in the sunshine and eat their lunches seated around shaded tables. It was an oasis of safety in a desert of violence.

These walls were rare—free from graffiti, free from violence.
My God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
He is my shield, the power that saves me,
and my place of safety.
He is my refuge, my savior,
the one who saves me from violence.
(2 Samuel 22:3)

We were safe in the church, but more importantly, so are the children. This neighborhood is so dangerous parents won't allow their children to play outside. Only two places are safe: in their homes or at the church. Without Compassion, the children would effectively be prisoners in their homes. Thankfully, each week these children spend time learning, playing, eating, and growing in a safe place filled with the love of God and the touch of his hands and feet.

To learn more about the impact of child sponsorship, visit