Late last year Jason Stevens spent two weeks in Colombia, making a documentary about the poverty he found there and the work child sponsorship organisation Compassion is doing there to help turn people’s lives around. 

It was the first time the former rugby star had come face-to-face with such extreme poverty and the 34-year-old says it’s made a permanent impact on his life.

Jason Henry Carlos in Bog 000

CONFRONTING POVERTY: Former rugby star Jason Stevens is show around the slums of Bogota in Colombia.

 

“This is a place that has got massive social challenges. We met a lot of kids (involved in) child prostitution, from eight or nine years onwards - young girls down the street; we met families that had lost people because of the drug war and had to be moved to the city, forced into a pretty hard lifestyle."

- Jason Stevens

“It’s a cliche, but it’s very easy to go there, see it and then come back and live your life and, in that sense, forget about it - and believe me, it can happen, even though you’ve seen the worst of the worst,” he says. 

“For me it’s my relationship with God that keeps me open to letting that kind of pain into your everyday world. And that outworks itself when you tell people about what you saw over there and what they can do - you fuel that...But it has changed me in terms of being more compassionate.”

A high profile Christian, Stevens retired from rugby league in 2005 after playing 231 first game games including 14 tests for Australia. As well as appearing regularly on TV - including as a commentator for Fox and on the Footy Show - he has written a best-selling book called Worth the Wait about waiting for sex after marriage and recently started a new online column for Fairfax.

Stevens, who accepted Christ into his life while playing rugby as a 22-year-old, spent two weeks in Colombia in November last year with a production crew and staff from the Christian child sponsorship agency, Compassion. While there, they made a one hour documentary called The Disposable Ones.

Launched at last week’s Hillsong Conference, the production - by Sydney-based KARBON Films - looks at the plight of children amid the harsh conditions, abuse and disease created in the South American nation which has faced decades of violent conflict involving outlawed armed groups and drug cartels, and has seen some gross violations of human rights. 

Directed by Mark Reddy and produced by Neva Mwiti with Compassion Australia, the film will be released later this year.

Stevens visited the troubled Colombian capital of Bogota - where, after decades of armed conflict, tens of thousands of displaced people live in shantytowns - and the coastal city of Cartagena during the trip. 

He describes the visit as the “trip of a lifetime”. “Not many people get the chance to meet or go to those sorts of places where there is such extreme poverty and it’s a real eye opener....It helps you to see the bigger picture.”

The retired rugby player says that he’d never thought of Colombia in such terms prior to his visit.

“For me personally everytime I’d heard Colombia, I’d think drugs,” he says. “I never really thought poverty. But whilst there is a massive drugs problem, there is extreme poverty as well...

“This is a place that has got massive social challenges. We met a lot of kids (involved in) child prostitution, from eight or nine years onwards - young girls down the street; we met families that had lost people because of the drug war and had to be moved to the city, forced into a pretty hard lifestyle.

Stevens says the level of poverty in the “barrios” - slum areas located outside of Bogota - was “just crazy”.

“You can’t not go there and come away not changed,” he says. “Not everyone has the opportunity to go there but at least they’ll be able to see this and hopefully it will do something in their heart as it did in mine.”

Yet he says that one of the things that has stuck with him was the high spirits of people, despite their situation - “Any ray of hope they’ll cling onto”. Stevens adds that while encountering such poverty can be overwhelming, Compassion’s approach of reaching people one-by-one made it manageable.

“Anybody can make a difference, one person at a time.”

He says he also appreciated the holistic approach the organisation takes in addressing not just people’s physical needs but the issue of spiritual poverty as well - which he describes as “equipping people to make better choices and get in contact with God”.

“There is a physical need, there is an educational need but there’s the spiritual as well," says Stevens.

“There is a physical need, there is an educational need but there’s the spiritual as well which is really the place, I believe, where this change can occur and when that change occurs nearly anything is possible - a person begins to understand their purpose and from that there’s peace and there’s hope,” he says.

“Whilst we can be instigators of hope by providing food and shelter and education, the church side of things is up there with that. It’s a balance - you can’t just come in with the Gospel and leave them hungry.”

Stevens says the trip has also helped him to relate to his own two sponsor children, who live in Africa.

“They were just a picture on the fridge but now I’ve got them more in my heart,” he says.

Stevens, meanwhile, is now considering making a trip to Papua New Guinea where he hopes to see how Christians there are working to help tackle the AIDS problem and distribute copies of his book, Worth the Wait, which he’s currently updating.

“I’m looking forward to writing the next one - The Wait is Over,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve got the title ready, still haven’t got the girl.”

• For trailers of The Disposable Ones and more information, visit www.disposableones.com.

www.jasonstevens.info 
www.compassion.org.au