Joe Bergkamp worked as a missionary in Venezuela during the 1960s and 1970s, wandering the rural churches and helping those in need. He loved how the people lived simply but also felt hope for a different future.
When he moved to Puerto Rico in the 1970s, he met his wife, Carmen Nery. Decades later, he clutches her ragged photo and gazes upon her gentle smile. “Hi, Nery!” he says, smiling back. She passed away several years ago, but she is never far from his thoughts.
The memories flooded back as he thought of the several children they sponsored through CFCA over the years.
Joe and his wife started speaking to people about sponsoring in the 1990s. When they moved to Puerto Rico, CFCA founders Jerry Tolle and Bob Hentzen asked them if they would advocate for CFCA in Puerto Rico.
Neither of the founders could have predicted the dedication Joe and Nery brought to their outreach.
Pastors invited them to speak at Catholic churches in Puerto Rico to share their passion for sponsorship and address the members of the parish, inviting them to sponsor a child.
“I would give the main talk about sponsorship and the background,” he recalled. “Nery would give the emotional message.”
Nery believed in giving the poor a helping hand, something she learned growing up.
“Her mother was her inspiration. Her mother would always fix an extra pot of rice so that if a friend or neighbor needed a meal, one would be waiting for them.”
The personal touch resonated with people who heard the Bergkamps’ message. Thousands of people listened to them talk about sponsorship in the nearly 20 years they spoke for CFCA. Joe believes many of those sponsors living in Puerto Rico felt a special closeness to those living on the margins.
“A lot of people are very poor in Puerto Rico, and many of them understood the problems of poverty. Many of them would begin sponsorship based on their own experiences.”
Today, Joe looks back at the fond memories he has of sponsoring children with Nery. They sponsored four in all, and the oldest child is a mother herself now. Whenever he can, he shares his passion for CFCA and the joyful adventure of sponsoring a child.
Joe shows that you never know how many people you can impact or what an adventure you can have when you share your love of helping children through CFCA.