It was an act of kindness more than two decades ago from a country more than 4,500 miles away — but Carlos Herrera never forgot it.
The 29-year-old El Salvador man used social media to reach out to an Oswego couple who changed his life.
At first, though, Scott Poling wasn't sure what to make of the messages he was getting on his Instagram account.
Poling, senior pastor at
Harvest Baptist Church in Oswego, said he first noticed about two weeks ago that a stranger kept "liking" and commenting on his photos in Spanish.
"I had absolutely no clue who this guy was," said Poling, who was slightly alarmed at first — particularly since he does not speak Spanish, and had no idea what the man was saying.
But Herrera kept at it.
"He was very persistent, because I was blowing him off," Poling said. At one point, Herrera event sent Poling an old photo of himself and his wife, Carla.
But it wasn't a case of Internet stalking. It was a thank you of sorts — which Poling learned after he enlisted the help of Cecelia Gonzalez, a Spanish-speaking member of his congregation.
It turned out that Herrera's photo had hung on the Polings' refrigerator for nearly a decade.
In one note, Herrera even wrote, "I have been praying that if you don't speak Spanish, that God will provide someone to you" to translate the messages, Poling said.
From 1990 to 1997, the then-newlywed Polings sponsored Herrera through an organization known as
Compassion International. They paid $20 per month to send Herrera, just 5 years old in 1990, to a Christian school.
"We were first married, we didn't have any money, [but] we said we were going to do this," Poling said.
After Gonzalez translated Herrera's messages, Poling quickly connected the dots.
"He was sending pictures that my wife and I had sent him in the '90s," such as Christmas cards, Poling said.
Herrera's message for the couple was simple.
"He let me know he got a degree and he wanted me to know he was very thankful," Poling said. "He was committed to finding us to let us know he was thankful."
Poling said when he discovered who was sending the mystery messages, he called his wife to explain.
"Right away, she blurted out, 'Carlos!' and started crying," Poling said. "It was such an encouragement that day."
It also showed Poling that the couple's scrimping and saving was well worth it.
"First of all, you're never to poor to give," he said. "It just showed me that it was always worth the sacrifice. It's always more blessed to give than to receive."