A few years ago our family began sponsoring a child through Compassion International. I was at a concert sitting in the front row feeling particularly blessed that night and even though I had heard the Compassion pitch no less than 15 times at other events, this was my night to respond. My husband agreed, and since we had NEVER been on the same page about sponsorship I took it as a sign. We chose a girl since we had sons. In my mind it would go something like this: I would supernaturally mother this daughter from another continent with my generous monthly support. We would pray for her and write her letters every month. The boys would come to love her like the sister they never had and the Glory of the Lord would shine around us day and night, night and day. Um, yeah. Not so much.
Our sponsor child was removed from our family after the first month. Compassion International sent a letter explaining why along with information about another child in case we wanted to continue with sponsorship. It was bizarre. I felt obligated to continue sponsorship because we were blessed and I had received two CDs at the concert just for signing up. I’m responsible that way.
So we began corresponding with the new girl. (When I say “we”, I mean “I”. That’s how we talk around our house.) At first it was sweet. I read about how she loved going to school, and loved washing the cups, and loved Jesus. She thanked us and told us how much she loved us. Instead of feeling blessed by her letters, I felt guilty because my children hate school and we most certainly do not love washing the cups. No we do not. I read her letters to my boys hoping to spread a little guilt and make them realize how blessed they are to be educated (by their mother!) and have a dishwasher to unload. I might as well have read the letter to the wall.
When it was time to respond to these letters I would sit at the computer and stare at a blank form on the monitor ready to share our lives with her. However, my fingers would not type. I couldn’t think of anything to say to her because I could only think about how our lives were so different. We were spoiled rotten Americans living in a house with more stuff than we know what to do with. We were a Dave Ramsey nightmare with debt up to our ears dreaming of trips to Disney World. She lives in a hut in Uganda. What would I even say?
My letters were about our weather, the crops in our region. “Hey, we grow corn in Iowa just like you do in Uganda! Isn’t that great?” I’d think of some scripture to write and tell her we were praying for her blah blah blah. Then I’d upload a photo of my family and hit send. It was pathetic.
Her letters would come in the mail and I was busy. So I’d set them aside in a pile with mail that needed to be dealt with and filed. There her letters would sit unopened. If I didn’t read her letters, I wouldn’t have to write her back and then I wouldn’t have to feel so guilty about being an American.
As if all of this wasn’t pathetic enough, I began to pray about discontinuing our sponsorship. I mean, we are really bad sponsors. Sure, we have the monthly donation automatically deducted from our checking account, but that wasn’t enough for this girl. She wanted letters.
I made the mistake of reading one of her letters last summer. In it she wrote about how she prays for my family. She loves us. She thinks about us every day. I am her best friend. She hopes I will one day visit Uganda. And just for fun she hopes that she’ll be as fat as me when she grows up. I threw the letter on the counter and tried to wrap my mind around the part where she wants to be as fat as me. Hello! I know I’m fat, but it’s not polite to point it out. I didn’t want to think about the fact that maybe she was just so hungry all the time that she couldn’t imagine having a little extra meat on her bones. It was time for God to let me off the hook. I couldn’t respond to her letter. I could not. I could not get past how it made me feel about myself. Me, myself, me, myself, me, myself…you get the picture.
Finally, I confessed to someone who loves me that I’m a really bad sponsor parent. I told her what had happened and she listened and we laughed together about some of the funny stuff. I wanted her to give me confirmation that I could end the sponsorship. She did not. Instead, she encouraged me to just sit down and write this little girl a letter and move on. I made my case for how I didn’t connect with this girl at all. Our lives are just too different for me to have anything worthwhile to tell her. Why can’t Compassion International have an option for people who can afford to give, but not afford to write letters? Surely there are letter writers we could partner with?
Later that day I prayed and asked God to help me because these letters were haunting me and I needed to be free of them. What do I say? What do I do? Instead of picking me up and shaking me until my narcissistic head rattled, He gently whispered, “What did you need to hear when you were 12?” I tried to remember who I was at that age and how I felt about myself. Then I began to pray for her. I prayed that God would bless her. I prayed that she would know she has value, that she is beautiful. I prayed that she would know that God has called her to do something great for His purposes and she can do all things through Him. I prayed that she would be protected from harm and that the enemy would not succeed in his evil schemes. I prayed that her hopes and dreams would draw her closer to Jesus every single day of her life.
This girl says she prays for me. She prays for my family. She has not given up on me. It’s not her fault that I’m a spoiled rotten American and can’t quite get my act together enough to get over myself to sit down and write a dang letter. It’s not really about her. It’s about me. It’s about me needing to grow up and get outside of myself and what makes me feel good or not so good. Jesus is not letting me off the hook with a mindless donation. Honestly, $38 a month is a drop in the bucket for my family. Truth be told, I spend more than that at Starbucks every single month and we are still a Dave Ramsey nightmare, but we’re working on it.
Yesterday I wrote a letter, attached a family photo of our chubby selves and hit send. As pathetic as all of that sounds, it was a breakthrough. I wanted to run through the house cheering like I do for my boys when they do something I know they were afraid of doing.
Writing a letter doesn’t make me a missionary. I’m still the world’s worst Compassion blogger. I still don’t want to visit Uganda. I still feel guilty about being an American. I’m still pathetic, but there’s hope. There’s always hope.
“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers, you did for me.”—Matthew 25:40 NIV
Do you sponsor a child? I’d love to hear how your family does this. Thanks for stopping by.