Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Compassion Insight #3 - Letter Writing and The Great Visit Debate

In 2009 I took my first trip with Compassion, visiting my kids in Bolivia, Colombia and El Salvador. At that time, I was a maybe-twice-a-year letter writer, because I just had no idea how important it was. I received my kick-up-the-bum moment when I could sense the disappointment in one of my kids about how little I’d written. I was awakened to the reality that while they appreciate the financial support, for many of the kids their sponsor is the closest they have to a friend or even a parent, and if they don’t hear from us, they start to question things, maybe even doubt the love of God, as tragic as that is.

It still took a couple of years, but eventually I ramped it up and since 2010 I have written monthly to my 29 kids, and I always send photos. Sponsors, please know your letters are treasured, re-read many times and always kept in a special place.

While I’m talking about letters, I have to be honest here and say while it’s obvious I’m a raving mad Compassion lunatic, the letter-writing process is the one thing that I have struggled with, with Compassion. I don’t think technology is being used like it should, and I don’t believe it should still take 3 months for letters to reach the other side.

Compassion has made it clear that sponsorship is about relationship, and they’ve made it SO EASY to write letters (you can even do it online here). I completely agree, which is why, as I mentioned, I write monthly, trying really hard to establish a relationship and a connection with my sponsored kids. It is therefore discouraging when I consistently go weeks without getting any letters (like I said, 29 kids) and I regularly go at least 6 months without hearing from some kids.

Having said all that, I really should be the last to complain, having visited so many and seen the hard situations they face in their lives. I do take my hat off to the Project workers, volunteers and translators, without whom I wouldn’t hear from the kids at all. I realise that with the diverse countries and communities Compassion works in, communication on such a mass scale is ridiculously hard, so I will continue to ask for patience and forgiveness each time I look at my empty letterbox and give another grumble.

When I was in the Philippines, I was very happy to witness letter writing in action. Let this be irrefutable evidence to those insufferable cynics who think some guy sits in an office and writes out imaginary letters by imaginary sponsor children (I can’t fathom that level of cynicism, but apparently some people have that view. Anything to get out of giving to the poor I guess): Sponsored children do exist, and they sure as heck write you letters!!

The Great Visit Debate
I have witnessed an interesting “debate” of sorts among sponsors. It is along the lines of “If I had the money, would it be better used on a trip to visit my sponsored child, or on staying where I am and sponsoring more children.”

To me, the answer is a no-brainer and a no-contest: VISIT!! Before I give 50 million incredibly convincing reasons why, let me just clarify: I understand there are people who can’t afford it, are unable/unwilling to fly and there are health/safety concerns etc. Ultimately it is completely between you and God.

However, for the pure life-changing-ness of it, you can’t go past a sponsor visit. You are stretched in every way possible. Your attitudes and expectations are put to the test. How do you react if things don’t go the way you hoped? I’ve had more than my fair share of those, and quite often been found wanting. Your motivations are revealed. Why are you doing this? To get something back in return, or to demonstrate the selfless, sacrificial love of God?

It is safe to say that the biggest dream of the vast majority of sponsored children is to meet their sponsor in person. I’ve had it expressed to me so many times in the kid’s letters. By visiting, God was using me to actually make their dream come true! Can you get your head around that?

Sponsor visit = lives transformed
I met a young woman in Brazil. She is no longer in the program because her family is now self-sufficient, and it is all because of a sponsor visit. Her sponsor came from the US, and she was in the army. The sponsor started talking to her mother about her army experiences, and the mother was motivated to join the Brazilian army. This decision was the catalyst to life their family out of poverty.

Couldn't Even Imagine It

When I visited 12 year-old Princess Joy in the Philippines, I asked if she ever imagined I would come to visit. She shook her head, no. It was literally beyond her sphere of imagination or dreaming. That is how significant a sponsor visit is.

Faith in God Strengthened
After my visit, 15 year-old Josefa from Guatemala wrote: “I pray for you every day because now I know that dreams can come true asking God with all the heart.” My decision to visit her actually strengthened her faith in God. This is a girl with four younger brothers and sisters, who has to work making shoes for 6 hours a day to support her family because her father is an alcoholic.

Speaking Words of Life in Person, Not Just On A Page
In January I visited 18 year-old Carolina in the Dominican Republic. It wasn’t overly outstanding, exciting, action-packed or joyful. It was real life. There was awkwardness, there was silence, there was honesty, there were hard questions asked and answered. It was evident right from the start that I should put this visit in the “I know she enjoyed it but she didn’t really show it” category. I could not get a peep out of her, and she stretched and exhausted my limited conversational skills.

Carolina is the third of a tribe of nine kids, aged 9 to 23. It was sad to see her unable to answer questions about her dreams, or what she likes to do or is good at. She seemed to lack direction and purpose. She also mentioned at the start she is not a Christian, despite being in the Project since she was 4, and her family goes to the church attached to the Compassion Project. This stuck with me, and was the catalyst for our powerful farewell.

At the end I asked her “What is the one thing stopping you from fully giving your life to God?” She couldn’t really answer. She’s so close, but there’s just this barrier in the way. I shared with her my experience. When I left school I was not a Christian and I had no idea what to do with my life – I lacked direction and purpose. As soon as I made the commitment at age 21, God started giving me opportunities and showing me what I should do with my life. That led to Compassion, teaching, music and basketball coaching.

I assured her that God loves her so much, and His plan for her does not involve working for 40 years at a job she absolutely hates. That only happens when people choose to go their own way and make certain decisions in running their own life. I assured her that this decision to invite God in was completely up to her, and as soon as she made it, He would start working in her life.

I then prayed for Carolina, in the name of Jesus. I thanked Him for creating her and for His love for her. I thanked Him for giving her wisdom and asked him to remove that final barrier that is preventing her from committing her life fully to Him. I thanked Him for the future He had for her, and for allowing me to play a part in her life. This was such a powerful time, and was a privilege.

I could feel God stirring in her heart, inviting her to come to Him. Carolina was reduced to tears, and I was pretty close. I was overwhelmed by God’s love for this young woman, and for the fact that He used my visit to encourage her, to speak words of life to her in person, rather than on a page, and this may even be the thing that “pushes her over the edge” and helps her make the final step of faith to once and for all ask Jesus to be the Lord of her life

Following God's Example
The Number 1 reason why I choose to visit my sponsored kids is because I see myself as doing nothing less than following God’s example. As lofty as that sounds, let me explain:
Before Jesus came to earth, people knew that God loved them, but the relationship was a lot more distant, maintained by priests and sacrifices. When Jesus came to earth from heaven, as a man, this added a whole new level to our relationship. Now, we can be absolutely sure that God loves, because He proved it by coming to be with us, and dying for our sins. No more can we shake our fists at the angry deity in the sky. We just need to look at Jesus.

In the same way, our sponsored children know we love them through our gifts, money, letters and photos. However, there is always a distance between us. When you make the decision to sacrifice whatever you need to, to go and be with them, to enter their lives in person, that adds a whole other dimension to your relationship. By being with someone, you are truly showing how much you care, above and beyond thoughts, prayers and any other assistance.

I hope that made sense, and that is why I do it. If you get the opportunity, I highly recommend visiting your sponsored child.

1 comment:

  1. I think it's so neat that you've visited your kids!! My husband and I hope to someday!! Right now it's not possible since we're expecting another baby, but we hope to when we're done with the baby stage of our married life. For now, I am so enjoying hearing about other's experiences visiting their kids!! And writing at least a letter a month :)