I didn't get the pleasure of meeting Christian* on the day we visited TZ 341. I got to hear about him before, during, and after dinner that night, though. And as soon as I heard his story, I knew that he needed his own post when I got home.
My friend Barb met Christian while we were spending time with the kids after arriving at the center. This was the day that we all had tea together in the morning (or second breakfast, as some of us called it.) Barb and Christian really hit it off, and he became her "buddy" for the day. The great thing about the tour was that each day, at each center, all of us connected with at least one child, or maybe a small group of them.
When it came time to do our home visits, I heard that one group would be visiting a two-parent family, one group would be visiting a single-parent family, and one group would be visiting a child who was living by himself. I was sent with the single-parent family group, and Barb (and a few others) was sent to the home of the child living alone. Barb told me later that night when they got to the home and realized that the child they were visiting was Christian, she felt like passing out. It's startling enough to realize or hear stories about these kids facing hard circumstances, but when you learn that the child you've connected with is actually living that life, it feels like a sucker punch to the gut (something I would learn later in the week.) Christian is currently 15 years old. He has been living on his own for about three years- his parents just up and left him when he was 12. Someone told me that he has other siblings, but they are older and don't live at home anymore. So Christian comes home from school, or the project, to a tiny, dark, empty home. Most of these homes are between 1 and 3 plain rooms with dirt floors. They didn't see furniture. There were no windows. Just Christian. Tanzania is very dark at night. Christian's home would be even darker. Another one of our travelers, Grace, gave Christian the headlamp she brought on the trip and carried in her bag, to help him at night.
Barb said that when they asked Christian if he had a sponsor, his answer was "yes." And when they followed up with "do you receive letters from your sponsor?", the answer was more hesitant. I heard that Christian sort of looked around for the letters (or letter), but couldn't find them. To some, it was painfully obvious that Christian's sponsor didn't really write to him. If he's been sponsored for a few years, and only received one or two letters at the start, no one can really blame him for not knowing where they are. It was obvious that his sponsor was not a part of his life. It appeared that Christian received the benefits from the financial aspect of sponsorship, but he wasn't receiving the most valuable part- the encouragement and love from a sponsor. (It is possible that there were letters in the home, but as someone else pointed out, it was pretty small and rather bare.)
I had told some of the other folks on the trip about the correspondence program (several hadn't heard of it, and were kind of blown away when I told them about my 15 kids- until I explained that I was a correspondent for most of them!) I know that on the trip, Barb talked about maybe becoming Christian's correspondent, if his sponsor is willing to relinquish that to her. Our team leader is working on looking into that, along with a dozen other questions we've sent to him! And I think it would be great if Barb can take over as correspondent for this sweet boy that she connected with.
I was pretty mad when I heard that it seemed Christian didn't receive letters from his sponsor. Or maybe frustrated is a better word. I explained later in the trip that the letter-writing aspect of sponsorship is something I really struggle with in my advocacy. I'm passionate about Compassion because I know that they are changing the world. And I know how important letters are. I'm absolutely thrilled when one of my friends decides they want to get in on this, and sponsors a child. Sometimes they sponsor the kids I share on facebook, or sometimes I'll see a post from a friend, announcing their family has decided to sponsor, and later find out that my frequent posts about my kids helped spark their interest in sponsorship. And that's great, and I'm thankful I can be a part of that. BUT. I also know that some of those friends don't write to their kids. Or they don't do it nearly often enough. Or they did it at first, and now they don't. When I hear or see them joking about it (like "your new correspondence kid is probably my sponsor child, I haven't written in so long!") I get mad and I want to cry. I'm mad at them for not understanding what a big deal this is to the kids. They are not nameless, faceless people on the other side of the world. They're individuals with personalities, hopes, dreams, aspirations, fears, problems, worries, challenges, needs, and prayers. When they receive encouragement and love from their sponsors, they shine. They blossom. They excel. The children who are receiving letters and love from their sponsors are the ones growing up to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, and politicians. They're going to college and they're entering the leadership development program. They develop servant's hearts, and gain a desire to help and love others, because of the love that's been shown to them.
Since Christian doesn't seem to have a relationship with his sponsor, do you think they know what he's going through? Do you think he opened up to this person and said "please pray for me because my mother and father decided they didn't want me anymore, and moved away"? Probably not. And maybe they're the kind of people who wouldn't care that much if they did find out. Maybe it wouldn't compel them to actually write to their sponsor child every once in a while. You can literally type up a letter using the online tool and have it sent in a matter of three minutes. The excuse "I don't have time" is bullcrap. And I want to use stronger language there. It's just crap. People who have smartphones and post status updates on facebook and take pictures for instagram and play Candy Crush are people who have time to send two paragraphs online to a sponsor child. "Dear Christian, how are you doing? My family and I are fine. Easter is almost here, and I'm looking forward to celebrating it. We go to church on Easter Sunday. What do you do for Easter? The weather is getting warmer here, and I'm enjoying it! I was tired of the snow and the cold. How are your studies? I want you to know that I'm praying for you. I enjoy reading your letters, and I hope to get another one soon." There. There's Christian's sponsor's next letter. And it took me one minute and 15 seconds to type, because my computer connection lagged for a moment in the middle of the word "weather." How hard was that? It doesn't matter what you're writing, it just matters that you write.
As the buses full of our sponsor kids were pulling away from the hotel on our "fun day" with the kids, I took a moment to talk to my friend Joyce. She told me that she had spent the time talking to Compassion staff from some of the centers that were represented, and asked them what do the sponsors need to know, and how can they pray. What can we write about. She told me that they all said to pray for the kids, and share that you're praying for their families and their centers, too. But just write. Please, for the love of God, write. There are kids at the centers who don't get letters, and they are devastated. They pray for those letters, and when those letters don't arrive, they start to wonder if God answers prayer. They think they are unloved. That there is something unlikable about them. That they are alone. They feel like outsiders and it hurts. Joyce then told me something that may sound shocking at first, but I'm inclined to agree with her. She said, "I'm still going to talk to people about Compassion and sponsorship and everything about the program. But if someone tells me they're wanting to become a sponsor, I'm going to say 'if you're not going to write the letters, don't do it. Or tell Compassion right away that you aren't going to write, and to find a correspondence sponsor for your child.'" And I think she's right. We focus on getting kids sponsored, which is really important, but if my friends aren't going to write to their kids, and they're not going to take the step and give up the letter-writing aspect to someone who is ready, willing, and able to do it, I don't want them to become sponsors. I don't want to cause any more hurt or disappointment in the world. I don't want to be angry with my friends for not being willing to do something so simple and important.
I can't stress this enough. And at this point, I don't really care if people think I'm acting like a bully. Write to your sponsor kids. If you aren't writing to them, for all you know, Christian could be your sponsor child. Or your child could be living in another bad situation. They could have lost a sibling to illness. They could have lost their home to natural disaster. They could be having a medical issue of their own, like when Said fell off a bus and broke his leg and had to have surgery. Or my mom's sponsor child Jessika, who had surgery. Or Junior in Honduras, who was finally able to get surgery to have his strabismus corrected. You don't know if you don't write to them. And if you aren't writing, the good that you're doing is so severely limited. Please write to your kids, or try to find someone else who will. Those letters mean the world to them.
*Name changed to protect his privacy