Most of us who have owned a television in our lives have seen commercials about child sponsorship. They would show lots of sad children and then a nice man with a beard (or Sally Struthers) and announce that "for pennies a day" you could help these kids. I know that I had told my parents and grandparents before that we should call (I had pennies! And days!), but then they would explain to me that "that costs money" and I'd know that we would not be calling. Money was tight growing up. And anyone can make a sad commercial out of just about anything- at the time, we didn't really know how to verify which organizations were legitimate and whatnot, even if we did have the money.
Sometime around 2008, my mom, who was an avid blog reader and writer at the time, read a post on someone's popular website that stirred her to action. Or participation. You see, this blogger liked Compassion, and had shared a bit about sponsorship with her legion of readers. This blogger also had the financial resources to sponsor many kids, thanks to her family's business and the popularity of her blog. So she basically said "if you will commit to writing to one of these kids, I will sponsor one for you. Leave a comment and we will get in touch." And my mom decided to leave a comment.
My family's journey with Compassion began in the form of a correspondence sponsorship (though we didn't really know it went by that name) that came about because of a blog post. And a few weeks later, my mom found out that her new sponsor daughter was a young woman named Shema Elisabeth, who lived in Rwanda. I was very excited about this, because it was at this time that I had just watched the movie "Hotel Rwanda" and was devouring any information I could about this country. I knew that because of her age, Shema Elisabeth probably knew some people who had died in the massacre that occurred in Rwanda in 1994. I was glad that she joined our family and was proud that my mom was going to write to her and be her friend. I even wrote some notes for her from time to time!
My mom continued writing to Shema Elisabeth, and added a financially sponsored child from India- beautiful, sweet Amisha. Over the years her own far-away family has grown and shrunk from time to time- Shema Elisabeth left the program several years ago, but she has picked up several financial sponsorships and added multiple correspondence kids over the past few months (and I'm very proud of that!) Right now she's up to 12 kids- and I think at least five of those have joined the family since Easter!
My mom's love for her kids and her sharing their letters with me made me very interested in sponsoring a child of my own. At the time, I was unaware that you could just call Compassion and request to be a correspondence sponsor, even if you were not a financial sponsor. Right after I got married, I was caught in this weird limbo- being completely freaked out by marriage and being an adult all of a sudden (I didn't live on my own in college, so this was the first time I had lived with anyone other than my parents and brother- and it was an ADJUSTMENT. Emphasis completely necessary.) and being completely smitten with wedded bliss (ha) and the idea of being a happy little family with kids. We knew that there was no way we could afford to be parents right away (once upon a time we had this plan to start trying to have a family after being married for six months. Hahahahahahahahahahahaha.) But we were very committed to tithing and maintaining regular charitable contributions- prior to getting married I set aside a portion of my paycheck each month to buy baby things for the crisis pregnancy center in town, and liked to look for other projects (such as "back to school" drives) as well. My mom kept telling me about the letters her kids were sending, and I kept wanting to be a mom, and we kept wanting to faithfully "give back" some of what we were receiving. A commitment to sponsor a child seemed like a good way to hold us accountable for our spending, when our financial situation was so rocky and unpredictable there in the beginning. So just over six months into our marriage, and after several weeks of asking my husband if we could, I finally was able to sit down and register to sponsor a child. I had been browsing the website off and on for weeks, but when I got the green light, I parked myself in front of the computer and just started from the top. I limited my search to "girls" and organized them by "longest waiting", and got to reading. There were over 900 girls available for sponsorship. I read through the first 9 or so pages of them. I read each and every biography, girls of all ages, many of whom lived in countries completely unknown to me. I read about their families and situations, their neighborhoods, their challenges, their favorite things. And then I came across a sweet but solemn little girl, wearing a yellow shirt, hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her name was Tasya, which sounded Eastern European to me, but her biography said she lived in Indonesia. Wherever that was. And her biography said she liked reading. Reading! My favorite thing! None of the other kids' profiles said they liked reading. She liked other things too, of course, but once I saw that, I knew she was the one. So I clicked the link to sponsor her, and got the neat little confirmation email....and went straight to facebook, to change my status to "just submitted my information to sponsor a child through Compassion International!" (July 24, 2010, and I hope you know the tremendous effort it took to find that post in the billion things on my timeline.) Some things never change. : )
Over the past four years our far-away family has grown by leaps and bounds. We hit the "limit" of three correspondence kids in 2011 after sponsoring Tasya for about a year (all three were added that summer), added our "bonus" child Jayid when the need for correspondents was great that fall, picked up his sponsorship when he was dropped, and when the restrictions were lifted on the number of kids we could have, added a few more....and a few more....and a few more. When I left for Tanzania in March, I had 15 kids, and was happy to explain to my fellow travelers that no, I definitely did not have that much money, and told them about the correspondence program. Fifteen kids in March, and as of today, we are up to 24. Some of them call me Mama, some call me godmother, some call us "mommy and Father Brandon", some call me sponsor Jessi and a few just "Jessi Jones." No matter what they call me, they are the children of my heart, the sons and daughters I may never meet in this lifetime, but they will have my heart until my dying day. I love each and every one of my kids so much, and am eager to share my love for them with just about everyone I meet! I know that my posts about my kids' letters have nudged at least 10 other people to reach out and become sponsors or correspondents, and that makes me happy. I don't look at that as a personal accomplishment (that claim belongs to God and God alone)- I look at that as 10 fewer kids in the world who need that kind of love and encouragement. And so many more friends who would do a great job with that! I don't see it as something for which I am proud of myself - I am proud of my friends, and happy for their kiddos. And I'm thankful that me and my kids got to play a small part in that.
The moral of the story is: if there is something (or someone) you love, and are passionate about, something that makes your world a little brighter and someone else a little happier, share it. Tell people. Don't be ashamed. Don't think "no one wants to hear about that" or "no one cares what I like." You never know who is watching. You never know who will see your joy and think "I think I could get in on that." Never stop sharing what you love. You never know when you might inspire someone else to make a move!
And this is what happens when I try to find appropriate clip art for a post while in the vicinity of my husband.