Saturday, February 28, 2015

Compassion Joys: February

We have a lot to be thankful for this month!

 Compassion Family


This month, we received letters from Gloria, Tasya, Rose, Victor, Christine, Michel, Patricia, Mary, Reine, Jayid, Elifagason, Carlos, Bonifas, Prayer, Anahi, Angelina, Elisha, Brenda, and Nkoyio! Six of those were first letters. I also got an envelope that should have had a first letter from Motempa inside, but there was a mix-up and instead I got a letter for another sponsor. :) So hopefully they will get Motempa's to me for next month's Compassion Joys post!


In February, we celebrated Sharifa's 11th birthday, Patricia's 13th birthday, Christine's 14th birthday, and Elifagason's 10th birthday! It was a big birthday month!!

New Kids!

This month, we gained several correspondents!!!

Laura in the Dominican Republic

Norma in Nicaragua

Yekersew in Ethiopia

Habimana in Rwanda

Wendy in Guatemala

Benji in Haiti

Tamirat in Ethiopia

That's a lot of new correspondents!! I had said that I would take on some older teens who were close to graduation, to send lots of love and encouragement during their final year or so in the program. But a few extra kiddos snuck in there, too. :) 


Emily H. graciously offered to take a gift to Ecuador for my mom's child Jessika- she has been trying to get a gift to her for a while, because she really worries about her and wanted to send her a Bible and some other gifts. And then she extra-graciously agreed to take another gift when we found out we got Erick in Ecuador, too. :) So this month, a lunchbox/purse thing for Jessika and a gallon bag of gifts for Erick made their way to Emily! Erick is getting a shirt, a handmade scarf, some candy, school supplies, a new toothbrush and washcloth, toy cars, a ping pong set, a hat, and a stuffed panda bear! I can't wait to hear what he thinks!! 

We were also able to collect $100 for a family gift for Merlyn in the Philippines! Merlyn's home was badly damaged in Typhoon Ruby, and we couldn't send much on our own (not even for the minimum family gift amount!) But with the help of friends and family, we raised a hundred dollars! I'm excited to find out what Merlyn's family is able to do with the money- that's by far the largest financial gift we have been able to send!!!


This month we celebrated one year of writing to Sharifa in Bangladesh!! I remember very clearly receiving her as a correspondent, because I was about to leave for my trip to Tanzania! I had her photo printed in a hurry and had it added to my album, so I could show her off. :) 

Photo Updates!

We had two very special photo updates in February! First, we got an update from Mishel in Peru. We have had Mishel for almost 2 years, and in that time have never received a new photo of her! I made a little collage with her new photo. 

Second, we got a photo update of our very first sponsor child, Tasya in Indonesia- the one that started it all! Tasya's photo updates are very few and far between, and her project doesn't have easy access to a camera (Compassion staffers have to take a boat to get to them!) so I flip out when I get new pictures of her. She has grown up soooooo much!! 

Guest Posts!
In February, I featured two guest posts on my own blog- Hannah shared about hosting letter-writing parties, and Sherinah shared about her ministry in Uganda! Hannah also hosted me on her own blog, in a series of guest posts she is doing about sponsors traveling to meet with their sponsor kids!! It was so much fun to write. Thanks, Hannah! 

Friday, February 27, 2015

So You Want to Write Letters

We've had a few friends and family members ask about becoming correspondents recently, and I know so many more people who would be great at it! If you've ever wondered about correspondence sponsorship with Compassion, here's a FAQ post to help you out.

What is a correspondent sponsor?

A correspondence sponsor is a person who partners with Compassion International to write letters to a child who does not receive letters from his or her financial sponsor- the person who pays the monthly sponsorship fee to Compassion.

Does it cost any money?

The short, simple answer is "no." It does not cost any money to be a correspondent. However, if you want to send paper letters and gifts, of course, you still have to pay for postage to get there.

How do I become a correspondent?

To become a correspondent, you must first have a Compassion account. If you already sponsor a child through Compassion or have given to them financially before, you should have a "sponsor number." If not, you just need to contact Compassion to get set up. You can either call their main phone number (800-336-7676) or email them with your name, phone number, address and email. After that, it's just a matter of getting in touch with them and asking to become a correspondent- through email, on the phone, or even clicking the "contact us button on their website and filling out the form.

Can I choose a child, like sponsors can?

While you can't browse Compassion's website viewing photos and reading biographies to choose a child, you can make some special requests when becoming a correspondent. You can ask for a specific age or age group, gender, country, or region, and I even have some friends who have specifically requested children with special needs. However, keep in mind that if you place limitations on your request, it is probably going to take longer to receive your child. For example, several weeks ago I requested children from a couple of specific countries. Some showed up in a day or two, but I am still waiting for a child from Sri Lanka. I personally think this is probably related to the fact that Compassion's program in Sri Lanka is really new (they've only been working there for a few years) and therefore there aren't as many kids registered in the program.

How does a child come to need a correspondent?

That answer can vary greatly. Sometimes, children are sponsored by groups or organizations A company may get in touch with Compassion and offer to sponsor 100 children. Obviously, it would be hard for a corporation to write to one child, let alone 100! So the person in charge of getting this recurring donation set up may go ahead and tell Compassion to find correspondents for the kids. In other cases, correspondents simply start writing. Sponsors may decide to partner with Compassion after an emotional presentation (such as a concert) and be really moved for a little bit.....and then that passion may drop off. Sometimes sponsors realize that they are not doing the best they could when it comes to letter-writing, and tell Compassion to find a correspondent for their child. Other times, Compassion sees that no letters have been sent, and gets in touch with the sponsor and asks if they'd like to pass on letter-writing responsibilities to someone else. I can't tell you how long a child goes without letters before they do that- some of my newer kids haven't received any letters in a few years, though. One has been in Compassion's program for seven years and only received two or three letters- the last of which was five years ago.

How many correspondents can I have?

Currently there is no limit on how many correspondents a sponsor can have. However, I would recommend taking things pretty slow until you know how well you can handle writing to several kids. If you get six correspondents and realize that you are so intimidated by writing six letters, or can't think of something to say, or feel you can't connect with that many kids, and then don't write as often because of that, you have too many kids! Try one or two, wait a little bit, find your footing, and take it from there.

How often do I have to write?

Honestly, Compassion just requires that you commit to write at least two or three letters a year. But please, if that's all you're going to do, let someone else write. : ) You don't have to write every day, or even every week, but if someone told you that they loved you, and you were important to them, and then you only heard from them twice a year, you might have a hard time believing them.

How many letters will I receive?

You should get, at a bare minimum, at least two letters a year. You probably won't receive more than 10 or 12. Generally speaking, you will get more letters if you are sending a decent number of letters, because the kids will have something to reply to. Keep in mind that the kids generally aren't at the Compassion centers every day (in Tanzania, for example, they only meet on Saturdays.) And then they're not writing letters every day they're there. They may just have a letter writing day every month. The kids are required to write thank-you letters if they receive a financial gift (and I have received extra letters when I have been able to send packages to them) and then they're required to write at least two reply letters a year. Most of the time, if you are writing, they will write back to you.

How long does it take to receive my first letter?

It can arrive as early as one month after finding out about your new correspondent. In these cases, the letters may have been written shortly before you received the child as a sponsor. For example, if the child was waiting for a sponsor and had just recently been sponsored, they may have recently written a first letter to send in the hopes that they would be sponsored soon. Other times, they may have written the letter to their financial sponsor (one of those two required letters, as mentioned above) and then that letter would be sent to you. Because Compassion's computers aren't registering your child as being newly sponsored (remember, they already had a sponsor!) the center doesn't get quite the same kind of prompt, telling them to send a "getting to know you" letter, so it could take up to six months to receive your first letter. I've only had that happen a few times, though. After that, if you are writing regularly, you may receive a letter every one to two months!

Will my correspondent know that I am different than his financial sponsor?

The answer to this question varies from country to country, center to center, and it could even be different depending on how old the child is. Obviously, they know someone new has come into their lives, because they start writing letters to a different person. The older kids may have a better understanding of what is going on, but as far as everyone is concerned, the kid really does have a new sponsor! Your child isn't going to say "My dear correspondence sponsor" in her letters. To them, you're their sponsor because you're the one talking to them, praying for them, and connecting with them.

How is correspondence sponsorship different than "real" sponsorship?

Personally, I don't feel like there's much of a difference, other than how we are in Compassion's computer system. While the kids are grateful for the financial donations that make it possible for them to participate in Compassion's program (which benefits their whole family) the most important part to them is the relationship. When I talk about my kids, I call them my sponsor kids- I only have to clarify "most of them are correspondents" when people wonder how on earth I can afford that many sponsorships. :)

Can I send gifts to my correspondent?

Yes! Definitely! Anything that you could or would send to a traditionally sponsored child, you can send to your correspondent child. Stickers, post cards, coloring pages, all that stuff. You can also send financial gifts to your child (for birthdays, Christmas, family gifts, etc) but you can't do that directly from the website. Because the financial aspects of your child's account are linked to their financial sponsor, in order to do a financial gift, you need to either call or email Compassion (and you can only do it by email if you already have a credit card on file with them.) Compassion places limitations on how many gifts you can send per year, and what amounts, but you can learn more about that on their website! Of course, financial gifts are not required- and you can always call and ask if the financial sponsor has done a gift for an event. I usually call and ask if my kids have received birthday gifts, and if they haven't, I'll do a small gift for them. If they already received one, I just send my usual paper gifts through the mail.

What happens if my correspondent child's financial sponsor decides to stop sponsoring?

This is something that every correspondent dreads. It's so sad. If your correspondence child's financial sponsor decides to stop sponsoring, you can pick up the sponsorship if you are financially able. Compassion will notify you about the end of the sponsorship (or, if you're like me, you may notice they're missing on your account before they get the chance to let you know.) They hold the child's account for 6-8 weeks so you can pray about it, check your finances, whatever you need to do. If you are able to pick up the sponsorship, great! Then things keep going pretty much as they usually do (though Compassion's computers will probably prompt them to send you another information packet about the child.) This time period also gives you the opportunity to try to find another sponsor for the child. When Carlos' sponsor dropped him, I found another advocate to pick up his sponsorship. My mom's boy Hassan was recently dropped, but my aunt picked up his sponsorship, and my mom gets to keep writing. Other friends have also been able to find sponsors for their kids, which gives them some peace- they know for sure that the child they've come to love isn't going to sit waiting for a sponsor again.

Sometimes, though, we can't find sponsors for the kids, and unfortunately, that means that they have to go back on the "waiting" list. It's sad and it hurts. But you can send a final letter to your child, telling them you love them and you'll always be praying for them.

Why should I become a correspondent? Does it really make a difference?

To answer the second question first: YES. It TOTALLY makes a difference. Big time. Sponsor kids who receive letters from their sponsors, and have a relationship with them, are more likely to finish the program to the end. And they're receiving the maximum benefits from the program. If they're receiving the maximum benefits of the program, it makes sense to think that they program is going to have a bigger and better impact on their lives, even long after they graduate. Remember that this program isn't just about physical health, which is the first thing that comes to our minds- it's about spiritual health, as well. Your child may live in an area (or even a household) where Jesus isn't well-known. You can be their encourager and prayer partner, and even their long-distance mentor.

If you have a gift for encouraging others, you'd be an excellent sponsor. If you can send an email once every two weeks or so, sponsorship may be great for you. If you love what Compassion is doing and want to be a part of it, but don't feel that you can make the financial commitment at this time, correspondence sponsorship is great! I have so many friends I think would make great correspondents- folks who ask about my kids, read their letters, enjoy their many of you would be spectacular correspondents. You're already great at encouraging me, so why not extend that to encouraging a child in another country?

If you are interested in becoming a Compassion correspondent, or have more questions about the program, please feel free to get in touch with me! I'd love to get you the hook-up!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Sweet Greetings from Indonesia, Honduras, and Ghana

Happy Mail Call Monday! I hope everyone is staying warm!

I was really worried that we wouldn't have any letters this week- mail has been delayed all around my city because of snow. We got about 10 inches on Monday, and we've been having trouble coping with it! But I did get a few toward the end of the week, and I was very grateful!

The first letter we got this week was from Prayer in Indonesia.

Prayer's letter didn't say much, and it looked even shorter because instead of writing out the translation, the translator typed it- so it was all on a really wide strip of paper, but only two lines long! Prayer said that he was thankful we'd been sending letters, and he enjoyed reading them. He and his family were getting ready for Christmas, and they would have fun. He asked about the weather and said it was sunny where he lives, but sometimes it rains hard. And that's all! Even though it was a short letter, I was glad to hear from him- sometimes letters from Indonesia are really far apart.

Next, we got a really great letter from Anahi in Honduras!

I just love getting Anahi's letters. There's usually a few form questions at the top, and then a big space for free writing, which her mom fills up. In this letter, we learned that Anahi's favorite Bible character is Moses, her favorite story is the story of Adam and Eve, and one thing she has learned about God is that he gave his life for all of us out of love! In the rest of the letter, her mom Celina said that she has really enjoyed all our letters and coloring books and things, and she said thanks for the "huge love" I have for their family. I do love them so much! She wrote that Anahi's little brother Isai is 2 years old, and that Anahi's dad made her a chocolate cake for her birthday! Everyone sang happy birthday to her, and they also celebrated her birthday at the project. She also shared that Anahi finished the school year on the honor roll with a 95% and now she is going on to the second grade! That is great news!! She said that Anahi loves reading Bible stories, and reading is something that we have in common! She finished by saying that they are praying for me a lot, and also praying for my friend Jess (as soon as I found out my best friend is having a baby, I wrote to my kids asking them to pray for her!)

Lastly, we got a neat letter from Angelina in Ghana!

I love Ghana's stationery because it is just full of prompts for writing- so I always get lots of information! Angelina opened her letter by saying thanks for all that we have done for her- we send lots of letters and little gifts, and I'm guessing that she hasn't received a lot of letters in the past! Angelina said that her family is fine, and her schooling is going well, too. She said that they don't have any special Christmas traditions in Ghana, but they just go to church and have a nice meal afterwards. In the section asking her what she has learned lately, Angelina said she has learned how to make a new kind of soup, and how to help disabled people! Wow! She asked what the name of our church is, and asked us to pray for her, specifically for this reason: "she says that you should pray for her life so that one day she can become like you and do to others as you do to her." I melted!! She is so sweet and I love her so much. I hope I get to write to her for a long time!!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

You Get What You Give

Giving has been on my mind a lot lately. I think it mostly stems from the fact that I am working on clearing my house of clutter and things that we haven't touched in years, in an effort to make life a little easier to manage. I've also taken part in several conversations about monetary gifts; folks are feeling urged to give a little more these days, from the stories of the persecuted Christians in the Middle East, to stories about animals being rescued from the crazy winter weather the eastern half of the US has been experiencing. People have been asking "how can I help?" And that's great! But I do know that a lot of folks worry about whether giving is always effective, or if the recipients are using donations wisely. Or you might even wonder what the best way to help actually is! Here is a little advice, or guidance, if you want it.

1. Decide whom you want to help. It may sound silly at first, but there really are people out there who don't give because, to be put simply, so many people need help that they figure they can't make a difference, and therefore decide not to try. Every act of kindness helps. So how do you decide whom to help? Think about what your passions are. What do you care about most? For example, if you spent a chunk of your childhood in the hospital growing up, or were a frequent visitor because of a sick sibling, you might consider giving to a place like the Ronald McDonald House, which provides meals and a place to stay for families with children in the hospital (we have one here in Louisville because of our amazing children's hospital, Kosair's.) Small groups can volunteer to cook meals for the families staying there, or one could donate things like toys and board games to entertain the little ones staying with mom and dad in a strange city. Or, if you don't feel you have the time or the organizational skills to donate something tangible (which most of us do) you can always go with monetary donations.

Don't think that you have to limit yourself to one area of charitable giving, either. Any time a news organization shares a story about foreign aid or overseas missions, some random people who need a lot of prayer come along and comment that they feel all of the problems in the United States need to be solved before anyone else gets helped. So many are under the impression that "charity begins at home" is a Biblical concept (bull.) Think of it this way: if you saw an article about an organization that collects cat food and donations to have stray cats spayed or neutered, and also adopts some of them out, would you think "OH MY GOSH WHAT ABOUT THE DOGS. DOGS ARE IMPORTANT TOO," or would  you think "that's neat that these people have such a passion for helping cats, which is important because there are so many strays out there?" Probably the latter. It's possible to care about more than one thing, and it's possible to support charities and ministries for those things! Personally, my favorite areas of giving involve children, education, empowerment for women, and animals. That doesn't mean that I don't care about cancer research or homeless veterans- I do! But my passions are for the first things, and therefore, I am best equipped to advocate for them.

2. Know your audience. This is a tricky one. Sometimes we think that it's good to just throw money or things in the direction of people needing help, and we walk away feeling good about ourselves for doing so. But what we have to give isn't always what is really needed. Do a little research (or even just some critical thinking) before you give. For an example of what I'm talking about, I have a little story to tell.

Two years ago, I participated in a Bible study based on Jen Hatmaker's book "7." A running theme in the book is simplifying our lives, and realizing that we are surrounded by an abundance of blessings- and maybe we don't need to keep all those blessings for ourselves, but could share them with others. I had the idea to use some of my spare space in my home to store some of the items that my former Bible study group members were getting rid of, when we did the part of the study that asked us to downsize our homes a little bit. The idea was to collect things like linens, small appliances, and dishes for a refugee ministry here in Louisville. We have a strangely large refugee and immigrant population (I say it's strange because we're not a major metropolis, nor are we anywhere near a border or the coasts) and this ministry welcomes them to our country by setting them up with small apartments and basic necessities, to give them a good start in America. We also collected clothing. The idea was that we'd have an organizing and distribution day, and everyone would come over and help sort everything out and get it to where it needed to go (a challenge for me, since I just had spine surgery.) What actually ended up happening was that people brought boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff, and filled up my home. My garage is full. My spare bedroom is full. Someone even came and left boxes in front of my home after I said there was no more room and the project hadn't gone as expected. Before you get too excited about the generosity of my former group members, here's the important part of the story: so much of it was just garbage. Stained bedding. Broken baskets. Shot glasses. VHS tapes recorded from television. Bizarrely themed figurines. Half empty bottles of lotion. Moldy three-ring binders. Do you think that this kind of situation- the donation of what we don't want, delivered under the guise of helping- is unique to this story? No! It happens all the time! Ask anyone who has worked for a charitable organization. Places like Goodwill or those clothing collection bins in parking lots give people the chance to "dump and run." Before you give, make sure that you're giving to help others, not to make your life better or easier by getting rid of your junk. Don't give old, scratched and dented toys to a Christmas toy drive. Don't send the weird jar of nearly expired fancy olives to your local food pantry and pat yourself on the back for helping to end hunger. Pick an organization and ask what they need. Or, if you have something that is in great condition (I'm talking no smells, stains, rips, holes, etc) take a look around online and see if you can find someone who needs it. If you're having trouble, pick a place to start with, and ask them where it could be best used.

While I am still in the process of cleaning out my garage of the abandoned junk (junk that mostly came from people I haven't been in contact with in a loooong time!) the thing that bugs me the most is food donations. Food pantries and kitchens are trying their best to provide people with the most basic necessity in life- food. So often, we are clueless as the best way to help. Many people donate canned goods that are about to expire (or have already expired) to clean them out of their own pantries. Others choose foods with no nutritious value to donate- a bottle of chocolate syrup isn't going to do a ton to help a family that is going to bed hungry! I was really appreciative when the popular website Buzzfeed posted this article around the holidays, in which they interviewed someone who actually does work for a food pantry, and compiled a list of helpful tips for what to give. It's very handy and addresses a lot of common problems food pantries deal with- and ways you can help! I have it bookmarked on my computer for easy reference!

3. Do your research. I think this one best applies to monetary donations. A lively discussion took place recently in an online group about financial accountability among charities. There are so many well-known groups that we assume are doing a great job with our funds, because how else would they become so popular? Yet a little digging often reveals that our dollars may best be donated elsewhere. For example, the Kids Wish Network brought in close to $20 million in donations in 2012. How much was actually spent on granting wishes? About $200,000. Most of the rest went to fundraisers and for-profit telemarketers. People read the description (granting wishes for seriously ill children) and assume all is well and good- but how many wishes can you really grant with that amount? Do donors know that the vast majority of the dollars they are sending are going to pay telemarketers? Probably not. I don't think that doing your research means you are stingy- it means you are a good steward of your financial blessings. Personally, I prefer only to give to organizations who spend at least 80% of donated dollars to program costs. This means that I no longer give to some organizations that I used to support, before I found out about their financial practices, but I continue to pray for them, would participate in goods drives (for example, collecting books for soldiers and their families, rather than handing over cash to one particular organization) and would also be perfectly happy to make monetary donations in the future, if they improve their spending practices.

The best resource I can recommend to you for researching charities is Charity Navigator. They provide so much information, and even have a little checklist to indicate whether certain bits of information have been disclosed (like a list of board members, or how much the CEO takes in salary.) They're great! It also doesn't hurt to just check the news for information. Goodwill is an American organization where people can donate their clothing, toys, books, and household goods. They employ people who have trouble finding jobs elsewhere, such as the disabled, veterans, and even some homeless people. And it's also good that they provide an inexpensive place to shop for people who may not be able to afford to buy new (or those who choose not to, to save money.) However, I have a huge issue with Goodwill, and right now I am trying to figure out how to deal with it. They utilize a very old loophole in federal law that allows them to pay disabled workers a tiny, tiny fraction of minimum wage. It's appalling, and right now, because of that, I'm hesitant to donate to them or shop their stores. I haven't made a final decision about it yet, because donating items there is very convenient for me (there are two or three Goodwill stores in my general area, whereas other missions and similar charities are located downtown- far away, and hard to get there.) But that's just an example of the information you might find when researching a charity.

My goal in sharing my thoughts about giving is not to discourage anyone from doing so, but to be smart about it. Be a good steward. Share your blessings with organizations who will actually help others, rather than paying their staff all the money and writing it off. And it's good to know how you can best help these people, too- like with the food bank suggestions. What are some other ways you research charities, or how do you decide how and what to give? I'd love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!

Getting to Know You: Carlos

My next post in my series about my sponsor kids is about Carlos!

Name: Carlos
Age: 18
Birthday: November 11
Country: Peru
Sponsored since: 2013/February 2014

How we got him: We received Carlos as a correspondent in 2013, and got to work developing a relationship with him. His letters were regular and very sweet. Then, at the beginning of 2014, Carlos' financial sponsor dropped him. It was very scary because not only did I enjoy his letters and feel he was a part of our family, but at the time, he was only supposed to have another 8-9 months left in the program! I spread the word on some Compassion facebook pages about Carlos, asking if anyone would like to finish up his sponsorship so he wouldn't have to graduate without a sponsor. I received a few messages from different people, but the first was from Jim. Jim had recently been promoted at work and received a bonus, and wanted to put that money to good use. He was so kind not only to take up Carlos' sponsorship, but he arranged to have me stay on as his correspondent! And when Carlos' graduation date changed (Peru now has the kids stay on until they're 22) Jim said it was no problem to continue sponsoring him until graduation. I'm very thankful that Jim and his family came into our lives.

About his family: Carlos has three siblings named Marcos, Zarahi and Samir. Zarahi sounds like a girls name to me! His mom's name is Corina. Carlos doesn't talk a lot about his family, other than to say that they are doing well.

Hobbies and interests: Carlos is very proud of his country, which is awesome! He also does a great job drawing pictures. The first drawing I ever received from him was basically the Autobots logo, but with a cross. And it said "warriors for Christ." He also really loves soccer, as you will soon read! Carlos is so friendly and chatty in his letters, He is a great friend!

Here's what Carlos has had to say over the years!

"I want to tell you that my midyear vacation from school is coming up. I also want to tell you that on Saturdays I am studying in Sidem institute and I am learning a lot about the Office programs and it is very interesting." 

"I say goodbye with a strong hug, waiting for your reply."

Carlos' previous picture! He was so cute! 

"In the zoo I saw a tapir. It is really nice."

"I say goodbye with a big hug hoping to get to know you more."

"I want to thank you for the letter and the postcards, they are very nice."

"I really like soccer and when I grow up I would like to become a professional soccer player."

"I would like you to pray for me and my family that the grace of God abounds in our home."

The first picture we received of Carlos! 

"I want to tell you that my favorite soccer player is Cristiano Ronaldo. He's part of a Spanish Club (Real Madrid.) I like how he dominates the ball." 

"My favorite food is ceviche. It's a dish made with raw fish cooked in lime juice and chili."

We got this updated photo of Carlos not long after receiving him as a correspondent in 2013. Hopefully we will get another one in a few months! 

"At home we have a dog that we named Black. I also have two cats that are very playful."

"I want to thank you for the gift that you sent me: the Bible, 2 notebooks, necklace, bracelet, pens, photo album, cleaning supplies, and gum. I liked everything, but especially the Bible. It is very pretty. I also like the pictures of you, your family and friends."

Sponsor Katie C. offered to take a baggie to Peru for Carlos when I took stuff to Tanzania for her- and I got this photo of Carlos with his gifts! I'm so glad I got to send him a Bible! 

"Your rabbit is very beautiful and he is very different from the rabbits here. Very soon I will send you pictures of me and my family and my pets so that you will know more about me."

"I feel happy to hear that you traveled to Africa to visit your sponsored children to learn about how they are and how they live."

"I also want to tell you that every country has a different way to cook ceviche, but here in Peru it is more delicious."

"I want to tell you that my family and I are doing so-so, as a regular family there are always problems but I do know that with God's help they will be solved. I ask you to please pray for me that I don't get apart from God. I do know nobody is perfect but I will try to do the good things."

Carlos' financial sponsor Jim sent him a financial gift for his birthday in November 2014, and we got a photo of Carlos wearing his gifts! He bought a shirt, a vest, and new shoes. 

"Thanks for the letters, cards, book and album. It is really nice from you."

"I love music. I have gone to several Christian concerts."

"My favorite animal is the dolphin. I would like to swim with it and play together."

"Thanks for the album because I love soccer and the geographical book was one of my favorite subjects."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Blogging from the Dominican Republic

Every once in a while, Compassion takes a trip that's just made up of the regular helpful staff and a group of Bloggers. It's a great outreach tool, for lack of a better term, because for the duration of the trip, popular bloggers dedicate all of their posts to what's going on in whatever country they're visiting! So many different types of people have gone on these trips- bloggers who post about organization, homeschooling, small businesses, time I even learned that the author of a cookbook I like was a Compassion sponsor and would be going on one of these trips!

This week, the Compassion Bloggers are in the Dominican Republic. You can follow along with their posts on Compassion's website. You can also check out the posts by individual bloggers. Here are some sneak peeks at their recent posts! 

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.” Henri Nouwen I thought I was safe. I exhaled a breath of laughter with two little girls who stuck to me, the moment we stepped out of the Compassion van, like two graham crackers melted into a marshmallow s’more. The girls drew a circle of beautiful children to follow me, children who make a home among shacks of tin-rusted roofs and walls made out of metal sheets, huddled along the polluted waters of “The River”. This is not a river you go stand in to go fly-fishing, but rather used as sewage and garbage that runs through the neighborhood’s backyard. 

I knew in my head Compassion would never take bloggers anywhere that risks our safety.  But, as our van moved into the “City Belt” — the most dangerous strip of land in the Dominican Republic — I noticed we stopped.  A policeman who holstered a metal pistol climbed on, to sit alongside me. - See more at Faith Barista by Bonnie Gray

"I’m not quite sure what I was expecting today, but I know it wasn’t what I found. As we made our way through the snarled traffic of Santo Domingo, and the neighborhoods slowly devolved from the upscale business district to the down-and-out neighborhoods closer to our destination, my heart slowly sank.  
I took it all in, sheltered behind the tasseled teal blue curtains of our mini bus–in the barred windows, the graffiti, the litter. The vacant stares on the faces that we passed. The dirty river, the razor wire on top of cement block walls, the unattended children running through the streets in nothing but their underwear.
And I wondered how my heart would bear the despair I was about to encounter."
See more at Living Well Spending Less by Ruth Soukup

"Today in the Dominican Republic, Our Compassion team leaders took us to visit a CDSP {Child Development Sponsorship Program}. This is the flagship program for Compassion and probably what they are best known for. You probably already know that you can sponsor a child for $38 month. Steve and I sponsor Joeli and we can’t wait to meet her later this week. I expected the kids to be friendly and affectionate–and they were. So fun! I didn’t expect to be so moved by one mama I met. I didn’t expect to see Compassion so directly changing individual lives."
See more at Lisa Leonard Designs by Lisa Leonard

"I met a God-sized dreamer in the most unlikely of places today. Her name is Carla and she lives in a tin roof house with curtains for doors in the Dominican Republic. At the end of our time together, she apologized for not having a grander place to share with us. Through the Compassion International translator I told her, “This is a house of love. And that is worth more than anything else.”"

This is just a sampling of the amazing writing by the wonderful people who are on this trip! And the really neat thing about Compassion Bloggers trips is that many kids get sponsored during this time. At least one of my mom's sponsor kiddos got picked up during a Compassion Bloggers week (that would be Jessika in Ecuador!) This week, we have a goal of getting 300 children sponsored. They don't all have to be in the Dominican Republic. If you feel like you've been tugged in the direction of sponsorship, I encourage you to read the blogs above first, and see what God is trying to tell you between the lines of these websites. You don't need me telling you to sponsor a child, or tell you how awesome Compassion is, or what these kids' lives are like before and after Compassion is a part of them. I do that all the time! Let someone else, who is visiting the front lines this week, tell you what Compassion is doing and show you the precious faces of the children whose lives are being transformed by these centers.

And just in case you feel like you're being called to sponsor, here are some sweet kids who are waiting. Are they waiting for you?

Eudis is 3 years old, and his birthday is March 7. He lives with his mom and dad, and he likes playing with cars. 

Damarisell is 3 years old, and her birthday is September 5. She has epilepsy and is receiving treatment for her condition with Compassion's help! She loves playing games like rolling a hoop and playing with dolls! 

Bleikin is 3 years old, and his birthday is July 26. He lives with his mom and dad in an area where many adults, if they can find work, are employed as subsistence farmers or plantation workers.

Esteisy is 3 years old, and her birthday is October 10. She likes playing house and playing with dolls. I don't know about you, but I think Esteisy is super cute and I'm a little obsessed with her. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Sweet Greetings from Burkina Faso, India, Tanzania, and Peru

It's time for Mail Call Monday once again!

We had another great letter week! The first one received was from Reine in Burkina Faso. 

I cannot stress enough how much I appreciate the way Burkina Faso's stationery is laid out. Reine writes very short letters with not much information (she basically said she's doing well and exams are coming up.) But on the back of the paper, there are spots for questions, responses, and prayer requests, and she always fills these out! Reine wanted to know if it rains every day in my country, and asked how many seasons we have. She also asked that we pray for her country. 

Next, we got a letter from Jayid in India. 

Jayid wrote several responses to my letters. I had sent all the kids some information about carved pumpkins (leaving out the information about Halloween) and asked if they had ever seen a pumpkin. I also sent pictures of the jack o'lantern art display we saw back in October. Jayid wrote back that he has seen and eaten pumpkins, but he doesn't like the taste! He also said that he liked the picture of our dearly departed rat Glitter, and said that he had never had a pet because there isn't room in their home. He also shared that his dad is recovering well from tuberculosis, though he still has to take medicine and he is weak sometimes, so working can be hard. 

Then we heard from Elifagason in Tanzania- our first letter from him! 

Sadly, Elifagason's letter didn't reveal much personal information about him, but I think he might be a little shy. I hope that his financial sponsor continues sponsoring him until graduation, so I can get to know him better. He said that he was glad to write to me, and he thanked us for the letters. He said it was hot in Tanzania and asked if it was cold or hot where I live. 

Next, we received a very special letter from Carlos in Peru! 

Carlos' letter was very long - it included an extra page! He sent his thanks for the birthday gift from his financial sponsor, my friend Jim, and said that he bought new shoes, a vest, and a long-sleeved shirt. We also received an extra photo of Carlos wearing his birthday gifts! Carlos also responded to a letter I wrote a few months back about Florida. When I knew that my family would be visiting Florida, I wrote all the kids about the wildlife there, and told them about alligators (which, I explained, are a lot like crocodiles.) Several of the kids have written back, sharing what they know about crocs, and Carlos told me he knows that they keep their babies in their mouths to protect them! I had also written a letter about the Louisville Slugger Museum in my town, and the bat factory and giant baseball bat there. Carlos wrote back that he knows a little about baseball, but he doesn't understand the rules of the game. He also said that the weather is hot where he lives, and people are starting to come to the beach. He said that he has been to several Christian concerts, and his favorite animal is the dolphin- and he would like to swim with dolphins some day! Carlos also told us that he has a dog and two cats, and when he was in school he visited a museum with his class. Carlos also said he really appreciated the geography book (a Spanish atlas) that we sent, because he really likes that subject. He shared two important prayer requests. He asked for prayer for his mother Carina, who is apparently not feeling well, and he also asked that we pray for him, because he is feeling like God is distant from him. I have already responded to his letter and tried to encourage him, saying that I feel this way myself sometimes, but one good way to help these feelings is to try to stay close to God by praying and reading the Bible. God's word says that if we draw near to him, he will come near to us!

Finally, we got a letter from little Bonifas in Tanzania. 

It had been about three months since Bonifas' last letter, so I was very glad to hear from him. Bonifas sent us Psalm 23:1 and said his family is doing really well. He also wrote about crocodiles, saying that he knows they live in water! Bonifas then asked us to pray for his family, and that he can build a house. I am going to see about doing an inquiry to ask what exactly is going on with Bonifas' house- it could be that they were able to get a little land and are going to work on building their own home, rather than renting, as many families in Tanzania do. I also want to see if maybe we can work out some kind of fundraiser to help with this effort! I will come back and write an update post when I know what's going on. :) 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Getting to Know You: Victor

I messed up! When I was organizing these posts in order of "appearance" of our sponsor kids, I accidentally skipped Victor! Or really, I scheduled his post out of order! Victor was actually our correspondence child a good six months BEFORE the star of my last post, Mishel. So....presenting Victor!

Name: Victor
Age: 17
Birthday: March 26
Country: Kenya
Sponsored since: November 2012

How we got him: I was on the list for another correspondent, and was very surprised when we got Victor. This was the first time we had two kids in the same country- our other Kenyan (up until very recently) was Mary! Now we have EIGHT kids there!! 

About his family: Victor very rarely writes about his family. All I know is that he lives with his dad and his stepmom, and according to his bio, his mom is deceased. 

Hobbies and interests: Victor loves learning! He is very studious and is always pushing himself toward  loftier goals. He also takes it really hard when he doesn't perform up to his own standards- he is the kind of kid that would be mad if he got a 99 on a test, because if he did that well, he would think he should have made a 100%! He also shares about current events and what's going on in his country, and enjoys learning about America. I think he'd make a good diplomat when he grows up! He says he wants to be an engineer, though, and his favorite subject is math.
Here's some of what Victor has had to say in his letters over the years! 

"Receive my greetings in the name of Jesus Christ." 

This was Victor's previous picture. I got it right before they updated his photo! 

"I hope you are praying for me to have a good result."

"I enjoyed my Christmas Day in church until noon. After church service I went to the pitch where I engaged the celebrations with my friends." 

"I hope that one day we will meet one another." 

"I will still pray for your grandfather, that God will heal him with his own medicine."

"I want to tell you that I have now started a new beginning, schooling in secondary school and I hope that I will work hard to achieve my gold." : ) 

This was the first photo we had of Victor. He looks very different than the other pictures. I think a lot of that is lighting, though. We had this picture for about a year before we saw the new one. 

"In our country the last two weeks we elected our 4th president who will govern us and God was great to us, there was no corruption and people voted peacefully. What about your nation?"

"I like going to the church every Sunday so that I can praise God because he has given me life without paying Him, that is so great. There is no one who can do that."

"I want to inform you that I have started beginning schooling in secondary school, and I hope I will receive something at the end, I will make it if you and me are praying for each other." 

"I'm very proud for the letter you sent for me and I know you will send me more and more." 

"I am praying that God may guide and protect so you may continue with your work and continue showing love to me."

"The crops we grow are maize, sorghum, fruits and watermelon. I like fruits because they are protecting my body against diseases." 

"I am very happy for your cousin whom God has blessed with a child, and I know that he will be happy to what God has done to him. I also believe that in some years to come I will be having children and I will care for them as you and my parents have done to me." 

"I want to tell you that we have opened our schools and learning is taking place as usual, but during the holidays I was still learning with my colleagues at the centre and I came out with something."

"I also want to thank you for the support you are giving me and I hope when I will be working, I will also do the same to others." 

"Your lovely son," "Your beloving son," "Your beloved child" (this is how Victor has signed his letters from day one!) 

"Last, I want to thank you for your support and I pray that God may add you more strength so you may continue doing the same to other people. May God bless you and your family." 

"I am praying that the almighty God may guide us so that one day we meet and chat moreso about our countries." 

"Here in our country, somehow I can tell you that it has improved because the government this day employs only educated people who can use government facilities well and that has improved learning institutions because learners are learning with a target." 

"I hope one day I will be a grown up person with a kind heart as you do to take your position in helping others." 

And here is our current picture of handsome Victor! This is from 2013- I hope we get a new one soon! We've had several photo updates of Mary, and we got them as correspondents around the same time! 

"I want to appreciate you for the letters I received from you. They have been such an encouragement to me. I also like to hear about your loving and kind mother-in-law. It is my prayer that God may stretch his healing hands upon her...I will always be praying for Denise because I know she is important to you." 

"Thank you for always loving me. I love reading your letters. It is fun here in Kenya and I hope one day you will visit me here and see the beautiful sceneries." 

"I love you so much and pray that God may add you more days to continue being kind and loving."

"I am glad that you are having time to enjoy with your friends since by doing that you are promoting peace and friendship which is like serving the Lord."

Friday, February 13, 2015

Guest Post: How to host a letter-writing party!

Recently I've been thinking of ways to get sponsors excited about letter-writing. I asked my friend Hannah to tell us about her recent letter-writing parties! She has some amazing ideas, and I'm excited to try them out! 

When Jessi asked me to write about our letter writing parties, I was so excited! I hadn't thought to blog about it, but we've enjoyed the time so much that I'd love to share what we do and I'd love to hear if you have suggestions!

So far we have hosted three letter writing parties. We just emailed fellow Compassion sponsors that we wanted to have a letter writing party and asked that people arrive with their kids' names and numbers, previous letters (to reply to) and $1 per sponsored child to pitch in for shipping and supply cost.

In preparation, I went to the Dollar Tree and found a bunch of goodies: fun paper, cute birthday cards, stickers, sticker books, activity books, and large coloring books to tear pages out. I also gathered postcards, folders, and bookmarks I had lying around. Then I printed some templates from Elephant Grace and I wrote up a list of letter writing topics inspired by Compassion's 80 Letter Writing Prompts.

We keep things very low key…just water and popcorn for refreshments! Although sometimes folks now show up with muffins or cookies.

Set up was easy too…I folded index cards in half and labeled them: Templates, Prompts, Fun Paper, Stickers, etc. to help people find what they wanted. I also had a pile labeled, "Completed Letters Here: Is your child's name and number on each item? Your name and number?"

While at the first party I supplied almost everything, now people are bringing ideas and suggestions! My mum brought instructions and extra paper for paper airplanes, origami instructions, and fun Easter paper to our last party! And my friend brought origami paper.

I also like to include samples of what I am sending to my kids. For example, I put out a few of my birthday folders for people to see what I send for birthdays. (You can see my birthday folders in these blog posts. And this last party, since we were writing Easter letters, I included an example of what I did to make a card with the Easter paper my mum provided.

Sometimes we watch a movie to inspire us in our sponsorship journey (Compassion has wonderful videos on their website and blog) and we hope to begin incorporating praying for our kids. Due to having two little ones, it is a bit chaotic, but so much fun!

I love the aspect of getting together with other sponsors and talking about our kids. It's so fun to read their letters, to see what they have to say and to see the pictures that they draw!

Another fun thing is working together to supply everyone with goodies. I write to a lot of kids…over 40, so it takes me a while to create origami flowers for each kid. But at these events, my sister, who sponsors two (one being an LDP student!), likes to help me make things for my kids! It is such fun to team up and work together to encourage our kids.

So if you are thinking about hosting a party, I say go for it! We have really enjoyed the time. It doesn't have to be complicated, and will be very encouraging to all those involved.

And if you have hosted a party and have tips and suggestions, I'd love to hear them! I'm all for more ideas!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Take these broken wings and learn to fly

I have shared so many of my struggles on this blog. Many of you know that in some ways, the last year and a half has been extremely challenging for me. Stress, depression and anxiety have been near constant companions for much longer than I care to think about, and on top of that, I frequently struggle with trying to figure out where I am supposed to be and what I'm supposed to be doing. 

And I've mentioned that going to work has been a struggle for quite some time now. For a lot of reasons. Things have just kind of been going downhill for a long time, and I stayed in one place longer than I should have, for the wrong reasons. 

Recently, a position opened up at another branch not too far from my home. I submitted a bid for it and waited to hear if I'd get an interview. Even if I got one, I still wasn't sure that I'd get it, because I knew at least one other person who applied had worked at that branch before. Another transfer opportunity was posted, and I went for that, too, glad to have a sort of back-up. And then I started fretting that I'd miss out on both of those opportunities (I haven't been doing so well on the job front lately) and have been working to combat those feelings of inadequacy and general yuckiness. I had an interview for the first branch yesterday, and it went really well. I was pretty proud of myself for being charming and funny and competent, but still didn't think that I'd get it. 

And today, I found out that I did. 

I can't even begin to describe to you the depth of the relief I am feeling this evening. I got the call about this job three hours ago, and I am still ecstatic and overwhelmed and happy and feel like skipping. I have been in a poisoned, painful, oppressive environment for so long that the thought of being somewhere new is almost too much. When the manager (my new manager) called and said she was offering me the job, I blurted out "holy crap, thank you so much!" I didn't even know what else to say. This was my reaction to being told "we want you" after so many times of hearing "we like you but you're not enough." 

I want to thank every single person who has been praying for me to get away from my current situation and move toward something new. I am also going to ask that you keep praying for me, for a couple of reasons. The first is because I do still need more money- I'm going to be doing the same thing for the same hours and same pay, in a different place. So I am still on the lookout for maybe part time work, and I'm also going to be bidding on some Sunday hours at my new branch the next time that's open (sometime in March.) The pay is pretty great, and I can still go to church and be home for dinner, since the branch is only open 4 hours. That's a pretty sweet deal, I think, and would help out with the bills while eliminating the strain from working two different jobs. But I'm also asking for prayer because I have literally never worked anywhere else other than the place I'm leaving. I started just after my 17th birthday (had my interview when I was still 16!) I had just finished my junior year of high school. Such a huge portion of what I believe to be my identity is linked to this place, this building. I've never known anything else. I'm going to a branch where I don't know anyone (though my in-laws are patrons there, and I'll probably see more people from my church, since it's in the same neighborhood.) It'll just be different. Please pray for me to adjust to this transition smoothly and awesomely. 

I still kind of can't believe that starting on Monday, I won't really be working the same job. The title's the same,'s not the same. But I am overdue for a change. So, so overdue. It wouldn't even be accurate to say that I am a different person than I was when I started doing what I do now. I feel like I've been three different people, I have been there so stinking long. But I really am looking forward to seeing what's in store for me, what it will be like to have a fresh start. 

Now that the mushy stuff is out of the way, it's time to CELEBRATE! Because I'm so HAPPY! Happier than I have been in such a long time!!

Free at last, free at last! Thank God almighty, I'm FREE AT LAST. 

Guest Post: Sherinah talks about kids with disabilities

I recently asked my friend Sherinah if she would like to do a guest post for my blog. For those of you who also follow Hannah at Because of Shamim, Sherinah is Hannah's formerly sponsored child! Now that she's grown up and graduated the program, Sherinah has started her own ministry to assist children with disabilities and impairments in Uganda. For more information, check out Sherinah's New Hope's website

There are so many positive thoughts and hopes on my mind about children with disabilities in Uganda. This thought is about what we can do to create, develop and change life of children with disability in Uganda, as well to arrange a better education system for them, sensitize the community about violence related factors and respect those children’s dignity, and make the world a better place for them and to transform disability into ability. 

Our friend Sherinah!

Well, speaking about disabled children in Uganda, I should love to share my experience as person with hearing impairments, challenges those children meet and how the Compassion sponsorship program has helped the few who are lucky to enroll in Compassion and how their lives have been changed as a result of Compassion sponsorship program!!! 

Finally, any encouragement to Compassion sponsors to consider sponsoring children with disabilities because they are NOT a burden and of course instead they are capable and have special abilities just as I myself.

Some of the children in Sherinah's ministry

Back to myself, I was born hearing and grew up as a normal person until the age of 9  I attended hearing schools and later enrolled to deaf schools as a result of hearing loss. Despite the lack of hearing, (instead of) doing bad at school, I was always among the best.

Compassion staff was always supportive and did not mind my hearing loss, always encouraged me in what so ever and was behind my success.

I am now a finalist at the university in Uganda pursuing Bachelor of Science in accounting and finance. But the loss of hearing has not limited my ambitions- that is why I am proudly speaking that disability is not inability.

HOWEVER this journey is not as smooth for a person or child with disability to reach this level of learning and become as a person I am today.

There are so many challenges children with disabilities face in Uganda, and according to national housing and population census of Uganda 2002, the number of children with disabilities stood at 137,278,  3% (of the population) are either orphans or disabled, [UBOS census report 2005.] Those vulnerable groups of group people encounter a multitude of challenges right from home and throughout the entire society.

Another photo from Sherinah's ministry

Some of those challenges MAY rise as a result of 

a) Lack of parental care.

b) Poverty

c) Lack of education 

d) Communication barriers (especially the deaf) 

e) Inadequate government support  

f) Ignorance of their parents.

g) Lack of public sensitization about the need to help those children.

h) Lack of trained personnel, in most cases on how to handle those 

children and among

Despite the above challenges children with disability face in Uganda, Compassion child sponsorship has played a tremendous role in helping children with special needs that are being enrolled in Compassion's program.Compassion has...

a.) provided education to the children

b) encouraged them to understand that disability is not inability 

c) encouraged those children to be close to God by teaching them bible studies and worship

d) encouraged spirit of sociality to these children these they are not left alone.

Therefore I encourage sponsors worldwide to consider sponsoring children with disabilities through Compassion because they are able and can reach their God given potential.

Many people may be unaware that you can sponsor a child with disabilities through Compassion's program! Below you will see some sweet faces of these precious children in need of a sponsor. Would you consider changing their lives today? Who knows- they may grow up to start their own ministry helping children in their community, just like Sherinah did!!!

Nanthini is 7 years old and lives in India. She lives with her parents and a sibling, and she likes telling stories. Nanthini is crippled in both legs. 

Nayomi is 7 years old and lives in Sri Lanka. She lives with her parents and two siblings, and she likes playing house. Nayomi is visually impaired. 

Sindi is 8 years old and lives in Ecuador. She lives with her grandparents and she likes playing with dolls- and she's doing really well in school! Sindi has partial hearing loss. 

Mueteenue is 8 years old and lives in Thailand. She lives with her parents and two siblings and she likes reading. Mueteenue has epilepsy.

Akwasi is 6 years old and lives in Ghana. He lives with his mom and a sibling and he likes art. Akwasi is visually impaired.