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Taking child sponsorship to a new level

One family’s experience with child visits

I’ll be the first to admit – my initial reaction to the news that my husband had sponsored a child through Compassion Canada was one of dismay. It was early in our family years – we had three preschool-aged children and I knew who was going to be doing all the letter writing! Looking back, I’m so glad that he listened to that inner prompting. Today, in addition to that first sponsored child, we sponsor another four children as well as a student in a leadership development program and we’ve met all but one of them in person. I can say with certainty that this has been a life-changing experience for our family as well as theirs!

Prompted to go further
In the beginning we were happy with the status quo. We sent money each month and wrote occasional letters, feeling like we were doing our part. Over time God prompted us to add to our sponsored family. We had so much to give. I became more emotionally attached and began dreaming of visiting one day. God works in wonderful ways, and a few months later an email landed in my inbox inviting us to think about what Compassion calls an Exposure Trip. This was all the prompting I needed and we soon found ourselves, along with with our two oldest boys (aged 9 and 10 at the time), on a trip to the Dominican Republic to visit one of our children. God taught us SO much on that trip!
While worshiping in a church in Santiago I came to the realization that being there wasn’t about us blessing them, and it wasn’t about them blessing us. So often people talk about their mission trips and how they expected to serve and bless the folks there only to find out that they came away with more than they brought. For me, I realized that it wasn’t about either of those things. It was all about relationship – relationship with God, and relationship with each other. God is relationship by his very triune nature! My eyes were opened to the fact that we are all God’s people, and while we’re in very different circumstances, we can learn from each other and learn about God through relationship with each other.

Trapped by comfort
Upon returning home I was struck by how spiritually and relationally impoverished we are in our North American culture. We can be so wrapped up in superficial things but how well do we really know each other and our amazing God? So often we become entrapped in our comfy little bubble. We have nice Christian friends, and we do our part to help society in different ways, but how willing are we to make ourselves uncomfortable? I would suggest that if we’re too comfortable, we need to allow God to shake us up a bit and experience more of his world and his people! Challenging yourself to get out of your comfort zone helps you to see creation and people through God’s eyes.
The benefits to our family have been numerous and inspiring. I now find myself taking those few extra minutes to chat with an elderly neighbour or a mom at school and going out of my way to meet those who are new to our country. We think harder about our purchases in regards to needs versus wants. We have become less fearful of people who are different. My husband routinely takes our children to help out with a local ministry that provides overnight shelter and breakfast at our church for homeless people. In the past, we had been too uncomfortable to volunteer. Now I will buy a coffee for the panhandler outside of Starbucks – how can I sit there and enjoy my indulgences and not feel compelled to share?
My children have learned the power of one (or three, or four). They spearheaded a fundraiser at their school to assist the kids in El Salvador and God completely blew their goals out of the water! They raised five times more than what I had suggested was a realistic goal! This empowered them and they now know that they can make a difference too.

Helping or hurting?
Some argue that sponsoring a child benefits us, but what about them? Are we helping or hurting? I guess that depends on the sponsorship model. I can’t speak for all organizations, but I can tell you that the way we saw Compassion use our money in a stewardly way both humbled and awed me. They work through the local churches in the child’s community and in some cases people didn’t even associate Compassion’s name with the program. It’s all about the local church and what they are doing. The church is reaching out to their community and we are enabling them to reach a little farther. We heard stories about how the children attending Compassion’s Child Development Centres are different from their peers in the public schools – they are kinder and more compassionate, obedient and responsible. They have purpose! All children need to be valued, and sponsorship is one way to do that for them. Through sponsorship not only are their physical needs met but their spiritual and emotional needs as well. This is a powerful combination and equips them to make a difference in their families and their communities, enabling them to break the cycle of poverty and be leaders in their countries.
The families we have visited were so honoured that we would come all the way to see them. It’s very humbling. I have been called “godmother” and looked at with such adoration, it’s overwhelming. In the child development project we visited in Mexico we saw the names of all the sponsors with their countries posted on the wall in the classroom. That particular teacher had the children praying regularly for all of the sponsors by name!

More than financial support
Visiting our sponsored children is an opportunity for us to build our relationship with them. We learned that the reason Rodolfo asks for prayer for his dad in every letter is because his dad is an alcoholic. Daniel lives in a house that is falling down around him that would cost about $1,000 to rebuild. Sofia’s parents don’t attend church. These are all things that help us to know them better and support them not just financially but through prayer and encouragement as well. We get to hug them and spend time with them and I get to tell the momma that she’s a good mom and she’s doing an awesome job.
We are called to share what God has blessed us with and sponsorship is one way to do that. Our family has experienced God and more of his world not only through child sponsorship but by extending ourselves and visiting our children. An exposure trip was a great way to start, with everything organized for us, and from there it became somewhat addicting! Lying on a beach at a resort just doesn’t have the same appeal it once did. If a beach holiday is an option for you, why not take it in a country where your sponsored child lives and see what God can show you there? We were surprised at all the blessings God had in store for our family. Now we just have to figure out how to get ourselves to Bangladesh one day. . . .
 

  • Malinda Helder lives in Calgary, Alberta with her amazing husband Nathan, and four awesome children. She thrives on creativity and never ceases to be amazed at the creativity of the Creator.

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