Last week, a reader emailed me a question about child sponsorship. Since many of you sponsor children through various organizations, I thought you might relate to her situation. Here’s what she said:
“Do I understand this correctly? If a child is an orphan and we (I) sponsor them, does that child really consider the sponsor as their parent?
“If so, I feel like an IDIOT! To me sponsoring is always the right thing to do, basically it’s a responsibility and a privilege, but I never thought of that child as ‘my child’. I think I’ve been doing this all wrong. There has been no relationship other than with the bank or organization receiving the funds for the child.”
Does this sum up your sponsorship experience? If so, you’re not alone. D, my sponsored child through Imana Kids, is my third sponsored child, but she’s the first I’ve attempted to support in ways that extend beyond financial obligation.
It wasn’t that I didn’t care about the other two, I just didn’t think they cared about me. I didn’t believe that writing an occasional letter or sending a package of stickers would have any positive impact on their lives.
Then, in 2011, we adopted our youngest daughter, and everything changed.
Poverty Slapped Me in the Face. Twice.
In 2011, when we traveled to Rwanda for the adoption, witnessing true material poverty firsthand wrecked my worldview. The disparity between my everyday life and those of impoverished families filled me with guilt and despair. I came home determined to cut every possible expense and use our finances to relieve as much need as possible.
As months passed, I fell into deep post-adoption depression. Each week unveiled more of my own brokenness. and I began to understand poverty in a new way. I’d had no real experience with material poverty like what I’d seen in Rwanda. My belly was full of nutritious food, my body covered in clean clothes, my home secure and comfortable. But my heart…
My heart was ravenous for more. More love. More reassurance. More connection. I couldn’t fill the void inside as easily as I could fill my plate or my closet.
That’s when my understanding of poverty began to change. For most us, the deepest poverty isn’t lack of food, clothing, and shelter. Those things, like beauty, are only skin deep. Relational poverty – that sinks to the depths of a soul.
There are a few things things every human heart needs to hear:
“You’re not alone.”
“I see you, and you’re precious to me.”
“Don’t give up. You can do it.”
I will say these things to my children today, and they will need to hear them again tomorrow. And the day after that. Ten years from now, and twenty, and thirty, I’ll still be saying them.
And here’s a truth that is slowly changing the way I connect to people: This kind of poverty isn’t confined by geography, personality, or economics. Hasn’t someone you know suffered from it? Haven’t you?
Sponsorship Beyond Skin Deep
I believe every person alive understands relational poverty, because at its core is a fractured relationship with God. Healing comes from Him, but we can be agents of change by speaking His love, and ours, to others.
Understanding relational poverty transformed my take on child sponsorship. Is it wrong to sponsor a child and never have a relationship beyond the bank transaction? Funding a child’s education is no small thing. In much of the world, education is essential to breaking the cycle of material poverty.
But consider this: During my most recent Rwanda trip, I had the privilege of watching almost 100 sponsored children receive gallon-sized Ziploc bags filled with gifts from their sponsors. There were Bibles, colored pencils, hair bows, underwear, toothbrushes, flip-flops, bookmarks, and all sorts of delightful treasures. Guess what the kids reached for first?
The letters. Almost every bag contained a letter from the sponsor, and without fail, that letter was the most prized possession of all. Many of the children set their bags aside without even looking at the other items until they had painstakingly penned letters in response. It couldn’t have been clearer: relationships trumps things. How much we have to learn from those to whom we would be benefactors.
I encourage you to consider the impact your words and love could have on a child suffering from relational poverty. Orphaned or not, his or her heart is undoubtedly hungry for affirmation, encouragement, and hope. After all, isn’t yours?