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Last week I received this letter from my Sponsor Child, Oliver:

I had written to her a couple of months ago and told her about my Grannie’s birthday, so in this letter she wishes my Grandma a happy birthday and tells me about her own. She also told me that she has been given a Bible.

These simple letters that land on my doorstep every couple of months make my day!

As we are in the season of giving I thought it would be a good idea to share a bit about my experience of sponsoring a child in case anyone out there is considering it.

Who

I sponsor through Compassion UK, it’s an organisation that works through 1:1 sponsorships and churches based in communities in 26 of the poorest countries in the world. I’ve known a few people who have worked with the charity over the years and I trust it. It has a 100% score for transparency and accountability with Charity Navigator.

How it works

I sponsor Oliver for £25 a month. This money goes to a child development centre in the area where they provide Oliver with health screenings, school fees, hygiene and nutrition education, scholastic material, uniforms, academic support and Bible studies.

Finding Oliver

When I decided to sponsor a child six years ago I went to the Compassion website and looked for eligible children to sponsor. My screen filled with children’s faces and it felt strange to try and pick an individual out of a crowd of need.

There had been a lot in the news at the time about child soldiers so I looked at children from Uganda which is an area where kidnapping has been prevalent.  I wanted to sponsor a girl because I thought it would be easier to relate to a girl than a boy. I was scrolling through the pictures when one suddenly leapt out of me of a four year old girl with a very sad face.

She is stood in front of a bush with bright pink flowers. She wears a lime green dress and matching cardigan. She has white socks, one is pulled up straight and the other is slipping down her ankle. Her scuffed black shoes look too big for her. Her chin is pulled down to her neck and she is scowling at the camera. Her bottom lip is sticking out in the universal expression of ‘I-don’t-want-my-photo-taken’.

I liked her straight away!

The website makes setting up your sponsorship really easy and within a few minutes I was officially Oliver’s sponsor.

Writing Letters

I am Oliver’s only sponsor.

Each Compassion child has one sponsor. To help build the relationship between you, Compassion encourages you to write to your sponsor child and to pray for them.

Oliver’s first letters to me were filled with colourful drawings and squiggles with notes from the children’s workers explaining what everything was. She was so enthusiastic in her colouring that she had coloured in all the logos on the letter-headed paper! Over the years as she has grown up and as she has learned English her letters have grown more conversational, and each time she responds to whatever I last sent to her.

I write to her and tell that I am thinking and praying for her. I ask her questions about her life and tell her about anything that is happening in mine. When I told her that I was getting married she asked me if she could come and be a flower girl!

She writes to me and tells me what she likes to do, she answers my questions and asks if I will come over and see her. That breaks my heart a little.

The letters take a couple of months to travel to their destination, which is understandable, and Compassion provides freepost envelopes to help sponsors to keep in touch with their children.  You can also send small paper based gifts: photographs, bookmarks, pictures.

I know this may sound cheesy but it really is an emotional moment when I receive a letter and when I write to her I feel my heart pouring out to her. I keep all of her letters in a folder, collected together. They are precious to me.

Praying for Oliver

Jesus is at the heart of Compassion. Children are given bible studies and church support as well as education and health help. I pray for Oliver often, whenever she crosses my mind. My prayers for her tend to be simple and short; I pray that God will keep her and her family safe and that He will fill her life with joy.

I understand that not everyone shares my faith and that some have been hurt by churches and Christians in the past, which makes my heart break and blood boil, all at once.

For me, the church has been my family and my solid network of friends. It’s the place where I am loved and accepted. A place that helped me when tragedy fell and helps me even when the trouble I am in is entirely my fault. It’s my home.

My God is my teacher, champion, friend and King. My life is better for having Jesus in it and when I know that Oliver will have to face much harder challenges than I ever will, I want her to grow up in a Church environment that will train her in wisdom, strengthen her with faith and surround her with love.

I pray that she will flourish.

The reward

Do you remember that Friends episode where Phoebe desperately tries to find a truly selfless good deed and fails? Every time she tries to do something selfless she gets rewarded.

That is what it is like with sponsoring. There shouldn’t be a pay-off for you. It’s not about you. It’s about the child. Oliver is the one that matters here, I am just a far-away person giving away a little bit of money each month that I can comfortably afford.

All the same, it is rewarding.

Oliver’s latest picture is very different from the first one. She stands straighter; she is all arms and legs at the moment, growing fast. Her mouth is open in a wide smile, she looks like she is about to laugh at something.  She is beautiful.

A few Decembers ago I was reflecting on a year that had just been. I was working part-time, was single, and was feeling down. It had been a year where I felt like I was going nowhere. It was probably just a moody couple of days, but at the time I felt so strongly that nothing I had been doing was worthwhile.

Then I remembered Oliver and realised that even if I fail at every other part of my life, there is a little girl in a poverty-stricken town that is receiving health care and an education because of my giving.

That is worthwhile. That means something.

My feelings of worthlessness soon passed and after a few days I got a better perspective on that tough year, but that recognition on the significance of sponsorship stuck with me.

I am part of a generation that is encouraged in all sorts of ways to make a difference, to change the world. We forget sometimes that giving generously and consistently is a hugely effective way to do that.

Sometimes your money can do more good than you could ever do. I can’t fly to Uganda and rescue Oliver out of poverty but I can put money into the hands of people who will work to keep her safe, and who will educate her and equip her not to just grow up to be happy but to grow up to be an influence in her environment and in her community. I think this is how you bring about lasting change.

If you can, I recommend sponsoring a child. It is a wonderful thing to do. But whatever you do, whatever you give and however you give, let me encourage you that it is worth doing.

It matters, it makes difference.

If you would like to know more about Compassion check out their website here.

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