Happy Birthday, Jefferson

Jefferson Alim, my first sponsored child, is turning 14 today! This would be the tenth birthday I would come up with some way to celebrate his birthday on this side of the world and mail pictures/memorabilia to the Philippines.  I did some crazy things - there was even one year that I recycled a cake: I had written "Happy Birthday, Jefferson!" on it, then crossed out his name three times over the next several days to celebrate two other birthdays within our family as well as crossing out "Birthday" so that the cake read "Happy Thanksgiving."  Gotta say it was one of the cheesiest things I've ever done.  Ever.

This year is weird as Jefferson's birthday has arrived and I don't have the opportunity to write to him.  While I am still celebrating silently and covering him in extra prayer today, I'm missing him a lot more than I realized I might.    I know he knows I'll never forget his birthday (he even wrote about that in his "final letter").  But what matters most that he remember, now that he's no longer able to be sponsored?

As his sponsor, I want him to always remember that his Creator loves him and purposed his life, even when his circumstances declare differently.  I'm hoping that he knows I won't stop loving him or praying for him.  I want him to recognize that commitment is important, even when it's almost a foreign idea and not the trend.

Jefferson's a young man now, and as his sponsor I was privileged to have 9 years to speak into his life, since he was just 4 years old.  I wrote to him almost every week, reminding him of truth from Scripture, telling him about answered prayer in my life, declaring the goodness of God's grace, and simply writing about life and family.

If you have a sponsored child, do not fail to write to them.  Their life is an investment - not nearly as much a financial one as it is an emotional, or even eternal one.  They are yours.  Write to them, be real to them.  Your kid treasures you - and they would recognize you before they would recognize any American celebrity...that is, if you sent them a picture of yourself.  They want to know you.

We're celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas soon, so find some things to write about.  There are traditions within our culture, so approach this season as opportunity to educate your child.  I always found it a fun challenge to describe traditional activities in words that could be easily translated.  Maybe this Thursday take a few minutes to imagine how you would explain to your child what was going on and why, as though they were there - and write that in a letter.  Send a picture or two along with it...maybe cooking your favorite dish step by step or a list of things you're thankful for (with cultural consideration)? Or when snow comes how about writing about sledding, having a snowball fight, or building a snowman? Do exercise caution about how you describe things, as it is healthier to write more about similarities than differences.  Your kids have their own traditions, so ask about them, too!

Bottom line: invest in your kids by writing to them.  You'll be forever glad you did.


Why sponsor?

Here's my story, consider it a sequel to this.

Many would agree with the statement "The best treatment is prevention."  Regardless of who agrees, the concept is accurate (except, of course, when trying to treat sin).  Unicef estimates there are between 143-210 million orphans worldwide (the better supported, single number is 170 million).  How can we define "orphan"? Typically people think of an orphan as being a child whose parents (one or both) have died, but....
Reality: 4 out of 5 orphans exist because of poverty, not the death of their parents.
Translation: 4 out of 5 orphans don't have to be orphans.
An unhealthy assumption now would be that these orphans' parents don't want them and don't love them.  Reality: the majority of these parents are giving up their children to orphanages because they love them and they want their children to be provided for; the parents simply recognize that they cannot do it themselves, so they give their children to someone/someplace that can.

So here's my answer to the question "Why sponsor?": to prevent orphans.


When I was 14, I was quite frustrated.  I knew I wasn't old enough to adopt, but I wanted a kid.  I always wanted a younger sibling to take care of and be responsible for, but I never got one.  Then I heard about Compassion.  It was just an insert in a CD that I actually looked at.  So I checked it out, prayed about it for a month or so, then in August 2003, I signed up.  I received the child packet for Jefferson Alim, 4 year old boy in the Philippines, whose birthday was the day before mine.  I was so excited to be a sponsor.  As soon as I got the first letter, I knew I was making a difference.  The first couple years I sponsored Jefferson, he was too young to write, so he would draw pictures like the one below and his mother would write me.

Just a couple months after I started sponsoring Jefferson, I received my first "Country Newsletter" about the Philippines.  The article was entitled, "Tomb Dwellers."  I wept after reading the account of families who were building their homes on top of tombs because they provided a good, strong foundation.  (In the Philippines, tombs are concrete boxes in which the corpses will be slid in, then kinda sealed off at the foot end.)  Because this neighborhood of tomb houses included children, guess where their playground was, too? Yup - right outside of their houses.  As moving as this article was, it did not do the reality justice.  About two and a half years after I became a sponsor, I traveled to the Philippines with Compassion to tour, then at the conclusion of the trip I would meet Jefferson.  One of the days when we were touring various neighborhoods in the city to see where some of the Compassion assisted families lived, it started pouring down rain.  I wore flip-flops that day, and forgot to bring my poncho.  The van full of sponsors got out and followed our guide a couple blocks and led us through what looked like a landfill for the piles of garbage and dung.  Within the landfill look-a-like were tombs, and past the initial tombs were the tomb houses.  I had set foot on these children's very playground.  Even in the rain they were jumping around, laughing, playing, and staring at us Americans, too.  There was something about the experience for me as a 16-year old in flip-flops, walking in the pouring rain through puddles with floating rotten banana peels, that woke me up to what poverty is in one part of the world.

Before my trip to the Philippines, poverty was still two worlds away and pretty much out of sight, out of mind.  In my mind, poverty ceased to be "people who don't have as much as I do," and became "people who don't have enough to continue living."

I went on to sponsor two more children through Compassion.  In June of 2007 I began sponsoring 6-year old Jacqueline from Burkina Faso, and a year and a half later I began sponsoring 11-year old Suwanan in Thailand.  I only had three years to sponsor Jacqueline, as the reality of poverty struck my heart again, only quite a bit more loudly when I learned of her death due to complications of limited access to healthcare in her area.  Just this week, Jefferson had to leave Compassion's program to assume greater responsibilities at home.  **The odds of a sponsor losing two children within two years are small...yet it happened to me.**

So, how exactly does child sponsorship prevent orphans? Child sponsorship through organizations like Compassion International provides the means for children to continue to be reared by their natural families, while also ensuring that they are introduced to the gospel, able to attend school, and given health care.

Though I didn't have the number of orphans in front of me when I was 14, and much less the other statistics to better understand what I was doing, I still did something.  I must say that when I signed up to be a sponsor, it was a step of faith for me.  Had I been more mature and understood better just how big of a personal investment sponsorship is, I probably would not have done it at that time.  Still, I was determined that even if I hated the work opportunities in front of me, I would be sending the funds each month for sponsorship.  One of the main reasons I went on to sponsor my second child was the realization that I was spending as much money on my coffee habit each month as it costs to sponsor a child...so I gave up the personalized drinks.  Giving sometimes requires sacrifice, but in America, what we often think of sacrifice as simply not getting what we want when we want it.  It's not that way for everyone, but I know that sometimes - it's that way for me.

I urge you - step up your sacrifice and prevent an orphan or four...you can.



Every time.  Over the last two years, since I've been living back at home and not had a regular source of income, there have been several occasions that I've gotten frantic over finances.  Since I am living at home, I have minimal expenses at this time.  But, as minimal as they are, they become significant when there is more output than intake.

Today, I was looking at my finances and realized that unless I dipped into my savings again, I have about two weeks' worth of gas money left.  I haven't been called to substitute teach much lately and the babysitting gigs are few and far between anymore.  There is no way that I can ever doubt God's provision...I've seen it growing up and I have seen it first hand, especially in these last two years.

Pretty much the biggest expenditures I have at this time are my sponsorship of my Compassion kids and gas money.  Let me just say that I'll walk before I give up Jefferson & Suwanan - the relationships I've built with them over the years is not something that I will ever sacrifice.  And every time I consider dropping the Child Survival Program through Compassion that I assist (it's not personal like sponsorship), I get an update or a copy of a letter from one of the mothers served there - and I just know that I need to continue with it.  Really, EVERY one of the few times I've been considering it, that day or the next I'll get something in the mail.  I'd say it's crazy, but I know that it's God.

During the years I've been a sponsor, I've been blessed in knowing that as surely as God led me to begin sponsoring Jefferson in September of 2003, He would see that I had the money to send Compassion.  I've never had to fall back on my parents or resort to extremes in order to continue my sponsorship.

So, today, while I'm doing the math and figuring that even with my savings I really only have about three months before I'll have nothing, I start looking around my room to try to figure out what I can sell when I realize that I have less than that because I'm going to be needing textbooks yet.  This is when I got frantic and God reminded me that He makes it all possible.  To end this story quickly, I got a text to babysit tomorrow, and I'll be expecting more calls/texts over the next several weeks because God provides. :)