My Compassion Journey
My story starts nearly 40 years ago as a first-year teacher with the sole aim of my first pay packet was to sponsor a child, something I had longed to do for years but hadn’t an income to support a sponsorship as a student. I still remember the excitement of scrolling through the pages of children and anguishing over which child to choose. Eventually a tiny 3-year-old from Honduras stole my heart and Carla became part of our family for the next 10 years. Through letters from her project worker I grew to know her and share in her life journey which wasn’t an easy one, when she was about 8 her father was murders on Christmas eve returning with presents from the capital. Then her mother remarried and had several more children, the new father treated Carla badly and at 13 she ran away to the capital to live with her brother on the streets. There were many more children after Carla but none seemed to thrive or go beyond primary school. It worried me that they seemed to get so far and then drift away. I felt God was telling me there was other children he wanted me to sponsor with another group.
I eventually casually started researching other groups that sponsored children and began to look at what they did and what they believed. I came across Compassion and God seemed to say yes this was who he wanted me to sponsor with. So I did some more research and to my joy I found it was child centered, and the individual child’s education was very important to the extent that each child had a tutor. This was like music to an early childhood teacher’s ears! I again scrolled through the children and from a childhood interest in the South American native people settled on Rosmery in Bolivia. Nine years later I still sponsor her and she is in high school now and doing well. Her Dad wrote for her while she was small and they were great letters full of details. Then the joy of her own little letter and drawings to now lovely letters full of detail, hope and understanding and interest in all we communicate about. This beautiful family had to move towns for work but valued her sponsorship so much that they return each Saturday so Rosemery can still attend her center and be part of the program.
I thought I was doing well with one sponsor child, writing to her every month and creating little things for her. I had no idea what God had in plan for me. Before long I felt God tugging on my heart strings again to sponsor another child, I argued with God that I couldn’t afford it and He told me to trust him and sponsor a child. I looked at the sight and a child jumped out at me, she was the one. So I took the leap in faith and sponsored her. This happened again and again over the years, and each time I doubted at first then did it, but what was miraculous was that each time I have added a child my income has unexpectedly gone up and has covered the cost of the sponsorship and a little extra. God is so good right down to the tiny details.
This is only half of the story. About a year after I had started sponsoring with Compassion I heard about their correspondent program being run out of the US for children sponsored by companies or people who didn’t write. They were short of correspondents and were asking if anyone would be interested in being a correspondent to a child. I loved writing letters and making various paper crafts for my sponsor children so I asked if an Australian could be involved. After a bit of paper shuffling my first correspondent child arrived and my new journey began. By this stage I was corresponding with about 10 children monthly and enjoying every minute of it. That 10 continued to grow and grow, then Australia also started the correspondent program and I joined their team of Australian correspondents as well. Soon my 10 had grown to 20 and it was time to put some systems in place so I could ensure I didn’t miss a child each month. Over the years I have refined my system, every child has a journal I put their letters in to cherish and reread. I use a spreadsheet to track letters as they come in and as I reply to them. I now have around 100 children I wrote to each month, those who send letters that month I write a hand written letter in return or a personal reply emailed for the US children, all the other children get a general emailed each month that is tailored to their age and situation. I love making collages with photos for the children around whatever their letter is about, sometimes photos of my family, places we have been or science events like aruras or super moons. For the younger children I create lap books about all sorts of things and incorporate Bible verses and explanations. I use the emails as devotions for the older children and they in turn send me their devotions back. Such wisdom comes from the most unexpected children at times, I never cease to learn from them.
If you are not a person who writes easily maybe start with a post card, just something about where you live or what you do, it doesn’t need to be something spectacular, all it need to be is a symbol of your love and care for the child, let God work through your words and I can assure you, you will be amazed and blessed by the children as they write to you and build a relationship with you.
Many of my children have written that they keep everything I send and every letter is a special place or box, many seem to keep them in a box under their beds and they reread the letters again and again sharing them with their family and friends. I have heard of children when faced with a natural disaster will go back for their letters and that may be the only thing they try to save. Please write to your children it is far more important to them than the money you send. Your love can change their world forever.
And the king will answer them, 'I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.'
My greatest adventure was in 2015 when I was privileged to go on a mission trip with another aid group t the Philippines. Although I knew in my heart and soul what poverty looked like, I was ill prepared to see it face to face and amazed at what I saw. We went into the slums of La Trinidad in an inconspicuous bus. On each side of the narrow mud streets were houses made of plastic bags, old bits of wood, wire and cardboard. Raw sewerage and waste ran down the side of each house in a shallow ditch, there was no water supply or sanitation and a few houses had attached themselves to the power line with open wires. There was mud, filth and smell everywhere. Then we got out of the bus and walked up a narrow muddy path to the little church hidden amidst the shabby house. As we walked in the door we were met by spotlessly clean shiny white tiles floor, and children full of laughter and fun and they too were spotless just like their church. There precious people had prepared us a banquet fit for a king and probably was all their food for a month, but their grace, kindness and joy was overwhelming. These people had nothing in material resources but were filled with hope and joy, they were grateful to be alive another day and the children bubbles over with friendliness and life.
As we left I was completely in awe of these families and compared to our western lives we are doing something very wrong. Here they were Gods people living Gods life and filled with his love and joy. They had so little but were so content and happy, I still wonder how we can bring this to our communities and fellow Christians.
I was also horrified as we drove through a brothel area in Manila on our way north at 4 am in the morning to see street after street of these brothels with their vulgar balloons flying and beautiful little girls no more than 4-5 years old dressed in silk gowns sitting outside waiting for customers. It broke my heart I just wanted to stop the bus and kidnap them all.
While I was in Baguio City we organised with Compassion to meet 3 of my children, 2 were sponsor children and the third a long-time correspondent. Jaden came from the far north of the island and traveled with her mother and social worker for 5 hours by bus to reach us. She was a delight and although I knew she did well at school it wasn't until I saw the transcripts that Compassion records that I realized she got 95% or higher for every exam she sat. At 18 she was the eldest of the three and immediately became the big sister to the younger two. Micah was quiet and didn’t say a lot but her grandfather and mother joined us and her granddad had good English from being with the Americans during a war. He had a great sense of humor and kept conversations rolling. Alfha was the youngest at 4 and was very shy and said almost nothing except to Jaden whom she loved and snuggles up to and then fell asleep at the end of the day. Her mum and tiny baby sister came with her but Jaden was her favorite. We spent a lovely day together visiting the mall and having a meal together, at time there was silence but it was a comfortable warm silence and the day ended all too fast. I hope one day to return and meet my precious girls again.
We visited both Micah’s and Alfha’s student centers and we were really impressed with the detail and rigorous records they keep. We were shown all the school reports, the project reports of their learning and classes they had attended, every letter I haves sent or been sent to me is kept on file, every cent I have sent for gifts or birthday gifts is recorded and what it is spent on. There are medical records of all the check ups and additional medical intervention they have used for each child. I also met the children’s tutors who spoke about the program they run and how each child was progressing. I was amazed at the work and time that goes into ensuring every cent we send is spent wisely to ensure each child reaches their potential. Visiting your children is such a blessing to you both and a life changing experience for the sponsor.