Recently, I (Alison) received this email from a friend:
“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. Diane, whom I sponsor through Imana Kids, is my third sponsored child, but she’s the first I’ve attemped to support in ways that extend beyond financial obligation.
It wasn’t that I didn’t care about my other sponsored children, I just didn’t believe writing an occasional letter or sending a package of stickers would have any positive impact on their lives.
Then, five years ago, my husband and I decided to grow our family through adoption, and everything changed.
In 2011, when we traveled to Rwanda for the adoption, witnessing true material poverty firsthand wrecked our worldview, and our hearts. We came home determined to cut every possible expense and use our finances to relieve as much need as possible.
But as months passed – each week unveiling more of our daughter’s brokenness – we began to understand poverty in a new way. We’d eradicated her material poverty – her belly was full of nutritious food, her body swaddled in clean clothes, her home secure and comfortable – but her heart…
Her little heart was still ravenous for more. More love. More reassurance. More hope. She’d lost so much in her short life. We couldn’t fill that void as quickly or easily as we could fill her plate.
Her need taught us this: For most orphans (and probably most people), the deepest poverty isn’t lack of food, clothing, and shelter. Those things, like beauty, are only skin deep. But relational poverty? That void reaches to the depths of a soul.
Relational poverty isn’t exclusive to orphans. It isn’t confined by geography, personality, or economics. There are a few things things every human heart needs to hear:
“You’re not alone.”
“I see you.”
“You are precious.”
“Don’t give up. You can do it.”
Don’t you know someone who needs to hear those words? Don’t you sometimes need to hear them yourself?
Sponsorship Beyond Skin Deep
Understanding relational poverty should transform our approach to child sponsorship. Is it wrong to sponsor a child and never have a relationship beyond the bank transaction? As I told my friend, 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 our recent trip to Kimisagara with Visiting Orphans, we had the privilege of distributing sponsor gift bags to the Imana Kids. The bags included various gifts: 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. From young to old, 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 trump things.
With this in mind, 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?