ONE OF THE CLEARER mandates for a Christian such as myself is to help the poor. Jesus said the poor “will always be with you.” It doesn’t take amazing powers of observation to see that he was correct. There are lots of ways to help the poor, with churches and thousands of worthy charitable institutions working to address the causes and effects of poverty.
Many years ago, I became acquainted with a large Christian organization called Compassion International. Starting in college, I’ve sponsored children through Compassion for almost 40 years. In all, I’ve sponsored 18 children from 12 countries. Sponsorship involves sending a monthly support amount, currently $43 per child. The support is used for such things as educational supplies, basic preventive health care and nutritious meals at the project center. You can also send special gifts for birthdays and Christmas. Generally, sponsors will get several letters a year from their sponsored child, and sponsors can also write to their child at any time.
Let me tell you just three of my kids’ stories.
Jimmy from the Philippines was the first child I sponsored, starting in my senior year of college. He was 10 years old at the time and would write me letters in English. Some of his letters were fairly long and detailed and, after exchanging letters over the course of nine years, I felt I knew him quite well. He was described as a friendly, cheerful boy in one of the reports I received from Compassion.
In his letters, Jimmy would mention personal details about his life. One time, he wrote, “Let me share to you my unforgettable experience. This happened when I was selected to be a worship leader in our church. Since it is my first time, I was so nervous. My T-shirt became wet because of my perspiration.” Reading his letter, I could almost feel his teenage tension. It’s hard for me to picture him as the 50-year-old man he would be today.
Sango lived in Zaire, now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which experienced a huge civil war 10 years into my sponsorship. She lived in poor conditions and didn’t have access to good water. Her father was dead. She was amazed by the small gift she received for Christmas, which perhaps had disproportionate impact due to her family’s poverty. Sadly, Compassion’s work in Zaire was upended by the war, and the ministry lost track of her. I pray that she survived, but have no way of knowing.
I sponsored Ramon from the Dominican Republic for 14 years. He wrote me gracious letters and was grateful for the opportunities that sponsorship afforded him. Around age 23, he graduated from the program. I never expected to hear from him or about him again.
But seven years after he left the program, I received an unusual letter from Compassion. It stated that Ramon had expressed an interest in getting in touch with me. There also were numerous cautions about the potential pitfalls of doing so. I created a dedicated email address for Ramon and gave my permission for it to be sent to him. Somewhat surprisingly, he never emailed me.
A few years after that, I received a Facebook friend request from Ramon. We connected and have been in contact through that platform ever since. He has gone on to obtain a graduate degree and holds an important position in his country’s education system. He has 5,000 Facebook friends and it’s obvious that many people love him. He’s married with three lovely daughters, and also helps pastor a church, presumably in his “spare” time. During the COVID-19 crisis, he contacted me to make sure Lisa and I were okay.
As I understand my Bible, giving should be a source of joy for the giver and an expression of gratitude to God, as well as a way to demonstrate the priority God gives to helping the poor. Nowhere do I get the impression that giving is designed to guarantee me prosperity or to enrich a select few televangelists.
I do enjoy giving to my church and have complete confidence in the handling of the budget there. The deepest joy in my giving journey, however, has been through child sponsorship. How could I put a value on the privilege of helping and befriending 18 at-risk children? I’m no theologian, but I like the sound of Jesus’s words in the Gospel of Luke: “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
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Ken Cutler lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and has worked as an electrical engineer in the nuclear power industry for more than 38 years. There, he has become an informal financial advisor for many of his coworkers. Ken is involved in his church, enjoys traveling and hiking with his wife Lisa, is a shortwave radio hobbyist, and has a soft spot for cats and dogs. Check out Ken’s earlier articles.