Margaret Lutley’s counter above her kitchen sink is framed with photos of more than 30 young people — at least one from each country where Compassion works — who are living better lives today because of her.
She knows their names, personalities, dreams and struggles. She prays for them individually and writes to each one every month to provide encouragement.
“I ask the children I sponsor to think of me as their faraway grandma. I’ve never married, so these kids become my kids.”
A retired missionary, 76-year-old Margaret has sponsored as many as 30 children at one time and currently sponsors  27. She’s met 20 so far, with plans to meet the rest by next summer.
“By the end of the summer of 2014, my dream is to be 77 and to have met all 27.”
Through her letters and visits, Margaret encourages the children to study the Bible, love God and others, pursue education, use their resources wisely, and set goals.
“They share their failures and successes with me. I think my encouragement and love mean a lot to them.”
Margaret was already sponsoring eight children when an inheritance provided financial leeway for the first time in her life. She quickly decided to use the extra income to sponsor 19 more children — expanding her total sponsorship to include a child in each country where Compassion works, plus a Leadership Development Program  student in Indonesia.
Margaret chose to sponsor older children and those either orphaned or living with single moms or grandparents. Her connection to each child she sponsors is personal, and each letter she receives and writes is meaningful.
The 15 or so letters Margaret receives from her children every month are filled with expressions of gratitude and affection for the woman whose support has helped turn their lives around.
“It’s very meaningful to get their letters. It’s very meaningful to pray for them. These children … have nothing, but they struggle and fight to have dreams.”
Margaret can recount so many ways her sponsored children impress her. Flavia, an orphaned 14-year-old Ugandan girl, impressed Margaret with her maturity and good judgment when she used a cash gift Margaret gave her to start an income-generating business.
Another child who Margaret sponsored, Claude, had been orphaned by the Rwandan genocide.
“He not only thinks of me as grandma but also as his mom. He wrote that he reads my letters every Sunday.”
And letters from Kevin, a 13-year-old boy in Honduras, often include handdrawn pictures that Margaret hangs on the walls of her townhouse. Margaret describes Kevin’s home situation as “unbelievably bad,” and she says he expresses his affection for her with passion. “You are one of the people I love most in my life,” he wrote.
Perhaps none of the children’s stories demonstrates the life-changing impact of sponsorship more poignantly than that of 7-year-old Priya in Sri Lanka.
Last February, Margaret traveled to Sri Lanka to meet Priya, becoming the first sponsor to visit a child in Compassion’s new ministry there. She’d chosen Priya, she says, because the girl lived with her grandmother.
Margaret discovered on her visit that Priya’s mother had been gone for 2 1/2 years, forced by personal debt to leave Sri Lanka for work as a maid in Saudi Arabia.
She was amazed to learn that her sponsorship relieved financial pressures on the family so much that Priya’s mother was able to return home.
Such is the “tremendous blessing” Margaret calls sponsorship.
“I was overjoyed. That’s life-changing, for a little girl to have her mother. Brings tears to your eyes.”
These days, Margaret refers to running her “last lap,” but she remains focused on using her remaining years to make a lasting difference in the lives of her sponsored children.
“These kids are the salt of the earth. I am so proud of them.”