I am not the first person to talk about how being a sponsor is as much of a blessing to the sponsor as the child, but I nevertheless want to tell you about the blessings I have received and especially the lessons I have learned through sponsoring a child in India.
About four years ago I started sponsoring a boy from India named Johnson. It was the start of quite a journey. I had made it a point of familiarizing myself with my children’s cultures and discovered in India a fascinating history.
As I corresponded with Johnson I also discovered a wonderful person. He was bright and friendly, eagerly teaching me the rules of cricket and about the various adventures in his life.
In those letters I saw a life full of joy, even in the midst of poverty. I was touched by his enthusiasm and quickly learned it was not a trait only he possessed.
As I researched the history of Christianity in India, its culture and people, and began to talk with Indian Christians, I discovered a culture steeped in joy and a strong family ethic. This was very refreshing.
I’ve spent a number of years helping with youth ministry, and I have been deeply saddened at the growing destruction of family values and the rise of depression in teenagers and even small children.
I have seen a growing loss of emotional security for our young ones. But India is a vibrant, loving culture, which brings up healthy, happy, confident children even in extreme poverty. Needless to say, I have been taking notes.
First, appearances can be deceiving. I’ve often heard Indian people described as reserved and quiet. While it is true that they aren’t as forward and openly affectionate as Westerners, don’t let that trick you into thinking they are emotionally aloof.
At the center of each family is a deep wellspring of love and concern. They are delightful people with very deep feelings even if they don’t always wear them on their sleeves.
Cultural lessons aside, the greatest lesson I learned was just how vital it is that we reconnect with the values of Christian family fellowship. Jesus said that whoever does the will of His Father in heaven is His mother and sister and brother. He says that for a very good reason: The church needs to function as a family.
What allows these wonderful people to thrive in such hardship is a Christian family ethic that nurtures its members, especially the ones who have fallen on hard times. In such a climate of support, even the strongest disasters can be weathered.
In America we have come to worship the concept of the “rugged individualist” and it has given us the habit of striking out on our own at the first inconvenience. In marriage or in church politics it doesn’t take long for someone to decide, “I can do better on my own,” and institute a separation. And anytime these separations occur, spiritual orphans are left in the wake.
In order to prevent these tragedies from happening, we need to regain our ability to cooperate, even when the going gets tough. This is the second lesson I learned from the Indian Christian community. Indians have a knack for living and working in close quarters with minimal friction. In most cases they have no other choice.
Large families living in small dwellings require a person to cultivate a more relaxed personality. I often find that our American culture is extremely high-strung. We tend to be impatient and get very irritable when our needs and desires are not promptly met (I am one of the worst offenders), and it contributes to the friction that drives our families and congregations apart.
In Indian culture, patience is a virtue and its reward evident in its close-knit, loving families – both biological and spiritual. The last lesson India has taught me is to never underestimate the value of a kind word. In America, when someone is going through a hard time, we often don’t know what to say. So we say nothing.
Yet just as a single harsh word can tear right through a person, so can a single kind word heal. It never ceases to amaze me how much these children thrive on the kind words we give them in our letters. And there is so much blessing when they return with kind letters of their own.
A couple of years ago I went through a terrible illness. Thinking about how Johnson and his family were praying for me every day was one of the few things that kept my hopes up.
We can take these lessons we learn from writing to our children and put them into practice. Take time to build people up; make an effort to find ways to praise your co-workers, church staff and family.
You’d be surprised just how much good it does. Workplace tension drops dramatically, families get along. A kind word is a great blessing.
These are the lessons I have learned from the wonderful Christians of India.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tyler Lee, a volunteer in his church’s youth ministry, has been a Compassion sponsor for five years. He currently sponsors two children and corresponds with a third.