Allen Charles Graham is single, but he understands the meaning of the word “commitment.” He started sponsoring children in 1989 when he lived in the United States, working at a TV network. Currently, he lives in Ecuador and is the Training Director at HCJB Global Voice radio station.
“This was something I always wanted to do ever since I looked at the advertising spaces in some magazines.”
Allen had the opportunity to take a closer look to the blessing of sponsoring children when he came to Ecuador for the first time back in 1989 as a “working visitor” for HCJB. He was assigned a prayer partner, who happened to sponsor an Ecuadorian child.
When the prayer partner visited his sponsored child at the coastal city of Guayaquil (260 miles from Quito), he came back and he showed pictures to Allen and shared about that experience.
That was when Allen received that special motivation and knew he was going to commit to sponsor a child as soon as he went back to the United States.
Actually, that was one of the first things Allen did when he was back home. He looked for a Compassion ad in a magazine, cut the invitation to sponsor a child, filled it out, and sent it including this note: “I prefer an Ecuadorian child.”
“In September 1989 I received a package with the information of a boy, Marcos from Guayaquil.”
This boy, the first child he sponsored, was 10 years old.
Surprisingly, a couple of months later in 1990, Allen received an invitation to give some lectures at the English Fellowship Church in Quito. Of course, he took the opportunity to visit Marcos.
So in July of that year, Allen met Marcos in Guayaquil. Marcos was 11 years old by that time, and he just talked and talked all the time.
“I didn’t speak Spanish and Álvaro, the translator, couldn’t translate fast enough all the things Marcos said.”
Sign language and, most of all, the language of love … hugs, tickles and smiles, let Allen and Marcos establish a strong friendship bond. When they were saying their good-byes at the airport, Marcos said, “I will pray a lot for you to come back to my country.” … And God did answer his prayer!
Allen was called by God to move to Ecuador as a missionary. In March 1992, HCJB accepted his application and later that year he traveled to Costa Rica to learn Spanish.
August 19, 1993, is a day Allen will never forget since it was the day he arrived in Ecuador after a special call by God. He was not just willing to be a missionary with HCJB, but was yearning to see little Marcos again, for Marcos had stolen his heart, and God had listened to Marcos’ innocent prayer.
Since that time, Allen has sponsored a half dozen children. He is currently sponsoring two children — a girl in Ecuador, Mariuxi, and a boy in Bolivia, Pedro.
From all those children, Marcos is the one who left a very deep imprint in the life of this communicator highly committed to children.
At the present time, Marcos is 30, and this sponsor/sponsored-child relationship has evolved almost into a father-son relationship.
Marcos comes from a dysfunctional family. His father left them when Marcos was only 4 years old, so his childhood had traces of solitude, scarcity and the lack of the warmth of a real home.
“I didn’t know what a home was; my mom worked way too much so I never saw her … the truth is I was raised by several people; my grandma had me for a year, then my aunt maybe for another year, and I even spent another year at the house of some neighbor.”
It’s been 19 years since Allen and Marcos met for the first time; 19 years that brought love, comprehension and hope into Marcos’ life.
From Allen’s perspective, “I believe I have given hope to Marcos, and hopefully, I have also been the role model of a man who is constantly looking for God’s presence in his life.”
From Marcos’ point of view, “Allen has been a father, a counselor and a friend to me.”
The letters and frequent personal encounters have strengthened this relationship in a very significant way. Allen has served in Ecuador for 15 years now and his presence in Marcos’ life has helped Marcos to escape from wrong paths that may have led him to death:
“When I was 16 I was indirectly involved with gangs. I didn’t find my way … but thank God, Allen was there to give good advice to me … I got to talk to him and so my life took a different turn.”
Today, Marcos is a responsible grownup with a beautiful family: Tatiana, his wife, and their two children, Allan (4) and Marquitos (17 months).
Marcos is deeply grateful to Compassion and mostly to Allen.
“The project to me was like home. I used to enjoy being over there with my friends and our tutors … but without a doubt the best part of Compassion was meeting Allen. We have a close relationship until these days. Allen is like a father to me and now he has even turned into my children’s grandpa.”
But this is not all: Marcos works at a very important Ecuadorian iron company — IPAC. The Production Manager says about Marcos,
“He has learned and developed faster than many other employees here. Nowadays, Marcos is one of the operators of a new machine that is the first of its kind in Latin America. Thank God, Marcos is right where he is now because of his big effort and huge interest.”
Marcos’ life is the true evidence of the fruits of a man’s committed love. And certainly, Allen is an example of many other anonymous sponsors whose commitment to God has turned them into channels of blessing and transformation for thousands of boys, girls and young people all over the world.
This is how we have witnessed, once again, the fulfillment of the Scripture,
“’I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” – Matthew 25:40 (NIV).
There’s one question that will always be asked of any sponsor: “What was your motivation for becoming a sponsor? Why did you do that?”
Allen states that his answer to that question may sound simple to many people, but to him it carries the weight of an unavoidable commandment:
“It is God who puts the desire of sponsoring children in people’s hearts, but there’s also the part of being in touch with the kid or kids you sponsor, and that’s exactly what the ministry of Compassion International puts special emphasis on.”
He knows that very well because he volunteered with the Advocates Network before traveling to Ecuador. He was in charge of attending prayer meetings, Bible studies, concerts, etc. to talk to people and present the ministry of Compassion to them.
When asked about the most important element to assure a successful relationship between sponsors and their sponsored children, Allen replies:
“First of all, it is prayer, and then it is seeing children in a different way and not just like simple numbers.
“When volunteering as an advocate and working with children’s packages, it’s very easy to start looking at them as mere statistics, as numbers, but God said to me: ‘Hey! These children have names; they are important to me.’”
Allen highlights the part of looking at each child as a person to commit to, instead of a number searching for a sponsor. Any person willing to sponsor a child needs to think more personally, “I’m going to be part of Juan, María, Alfonso or Mariuxi’s life. He/she is going to be very special to me.”
Regarding the prayer element, Allen believes a sponsor is a child’s prayer partner. He or she who sponsors a child must be committed to pray for that child.
Allen has talked to various sponsored children attending child development centers all over the country, so he knows they pray for their sponsors too. This is a reciprocal relationship.
“It’s not just about sending money every month; it’s about committing to them through prayers.”
According to Allen, a sponsor should know how his/her child is doing in the spiritual area: Has the child made a decision for Christ? If so, the sponsor should encourage the child to be baptized instead of leaving everything in the hands of tutors and project directors.
But he also clarifies: “We have to be very sensitive and never, ever force or push children to do that. Anyway, we must help them through prayers all the time.”
Communication is another important point to Allen.
Maybe not every single sponsor has the chance or even the interest in learning his/her sponsored child’s mother tongue, but in the case of Allen, speaking Spanish brought a special “sparkle” into his role as a sponsor; it made it more real.
In addition, when it comes to writing to a child, Allen suggests sponsors change their perspective into a child’s point of view.
“Normally, it is very easy for us to tell ‘I do this or I do that …’, but it is way better to take the child’s interests into account.
“Writing things like ‘This weekend my family and I went skiing’ to a child from Guayaquil is not really helpful, since that city is located in the coastal region of Ecuador and therefore that child has never seen snow in his or her entire life. They don’t even have big mountains around!
“We are talking about things that may seem important to us, but cannot actually be used to bond with our sponsored child. We should look for stuff that helps us to get closer to the child, so questions are more appropriate in these cases.
“Another good idea is to look for similarities and say things like: ‘In California our beaches are like this … how do beaches in your country look like?”
Even though Allen admits it’s not always easy, a sponsor should try to visit and meet the child in person. He recommends living the experience and being part of the child’s environment, center and home at least once. Personal contact is very important.
“If the sponsor desires he or she could always see that trip as ‘vacation with purpose.’ A sponsor’s visit can have a very strong impact, not only in the life of the directly involved child, but in the lives of the rest of children from the project and everyone working with them. It encourages them to know these contacts can be real.”
Allen’s trajectory as a sponsor is the evidence of a deep commitment to God at first, then to our ministry, and certainly to each boy and girl he has sponsored during the almost two decades he has been linked to Compassion.