Death of a Child

Death of a child It happens to other sponsors, but not to my family. I read about it every week in the prayer brochures, when Compassion employees lift up the needs of sponsors and our staff and children in the field. But it wasn’t ever supposed to happen to our sponsored child.

My parents recently received a phone call from Compassion staff. Alfan Said Yusuph, our 6-year-old from Tanzania, died due to health issues in his abdomen.

I sat at my desk, stunned by the news. Alfan was such an adorable little boy! Full of life!

In his letters, he expressed his love for the picture we sent him of our family dog. He was excelling in school. He shared about all that he was learning about Jesus and talked about the church he attended.

I found myself very distracted the day we heard of his death. I wondered how his family is coping. I wondered what kind of ceremony they would have in Tanzania to remember such a precious child. I wondered if his family realized that his sponsor family was at a loss over what to do.

I stared at his picture. I thought, How do you say goodbye to a sponsored child? Then it hit me – this wasn’t just a hypothetical question, it was a reality in our lives.

And not just in my life, but in the lives of many other sponsors. On average, about five to 10 Compassion-assisted children die each week.

I still haven’t figured out a great way to mourn Alfan’s death. It still makes me sad. I’m still overwhelmed by the tragedy of the death of a child. However, I cling to hope! I cling to hope and joy that someday, Alfan and I will be reunited.

I anxiously await the day that Alfan and I will meet at the feet of our Savior, Jesus Christ. The day where we are both in heaven, embracing, and praising God for the beauty of binding our hearts together during our short times on Earth.

We should all cling to the promise of God from Isaiah 25:8a (NIV):

“He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces …”

Because when loss is involved, Christ is our only hope in the face of death.

46 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Kimberly Artnak November 3, 2015

    I received the news yesterday that one of the twin boys I have sponsored died from malaria. He is a twin and 12 years old. My heart is broken. I don’t know how to process the news and I want to race to Togo and comfort his parents, other siblings and most especially his twin James who we also sponsor. John was a vibrant 12 year old with his whole life ahead of him. I am comforted to know he loved Jesus but I am saddened at the reality of where my sponsored children live and the risks they endure living in such poverty. I feel guilty to be from America and guilty at all the medical care and things my children have access to. My heart is burdened with wanting to somehow do more for this family in their grief. I don’t know how to process my grief. Any advice from others who have had this tragedy happen with their sponsored children.. I’d love to hear from you.

    1. Emily Vanhoutan
      Emily Vanhoutan November 4, 2015


      My heart breaks for you. It breaks for John’s parents and his twin brother who is also dealing with processing the loss of such a close friend and member of his life. Death is not a light subject and it’s never easy. It’s completely understandable that you’re grieving and I’m praying that God comforts you in this time. I pray that you find encouragement in the midst of your grief, through His promises and His truth. Something that comes with being a follower of Jesus is that He gives us His eyes to see people as children of God, which it’s very evident that you have, and that He gives us His raw heart of Compassion. Compassion means, to suffer with. Compassion works with the poorest of the poor, and as a sponsor, you invest in the life of a child who experiences hopelessness and faces difficult circumstances every day. But also as a sponsor, you are the one that God is using to speak hope, truth, and life, into that precious individual that He loves. During your time sponsoring John, God was able to use your support, encouragement, prayers, and your tangible expression of love towards him to impact not only his life but his family, his community, and friends. You made an eternal impact on this beautiful boy. He was able to hear that he is loved and cared for by Jesus. And now, he gets to dance with Him and be wrapped in His arms forever.

      My encouragement to you and my prayer, is that you would not feel guilty for God’s blessing on your family and in your life. But that you would draw closer to Jesus and continue to let His heart of Compassion for the poor, move and stir you to keep doing what you’re doing; being the hands and feet of Jesus for your own family, your own children, people you come in contact with every day, and the life of your sponsored child.

      I see that you spoke with one of our representatives who were able to answer questions you had and I pray that they were able to encourage you in this difficult time of grief. Please be encouraged that the church body and staff at James’s and John’s center care deeply for them and their family and are trained in helping families cope during this difficult time. Please also know that counseling is available to James as he grieves the loss of his brother. Right now, your letters to James are so important. They have the opportunity to give he and his family hope for tomorrow and hope in Christ. I pray that God gives you the words to write. Thank you so much for all that you do, Kimberly and I hope others who have gone through something similar are also able to offer you encouragement during this time.

  2. Joanie September 7, 2010

    I am so sorry about Alfan! I know he is safe with Jesus now. I have now opened my eyes to the fragility of these children!
    God bless you and Compassion . . . and God bless little Alfan– I know he is hurting no more . . .
    I will say a prayer to God and Alfan right now!
    Love Joanie

  3. Elizabeth Cullen August 15, 2010

    I too have a compassion child and it is very easy to fall in love with these children. Don’t forget that this child went directly to heaven and is smiling with Jesus. No pain, no wondering where his next meal will come from. It is devastating to lose a love one but right now he is sitting at Jesus feet and getting a hug. God bless.

    1. Katy Balsis August 16, 2010

      Hi Elizabeth,

      Thanks so much for your kind words. Yes, you’re correct! Alfan is sitting with Jesus right now! It’s amazing to think about.

  4. Barb Gluesing June 22, 2010

    I understand completely. Several years ago my first Compassion child, Tamil, from India died when her skirt caught on fire and the burns became infected. She was just a couple of weeks shy of her 8th birthday. They used the money I had sent for her birthday for funeral expenses. Although no one will ever replace her I requested another girl from her center and was given the gift of Renuga. As I watch Renuga grow I can’t help but wonder how Tamil’s family is coping and what Tamil would have become.

    1. Katy Balsis June 22, 2010

      Hi Barb,

      Wow. Hearing of Tamil’s tragic death is heartbreaking. What a painful thing.

      I’m sure her family appreciates and needs your continued prayers!

  5. Claudia June 12, 2010

    Dear Katy and Family,
    You are in my prayers at this time of loss. May God bring peace and comfort to you. I rejoice with you in knowing you and your family will one day be united with Alfan. What a glorious day that will be. Alfan is well now and knows your love for him. I want to be in the line for meeting Alfan and giving him a big hug when we all unite in Heaven.
    Love In the Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

    1. Katy Balsis June 14, 2010

      Hi Claudia,

      Thank you so much for your comments and prayers. It’s a comfort to hear from you.

  6. geri March 2, 2010

    I’m very sorry for your loss. I too have lost a sponsored child and understand your pain. Geri

    1. Katy Balsis June 14, 2010

      Hello Geri,

      I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your sponsored child. Where was your child from?

  7. Mike Stephens March 1, 2010


    What a coincidence I ran into your post again 😉 I am signed up to go to Tanzania and recently got a new job and am hoping to go soon, the trip is July 17-27 if you want me to get you something or take something for you I will gladly do that here is my email ( I still am a few paychecks away from having the trip paid for but the deposit is in and I hope to be like a flying fish on the airplane headed for Tanzania in a few months 😉 to give some high fives and encouragement to Bushiri. Your post was a motivator to help me to go.

    proverbs 16:33 “even the things which seem accidental where really ordered by Him.” (amplified bible)

  8. Laura Wayland March 1, 2010

    Katy – Sharing your family’s and your sponsored child’s family’s sorrow. I’ve met my child and his mom twice and more recently his siblings and grandfather, plus rec’d letter from his dad and uncle. I feel like a part of his family and have been asked to please come back to his HS graduation in 20 months. I would be undone to hear of such sad news for him or his family. The only consolation is that I already know them to be walking with Jesus and realizing that I’ve been allowed to contribute to a better life for him (and family) for over 6 years.

  9. Katy Balsis November 11, 2009

    I agree. Having Compassion call makes such a big difference. They were able to answer helpful questions and helped my family through it!

  10. Bethany November 10, 2009

    Being able to talk to a sponsor personally is so much better. Compassion tries so hard to get ahold of a sponsor tell them personally. If we get a voicemail we leave a message with personal phone extensions and send letters/emails just to try to get ahold of the sponsor.

    We want to be able to help a sponsor process through this tragic time; to let them konw that they are not alone. To let a sponsor know that the staff in the field is there to help the famiy anyway that they can.

    That really is the most important thing…that a sponsor knows that we are here to help. It’s never easy to make the call to tell a sponsor their child has passed way, but with God’s help we can help the sponsor through.

  11. Diane November 10, 2009

    It is so nice that Compassion makes a personal phone call to the sponsor. The sorrow and all is enough as it is, but to only be informed by mail would be more tragic; those children are considered family. Pray for those callers; I can’t imagine the difficulty of making that call to someone that had hopes of making enough difference in a child’s life to prevent a death of hardship or illness in an environment of poverty. It is definitely a grim reminder of the death statistics.
    I praise God for His mercy, that children do go to Him. We need never fear their eternal destiny. It gives comfort through the pain of losing a loved one.

  12. Agong September 23, 2009

    Hi Katy,

    Indeed, our prayers for the families should not cease. We could uphold them in our prayer, especially for their salvation too. Because Alfan have already been home with our Lord, but their families might not have.

    And by the little love and comfort we can give to help them tide through the funeral, the families might get to understand God’s love too. May the Lord help you to be the ambassador of God’s love to Alfan’s family. =)

  13. Kees Boer September 23, 2009

    I like the idea of sponsoring a child in the country, where the child in honour of the child, who passed away.

    I wonder if something else can be done too. A few months ago, I found out that one of my Compassion children got registered into the program, because her little brother, who was a sponsored child passed away. Then the project came to the family and they were able to register Meliza into the program.

    What I’m wondering is what if a child passes away, maybe the project can offer the registration to a sibling of the child and that the sponsor will be offered to sponsor the sibling.

    Just an idea….



  14. Bethany September 23, 2009

    Many times sponsors feel like the family is so far away that there is not much they can do for the family. This is so untrue. Though we can’t be there in person with the family during their time of loss, we can send cards and letters to the family that has lost a child. Expressing to the family how much you will miss their child and that they are prayed for, speaks volumes.

    Some sponsors choose to sponsor another child in that country in honor of the child that they lost. This is something else you can share with the family.

    A sponsor can send a monetary gift to the child’s family. This may feel not feel like a personable gift, but since we are limited to paper items to send this will bless the family.

    The most important thing we can do is pray for the family, and for the staff that is helping them through this hard time.

  15. Katy Balsis September 23, 2009

    Hi Agong,

    This is a good point. I agree that we need to continually lift up the family of the child who has died. I continually pray for Alfan’s friends and family and would urge other sponsors who’ve lost their children to do the same. Another way Compassion is able to help is with funeral expenses. The sponsor may send a financial gift to the family of up to $300 if they so choose.

  16. Agong September 22, 2009

    Hi Katy and Bob & Kim,

    I’m really sorry to hear about your child’s death. But indeed we can cling on to the hope of seeing them again.

    But rather, please share what can sponsors do to help comfort the child’s family? To even share the gospel of Christ to them even in this time of crisis? Would it be a good opportunity for us to share Christ’s love to their family too?

  17. Mircea September 22, 2009

    I’m really sorry for your loss!
    I’m verry toucht about what you have writen about Alfan. I have given a tear for him.

  18. Katy Balsis September 11, 2009

    @ Tricia Williams,

    I totally agree with Bethany! The kids LOVE stickers. 🙂 In fact, in many of my pictures, the kids faces have stickers all over them!

  19. Bethany September 11, 2009

    @Tricia Williams.

    I’m so excited that you get to meet your sponsored child. There are many creative things you can take. When I went to the Dominican Republic, I was able to take a gift to my sponsored child. I took her a backpack with tons of school supplies. I also took her hair things. For her family, I took cooking utensils, Kitchen towels, bars of soap, toothbrushes, lotion. The kids in general love stickers and bubbles; you can’t take enough of those items. But Katie is right, for any questions, contact your tour leader and you also should have gotten a list of items in your tour book. I pray you have a safe trip!

  20. Katy Balsis September 10, 2009

    Bob and Kim,

    I’m so sorry to hear about Molly. Where was she from?

    It is a feeling of helplessness and even confusion when you get that phone call. I pray that you will reread the comments people left on this blog and take the same comfort.

  21. Vicki Small September 10, 2009

    Bob & Kim, I’m so very sorry for your loss! Molly was a blessed little girl to have sponsors who truly loved her. She will be waiting for you in heaven…but, I know, you are grieving because she’s no longer here. And I’m really sorry.

  22. Bob & Kim Irwin September 10, 2009

    We just received a similar call yesterday about our child Molly. My wife and I were dumbstruck, crushed, never thinking this would happen. I sit here looking at her last note in April, and just wander off…
    God bless her and her family.

    1. Joanie September 7, 2010

      Sorry to hear about Molly . . . 🙁

  23. Katy Balsis September 8, 2009

    Hi Tricia!

    I’m happy to hear from you and even happier to hear that you’ll be headed to Rwanda. Oh, how I wish I could join you! I miss it there more than I can express.

    I think the kids LOVED jump ropes the most. I’m not exactly sure what you can or cannot take and would encourage you to contact your tour director, but if it’s up to you… they love the jump ropes, soccer balls, really any fun games you can play outside. Especially ones that are good for sharing, as there will be lots of children.

    Most of all, just give them your affection!

  24. Tricia Williams September 7, 2009

    Thank you for leaving me such a sweet note several months ago when I responded to your blog about missing Rwanda.
    I am so sorry to hear about Alfan. As you know, this hits so very close to my heart.
    We are only a week away from our sponsor trip to Rwanda. I am wondering if you would please give me some ideas for gifts for our children’s families, and for them. Now that you’ve been, what would you want to be sure and tell others who are headed that way?
    I am anxious to hear your thoughts!

  25. Katy Balsis September 1, 2009

    Hi Everyone,

    I want to say thank you so much for your kind comments and the prayers for my family and for Alfan’s family. My parents and I sat down tonight and I showed them everything you all said. We were all comforted and reminded of the joy of reunions to come.

  26. Katy Balsis September 1, 2009

    @Sarah Charles Hi Sarah, Your comment really touched me. I understand that fear. I don’t think we’ll ever understand the death of a child from a human perspective. However, I think that all of the discussions about this helps… staying in community and sharing one another’s burdens.

  27. Rachael September 1, 2009

    I’m so sorry to hear of your loss! It’s hard enough for me to ‘lose’ a child when they move out of the Compassion program, but I would be heart-broken if one of my kids died. I’m so sorry! I will be praying for you and his family.

  28. Arlonne August 31, 2009

    I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your precious sponsored child, little Alfan. My prayers reach out to you, and to his birth family. He looks like a darling little guy.

  29. Randi Fay August 31, 2009

    So sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing. I recently lost my dad and it always warms my heart to think of that precious day when we will meet again. I have to cling to it sometimes to get through the day…thank you for the reminder…can’t wait for all the tears to be wiped away. Praying for your sweet boy’s family in the most difficult time…

  30. Janel August 31, 2009

    I am so sorry for your loss and for Alfan’s family. I don’t know how I would react either. Thank you for your hopeful post in the face of such a sad event.

  31. Vicki Small August 31, 2009

    @Juli Jarvis – Juli, I don’t remember knowing that you had that grief, when we were in DR. She must have died very shortly before we went there, or I would think you would have heard about it from Compassion! Did you talk to Bernard, or anyone else from the country office about trying to get a message to her family and/or project?

  32. Sharon Nussbaum August 31, 2009

    Katy, I’m so sorry to hear of yours and Alfan’s family’s loss. What a heart ache to loose a child! I know it is comforting to know you will someday see him in heaven, but here and now you have pain. I wll pray for you all.

  33. Mike Stephens August 31, 2009


    Thank you for sharing! Alfan looks only 3 in the photo. I have heard of sponsor kids moving or discontinuing for various reasons but rarely have I heard of them dying. I sponsor a boy in Tanzania Bushiri and I was hoping to visit but then I lost my job but I guess I can referee a few more soccer games to get me on that plane to Tanzania it makes things that much more exciting when a few boulders are tossed down the mountain you are trying to run up 😉 I am not sure if I am going to make it to Tanzania I thought it was going to be a cake walk with my previous job now it will be a tad more difficult I just need to keep at it.

    “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow.” Isaiah 1:8

  34. Dana August 31, 2009

    I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of Alfan. What a precious little boy! I’ll keep his family and yours in my prayers. Two songs come to mind – Steven Curtis Chapmans’ “With Hope” and being able to say good-bye with hope, because we know this is not the end. What a reunion you’ll have in heaven when you get to see Alfan. The other song that comes to mind is “Say Good-night, not Good-bye”. For Chrstians, death is more of a good-night, because when we awaken on glory, we’ll all be together. So sad to loose Alfan on this side and to have to say good-night to him. My heart breaks for you and your family and for Alfan’s family.

  35. Juli Jarvis August 31, 2009

    That’s a really great suggestion Vicki. When I went to the conference in the DR, one of the teenage girls I wanted to see again was a girl named Julia, and I was shocked to hear she had been hit by a car on the street and died. I was wishing I could’ve sent my sorrow to her family or friends. I still think of her often, and it reminds me that the streets truly ARE dangerous for these children. It reminds me to work all the harder to find more sponsors so we can get the kids off the streets.

    Also, one of our churches here has a display of all the sponsored children from members of their church, and one of their children also died tragically. The entire church grieved over that loss. Very sad, but we know they are healthy and strong in Heaven. I pray God will connect you with just the right child to sponsor next.

  36. Vicki Small August 31, 2009

    I’m so sorry, Katy! I know I would feel devastated, if I were to receive that news, and I know it could happen. I think you grieve the death of a sponsored child just as you grieve any loss, because it is as real a loss as any.

    But, oh, my! What a welcome is waiting for you, when you arrive in heaven! Can you imagine him pestering Jesus to be sure that your room is absolutely perfect?

    I wonder whether he has a friend in the project who is still waiting for a sponsor–or who may have lost a sponsor, already. You could have an instant bond with such a child. It’s just a thought….

  37. Amy Wallace August 31, 2009

    What a precious boy! Your family can take comfort in the fact that the last years of his life were happy ones, because of the loved you showed him. And you’re right, you will see him again and be able to give him a big hug!

    Your family, and his family, will be in my prayers.

  38. Sarah Charles August 31, 2009

    I am so sorry to hear about this. I am always afraid of something like this happening.

  39. Neva Cross August 31, 2009

    This blog really struck me. I had never thought about a sponsored child dying. What a terrible loss when your mission has been to save a life. But keep in your heart the knowledge that you have enriched a life, as he has enriched yours.

  40. Kees Boer August 31, 2009

    I’m really sorry about your loss, Katy. I would be devastated too. It is good that there are no more tears for Alfan. He is with our Saviour.



Add a Comment