Most of the time, when I read the verse below, I walk away thankful for God’s faithfulness and His promise to forgive in the midst of mistakes.
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1: 8-9, NIV).
I just realized that I have often skipped over the other part: John says that God is also just to purify us from unrighteousness.
Have you ever watched purification in progress? Think about a precious metal like gold. Gold is purified in only one way: with fire. And we’re not talking an outward brush with the flames.
Purification comes from being plunged into the heart of the fire — the place where fire is harshest and turns blue — and being kept there until that which is being purified loses any resemblance to what it once was.
Having been purified, the gold can be molded according to the will of the goldsmith. It only loses contact with the fire when its final shape has been formed.
When we, as believers, confess our sin, God not only promises to be faithful (which He always is) and to forgive us (which He always does); He promises to engage us in the painful process of purification in order to cleanse us from the sin that is tearing us apart.
In my role as a child advocate, I have sometimes encountered people who say they will get involved with Compassion or get involved in caring for the poor when they find “a program that actually works.”
What they usually mean is that they will get involved when they find a program that is perfect.
The problem is that there is no such program. People are messy. If you are going to minister with and to people, or let others minister to you, you are going to get dirty, dazed and confused.
Compassion is an awesome ministry. It is committed to integrity, and to be church-based, child-focused and Christ-centered. I have seen it uphold each of these standards and am proud to advocate for the work they do.
But sometimes things happen. I met a couple at an event who had been writing to their sponsored child regularly for three years. Their sponsored child, a young girl in Central America, wrote them three times a year but never responded to any of their questions. They were questioning whether the girl ever got their letters, and consequently, they were questioning the authenticity of Compassion.
I explained to them how some child development centers engage in reciprocal letter-writing, helping their kids respond to letters from their sponsors as soon as they are received. Some centers make a very conscious effort to ensure that kids answer all the questions in the letters they receive, and some children take the initiative to write and respond to letters all by themselves.
But sometimes, none of these things happen.
Some of the older centers are working toward reciprocal letter-writing but aren’t there yet; some kids have never written a letter in their life and simply don’t know how; other kids can’t sit still long enough to write a response, even though they might be overjoyed at receiving your communication. Occasionally, that relationship between sponsor and child takes a really long time to build.
Can I just encourage you to not lose heart when you encounter someone who is looking for a “perfect program”? And if you are that person who has experienced frustrations in your sponsorship, please don’t give up.
As someone who has been a child sponsor for more than a decade and has traveled to four Compassion countries to meet children whom I sponsor, I am here to tell you something really important: This ministry of releasing children from poverty is working, and it is also imperfect.
Frankly, it is always going to be imperfect. If you haven’t yet had a reason for a measure of frustration, you probably will at some point.
This work is imperfect because it involves people. Compassion is not program-focused (though program models are used) – it’s intensely, insanely, beautifully child-focused. And sometimes, all of the questions in your letters don’t get answered. Sometimes a child drops out of the program and you don’t get an explanation. Sometimes, you feel frustrated because you want something to work better.
But though imperfect, Compassion presses on, fully committed to its core values in order to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name and fully committed to changing and improving its work in the same way that God models for us in I John 1:9: through faithfulness, forgiveness and purification.
It is good and right of us to expect excellence, but there will still be times when we feel frustrated.
I, for one, am thankful that being committed to opening our hearts and lives to God’s purification process is so much better than a pursuit of perfection. I am thankful that we get to be a part of releasing children from poverty, even at those moments when it gets frustrating.