Matthew never stopped smiling as the children swarmed around him and wanted to shake his hand. Even though he was not their sponsor, the children were thrilled to meet the very first sponsor to visit their child development center.
“Matthew! Matthew! Look at my picture!”
The children called out enthusiastically in Indonesian as they ran to Matthew, carrying pieces of paper in their hands to show off their artwork.
Matthew responded in English, a language they had never heard before, and smiled warmly at them, causing them to laugh.
Although the children could not understand what Matthew said, they were delighted with his presence.
Matthew is a young man from the United States who, since January 2009, has given from his heart to support one of the registered children at Sangihe Evangelical Church in Kolongan Beha, Sangihe Island.
He sponsors Mariana, a child who lives in East Indonesia on Sangihe Island, where her child development center is located.
Although their communication before Matthew’s visit was only through letters, Matthew and Mariana enjoy sharing many things as they write to one another.
They understand that mail can seem slow because it first has to be processed and sorted through our Global Ministry Center before it is sent to Mariana’s home country. Our office in Indonesia then processes the letters by dividing them according to area, then sends them to each development center.
Although Mariana and Matthew have to go through a long process to send and receive letters, they never stop writing about their day-to-day lives.
This includes sharing information about their family members or their favorite things.
Mariana wrote in one letter that she learned about Jesus Christ.
“I like to share anything that I experience with Brother Matthew because he loves to hear what I am doing every day.”
As their friendship grew, Matthew wanted to meet Mariana face-to-face and interact with her directly. Matthew took a big step: He decided to go to Indonesia and visit his sponsored child.
So along with a friend, Matthew traveled to Indonesia. In addition to meeting Mariana in person, he touched more lives than he had ever imagined. Matthew had not realized that his decision to visit Mariana would impact other children, parents and community members who at times had doubted whether their “invisible” sponsors actually existed.
Pastor Leopold Tamalawe of Sangihe Evangelical Church shared,
“People in this area did not believe that children have sponsors. They thought sponsors were just in a dream and they thought we lied to them.”
Because a sponsor had never before come to visit the Ikhtus Student Center, this belief is not surprising.
Sangihe Island is one of the remote areas of East Indonesia that can be reached only by an eight-hour boat ride or by plane, and it is not well known to foreigners. Not many people, especially from abroad, visit this island.
“It is very rare to see people from abroad come here, especially sponsors of our children.”
When Matthew arrived at the center, the children surrounded him to shake his hand and hug him. Children everywhere long for their sponsors to come and meet them personally, and as the first sponsor to visit the Ikhtus Student Center, Matthew demonstrated to the children and their families the reality of sponsors and their love for the children.
Matthew’s first opportunity to see Mariana in real life came when he and a translator picked her up from school. After meeting the school principal and asking about Mariana’s academic progress, Matthew and the translator then visited Mariana’s house. Mariana smiles as she describes her first experience with Matthew,
“I took Brother Matthew to play and took cassava that we planted behind our house for our lunch. He even liked to eat it. We ate it together.”
Matthew spent several hours with Mariana and her family, trying local dishes like cassava. He also tried pineapple, fried banana, and panada — fried local cookies filled with vegetables or meat. Matthew even went to see the sweet potato tree.
Fransin, the development center coordinator, shares,
“Matthew loved to try anything. He not made difference between Western people who has to eat Western dish with Asian people like us.”
During their short time together, Mariana and Matthew really enjoyed interacting in person. Although they could talk only through the translator, they communicated through actions such as holding hands and sharing one coconut with two straws.
They encouraged each other and promised to continue upholding one another in their daily prayers.
“Brother Matthew promised to keep praying for me, so I can reach my dream one day. He also asked me to pray for his ministry so he can help others to know Jesus more.”
Matthew’s visit was not only a special moment for Mariana, but it was also special for the other children who felt their sponsors’ love through Matthew because he was very welcoming to all the children. Fransin told us,
“After Matthew’s visitation to our development center, we can see that children and their parents realized that the invisible sponsors that they thought were a lie all this time have great love for them.
“We also got acknowledgment from local government in Sangihe because the development center impacted tourism sector in this area. Many foreign people are getting know about Sangihe Island.
“Even though we live far away from North Sulawesi capital city, but we believe a step of a sponsor has changed everything.”