Questions about letter writing are the most common ones I hear in the contact center. Many sponsors call or write us because they are frustrated with the quality of the letters they receive from the children they sponsor.
A few days ago, I spoke with Judy because she was upset that the student she sponsored, Carlos, doesn’t answer the questions she asks in her letters. She was also frustrated because she had just received a letter wishing her a “Merry Christmas” … in June!
I explained to Judy that many of the children in our programs struggle with the concept of writing a letter:
“You are probably the only person that Carlos will write a letter to, and he probably struggles with grasping the concept of having a conversation by mail.”
“But Shaina,” she replied, “He is 15 years old! Don’t you think he should have a better grasp by now?”
“Well, in Central and South America it’s not common for people to write letters, so the children at the child development centers are learning something completely out of the ordinary for them. But despite the cultural differences that may play a part in this, this probably isn’t the whole picture.
“When Carlos receives a letter from you, he probably takes it home and puts the letter in a special place. He may not have it with him when he writes back, particularly if he waits until the designated time during which all children in the center write their sponsors.
“Often during this designated time, teachers will write a list of suggestions or letter samples on the board to help the kids with their letters. If he’s left his letter at home, he may rely heavily on the suggestion on the board. This often makes the child letters sound scripted or unoriginal because children will copy the samples or follow the list word for word.”
“So what do I do? I really want to have a better relationship with Carlos.”
“If you have specific questions for him, I suggest that you keep them brief, simple, and number and highlight each question. This will call attention to your questions. It also helps to write Carlos every time you receive a letter from him. This will help your “conversations” get into rhythm.”
I also encouraged her, and I encourage you, to read the frequently asked questions about letter writing that we have on compassion.com.
I know that the quality of the letters you receive can sometimes frustrate you. I’m sorry for that. I hope that you can see the letters you write as a ministry opportunity, an opportunity to pour into another person’s life halfway across the world, an opportunity to teach, mentor, celebrate, encourage and pray with a child in need, rather than just an exchange of information and details. Your consistent presence fosters trust and tells your child “I care about you and want to be a part of your life.”
We originally published this post on June 17, 2010.