The relationship between child and sponsor is a unique one. It’s a beautiful blending of contrasting countries, cultures, ages and economic statuses all through the power of the written word.
Last month for the Compassion Letter Club, we focused on the things you can say in your letters to encourage the child you’re building a relationship with. We highlighted how your words of encouragement and sharing God’s love could help balance the negative words in their life.
This month, instead of sharing ideas for what to write, we want to tell you a story from the perspective of one of our alumni of the true and lasting impact those encouraging words actually have.
Longing for Happiness
La Fragua, Zacapa, located east from Guatemala City, is known for being part of the “Dry Corridor”, a region that has been constantly battered by droughts, affecting thousands of children and their families; one of those families was the Castro family.
Elza Castro and her family had a simple lifestyle. Her mother stayed at home taking care of the seven children and her father worked to provide for the family. The problem was that Elza’s father had a greater love for alcohol than he did for his family. All the money he earned would go straight into buying beer and rum.
Elza remembered, “My siblings and I always had to take care of our father because he would get drunk and do reckless things and he would get violent.”
At age five, Elza heard constant fighting between her parents, and her six older siblings had too many problems of their own to look after her. Elza was growing up to be shy and scared of everyone.
“My only friend was my cousin Sara. When Sara was 6, she was enrolled in Bethel Child Development Center,” Elza said. “I insisted my mother enroll me because from the outside of the church you could see children playing and being happy and I longed for that happiness too,” she said.
Elza’s mother, who was not a Christian, was not very thrilled about letting her daughter attend a church.
“My mother gave me excuses so I would not want to go. She would tell me ‘Elza, we live too far away’ or ‘I do not have the time to drop you off and then pick you up’, but I kept begging my mother to enroll me; I even cried until she finally let me go,” Elza admitted.
Who is a Sponsor?
The first thing Elza noticed when she started to attend the child development center was that the people there were different. No one was screaming or cursing at each other like at home; instead, people smiled and used loving words when they talked to her.
Elza said, “I felt the difference between my home and the child development center. My tutors would treat me nicely and they constantly talked about Jesus and how much He loved me.”
The second thing Elza noticed was that every time she went to the child development center, she had to pray for people called sponsors, a term she had never heard before.
“When I asked what a sponsor was, my tutor told me that they are generous people who send money for the expenses the center has, like the lunch they gave me every time I attended. There is even a map where they show us where our sponsors live,” Elza said.
When she started receiving letters, she was able to better grasp what it meant to have a sponsor.
“I only had two sponsors during my 13 years in Compassion. My first sponsor was an old sweet lady who used to talk about her daughter Patricia, her family and the places they visited in Canada,” Elza said with a small smile on her face, which was quickly replaced by a look of sorrow, “But when I was 9 years old, I received a letter announcing that my sponsor had passed away,” she added.
Sadness, uncertainty and worry were some of the things Elza felt. “I was deeply saddened by the news about my sponsor. She was someone I could talk to; besides, I thought that now that I did not have a sponsor anymore, I would have to stop going to the center,” Elza said.
After the staff from the center assured her that she did not have to quit going, Elza’s worry was ‘Who will be my new sponsor?’ and ‘How will they be towards me?’ Elza had grown used to receiving at least three or four letters every year and she was worried that her new sponsors would not write her.
Part of a Family
Only a few months had passed before she received a letter from her new sponsors. Much to her surprise, it was from someone she had already heard of — Patricia, her former sponsor’s daughter.
“When she told me that her mother used to be my sponsor, I was ecstatic! It felt like I knew them already. The same family who welcomed me once, was welcoming me again and I remember thinking ‘They must really want me to be a part of their family’,” Elza exclaimed.
Every two or three months Elza would get a letter, stickers, pictures or bookmarks, but her favorite part was reading the sweet and loving words that came from her beloved sponsors.
Elza said, “I felt cared for by my sponsors. Patricia and her family always told me things like ‘Jesus loves you, Elza, and so do we’ or ‘The Lord will always be with you.’ They also encouraged me to stay on God’s paths.”
As the years went by, the children who never received letters would gather around Elza and ask her to read them the letters that her sponsors Patricia and her husband sent. Elza was more than happy to share the happiness she received from her sponsors with other children.
The same words that made her and her friends smile, became Elza’s only hope and shelter as her family walked through the valley of the shadow of death. First, Elza’s oldest brother died at work while operating a truck. Two years later, Elza’s only grandmother passed away from pneumonia, and a year after that, her father tried to cross a road while drunk and got hit by a car; he died in front of Elza’s house.
During those heartbreaking years, Elza constantly wrote and asked her sponsors to pray for her family. Elza said, “When I told them about my brother, my grandmother and my father, my sponsors quickly wrote me back saying that the Lord was always with me, even if it was a hard time for me, Jesus would never leave me and God would give me the strength I needed to carry on.”
Whenever she was feeling down, Elza would reread the letters from her sponsors and hold on to their words. “My sponsors’ words became my shelter,” she said, “and because my mother never learned how to read or write, when we were both feeling down, I read my sponsors’ letters out loud so she and I could both be comforted by their loving words,” she added.
Marta, Elza’s mother, was always grateful for the loving words that her daughter’s sponsors wrote.
“If I had them standing in front of me, I would thank them and I would pray that God blesses them with many years of life. It amazes me that a sponsor may not be wealthy, but they are still willing to help others in great need like my Elza,” Marta said with gratitude in her voice.
Passing on Hope
When Elza was 17 years old, she got the opportunity to become a tutor at the center. She was in charge of the 6-year-old children for two months.
“I was really nervous at first, but I wanted to share with those little kids the things I learned from my sponsors. I wanted them to know that no matter what they are going through, God’s love is with them and He will never leave them alone,” Elza said proudly.
Elza’s sponsors planted a seed in her heart that is now producing good fruit, and it is helping other children, who were hopeless, realize that God will never leave them alone and that His love will be with them always.
We hope that the Castro family’s story of finding comfort in trying times from Elza’s relationship with her sponsors inspires you to write a letter today to the youth you sponsor. Your empowering words are truly planting good seeds!
Our hope for the Second Friday Letter Writing Club is to continue to foster your unique relationship of sponsorship through letter writing. Head to the Second Friday Letter Writing Club board on Pinterest for new ideas and inspirations.
Be sure to join the club and contribute your own letter-writing inspiration! Follow us on Pinterest and then send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to be added.
The Castro Family story by Isi Salazar, Compassion Guatemala Field Communications Specialist