When I was touring with the Compassion Experience, one of my favorite places to be stationed was at the very end of the tour, where the child packets were located. I’d see the faces on the walls of the truck and thousands of faces come through that room. Once we finished set up, I would sometimes just stand in that room and marvel at the precious little faces on the packets, waiting to be sponsored.
During my time on the road, we were fortunate enough to have Julian attend a few events. This was always a special treat for us as well as for people walking through her story.
At one event, a family came through the Experience and wanted to talk to Julian about letter writing. They wanted to know if it really did have as much impact as people said. In her ever sweet manner, Julian replied that it meant even more than we could communicate.
Julian then went on to tell us about one of the Compassion centers in Africa that stopped handing out letters in a big group because so many children didn’t get letters from their sponsors. She shared that the children would then come and ask her and other staff if something was wrong with them. If their sponsor didn’t love them?
As she described the heartbreak for these little kids desperately waiting for a letter, I felt tears well up in my own eyes. I wondered if the two kids I sponsor ever felt that way when mail would come and there was nothing from me. It changed the way I viewed letter writing and interacting with them.
I can’t say I’m as diligent as I should be, but I’ve tried to be better at writing, encouraging, and loving them from my own little corner of the world.
What follows is a fictional story of what I imagine it’s like to not get a letter as a child who is sponsored.
My mother shook me awake. “Manuel. Manuel, it’s time to get up. We need something to start the fire. Run and get it.”
I rubbed my eyes with my fist. It was still dark, but I knew she had been awake for awhile. The sun would be breaking through the clouds soon enough and I was already behind in my chores.
My feet hit the dirt floor quickly as I raced outside to find leftover scraps from last night’s fires. I knew that someone somewhere would have something I could bring home. We just needed a little to cook our breakfast. If you can call it that. It’s really just a mixture of water and flour. But it fills my belly and I’m grateful to have it.
As I walked along the side of the road, searching the landscape for anything to burn, I realized what day it was.
Today is the day we get mail at the child development center.
My heart started racing. I’ve been sponsored with Compassion for three years now and I’ve gotten three letters. Those days stick out in my mind. I remember the temperature of the air, the feel of the paper against my hands as I reached to grab it.
I studied each curve of her handwriting. Auntie Sarah is what I call her. I can’t read English but I know exactly how she draws her letters and symbols. Every week I read those three letters. She’s going to college in America. She said she loves Jesus, the same Jesus they tell me about at the center.
She is a very busy lady and I can’t believe she’s written me three letters. I feel like the luckiest kid in the world. It’s been almost a year now since my last letter and I just know today is the day. Today there’s going to be a new letter.
It’s my lucky day! I found some leftover firewood to burn! Mama is going to be so happy with me. The house will be smoky but it won’t smell like trash. Mama doesn’t like it when we make the house smell like trash.
I race home, occasionally jumping up in the air and shouting like a superhero. I drop the wood in front of Mama and smile. She nods towards our pot and then turns back around. Mama is busy. I know she doesn’t mean anything by it. She’s proud of me, I know it.
While our breakfast is cooking, I get ready for school. I’m in the second grade. I really love school and when I grow up, I want to be like my Auntie Sarah and go to college. I haven’t told anyone that but I’m going to do it. I’m going to be a doctor and help the people in my village get better.
School is usually the best part of my day. But today all I can think about is going to the Compassion center. Not even my team winning futbol makes the time go any quicker! This day will never end!
Finally. It’s finally time to go.
I run as fast as I can to get to the gate and wave at Andre. He’s my friend at the center. He helps me study and learn so many things. Andre’s a little bit older than me but makes me feel like I’m almost all grown up. I like him.
“Andre! Andre, today is the day! I just know it!!! Auntie Sarah is sending a letter!” I shout excitedly.
Andre looks at me with a smile. “Maybe today is the day Manuel. We’ll have to see!”
“How much longer do we have to wait until the letters come? Is it time yet?” I start to wriggle with anticipation.
“Finish your studies and then it will be time.” He pushes my math homework in front of me.
I sigh and sit down trying to concentrate on my math problem. Addition is so hard! I don’t think I’ll ever understand it.
Finally, after forever, Andre tells me it’s time to go outside for letters. We see Santos, the guy in charge, come outside with that big bag. We all start running towards him.
My heart starts pounding. This is it. Today is the day. Santos starts reading names out. He’s got a stack as big as my hands. It has to be there! It HAS to.
He’s halfway through now. Ada, Rosa, Marco, Jose. All my friends are getting letters. I lick my lips.
“Please. Please be there.” I whisper.
Two letters left. I hear my best friend’s name read. He jumps up and runs to Santos. I’m excited for him but I see one letter left. “It has to be mine.”
My head drops and I feel the tears clog my throat. My friends are all around me, buzzing with excitement and comparing letters. The rest of us who didn’t get a letter get quiet and walk away.
“Manuel.” I hear Andre. I can’t look at him. I don’t want him to see how sad I am. I keep kicking the dirt and walk away.
“Manuel. Manuel, stop.” I feel his hand on my shoulder.
“Manuel. Just because you didn’t get a letter today doesn’t mean it’s not coming. Here, come sit with me. I want to show you something.”
We walk over to the side of the playground and sit down. I keep wiping at my face trying to get the tears to stop. I hate crying. I hate when other people see me cry. I am strong and big.
Andre opens his backpack and pulls out a small stack of letters.
“Remember when I told you my sponsors lived in America too? Well, these are all of the letters they have ever written me. I want to read one to you.”
I look at him confused.
Greetings, Manuel! How are you? We have been praying for you every day. Manuel, I want you to know you can be anything you want to be. Because we are made new in Jesus we have been given a new life. It doesn’t matter where you were born or what anyone else says about you. God has a purpose and a plan for your life, Manuel. You can never out dream God’s plan for you life. Today I want you to tell someone your dreams and what you want to be when you grow up. Because with God, all things are possible, beloved. We pray you grow to be a man of character and wisdom. You are in our hearts, Manuel. With all our love, Chuck and Betty Larson.
Andre looks at me and says, “Manny, when I got this letter, I was going to quit school. I wrote Chuck and Betty back and told them I wanted to be a teacher. They sent me another letter telling me they would pray with me and help me any way they could. I didn’t believe it but they believed in me.”
“But if that’s your letter, why does it have my name in it?” I look up at him with wide eyes.
“Because,” Andre begins, “Even though Sarah hasn’t written these words I know she believes them about you. So instead of my name, I put your name in there. Chuck and Betty believed in me the same way Sarah believes in you.”
I finally start to get it.
“Um, Andre, can I read all your letters?”
“Of course Manny. But first. What do you want to be when you grow up?” he asks me.
I swallow hard. The words are stuck in my throat.
“A doctor. I want to be a doctor.”
“Then Manny, that is what I will pray you become.” He hands me his letters and says, “Read the letters, and then we’re going to sit down and write a letter to Sarah telling her you want to be a doctor when you grow up.”
I take his stack of letters, carefully open the first one, and start to read.
This day turned out to be the best day ever, because I didn’t get one letter, I got twenty.
About the Author: Former Compassion employee Rachel Mueller lives in Denver, CO and blogs at rachelmueller.net.