I grew up in a family filled with boys and needless to say there was rowdy chaos throughout our home. You know, typical boy stuff…where the living room mysteriously becomes a massive fort, every rock becomes a grenade, every stick a sword, and a pillow stuffed under your shirt gave you the sense of heroic invincibility. Our home was not a place to drink coffee and reflect on the meaning of life. It was a cross between “Looney Toons” and “Star Wars”. Filled with super powers, ambushes, betrayal, and of course “The Force”…

It was a danger zone.

Here are the culprits in action:

Finish John Hackbarth Family

However, in the midst of the chaos, one core value I remember being distinctly embedded into our character as boys was the need to finish.

Finish my homework.
Finish my chores.
Finish chewing my food.

My parents had a desire to simply teach us to complete what we had started, regardless of our feelings and the obstacles we would face. This mentality established a mindset of being fully engaged and determined to accomplish a goal. It taught us that even though hard times were surely to come; resilience and focus were necessary companions to reach any God-given destiny and finish.

It is a lesson I am thankful I learned.
It is a lesson I was taught as a child.
It is a lesson that shapes a destiny.

Finish Race

Sponsors have significant influence in teaching this powerful lesson and helping shape the destiny of the child they have chosen to invest in, just as my parents did for me. Finishing is an essential lesson for a child to learn in overcoming poverty. And I would contend that it is most powerfully established when sponsors journey alongside a child until the finish line.

I spoke to a sponsor last week who wanted to cancel their sponsorship because the teenager they sponsored (Akama) had turned 18 years old. They believed he should be independent now – contributing to society and having a “real” job.

As the sponsor continued to express their perspective, I couldn’t help but think about what it must have been like when Akama was first told he had a sponsor. I imagined the joy he must have felt to an answered prayer. I could picture him reading over and over the encouraging letters he received. I also couldn’t help but think about the empty feeling of being left behind when he was so close to finishing the program.

Finish Letter

When you sponsor a child through Compassion, you have the beautiful opportunity to help shape a destiny. Along with his or her local church, you get to help a child be known, loved and protected. He or she gets to hear from an advocate from the other side of the world that says:

I SEE you. I am WITH you. I CHOOSE you. We are in this TOGETHER. You CAN do it. God has a PLAN for you. Don’t give up!

Children immediately begin to hope. Lost and faded dreams begin to find their way back into the heart of a child. Forgotten smiles instantly burst through the dark clouds of depression and hopelessness.

They establish goals. They overcome obstacles. They believe they can finish the long journey ahead.

Finish Graduation

Some of that belief is undoubtedly shaken when a child is told they no longer have a sponsor. All of the sudden, their helper and advocate, the very answer to their prayer, is no longer present. They know that letters of encouragement are not coming. It can be a disheartening experience.

As they continue on in the program with the assistance of our Unsponsored Children’s Fund, we are committed to finding them another sponsor. But depending on how close they are to finishing, they might not get another.

Now, I understand there are circumstances when sponsors need to cancel. Loved ones pass away. Jobs are lost. Health deteriorates. Family is in need. Finances are struggling. Life happens. And these conversations must always be seasoned with grace and understanding. However; my thoughts today are specifically for those not facing these situations. And in this particular conversation, it was a matter of perspective.

Moved by emotion, and understanding the significance of Finishing for Akama, I explained to the sponsor that the final four years of a sponsorship are the most critical to our mission becoming a reality. I let her know that Akama would specifically learn vocational skills, be mentored by Christian leaders and prepared to step into adulthood. These were the defining years that would change the trajectory of Akama’s life.

However, my response was not persuasive and Akama lost his sponsor that day. When I got off the phone, I was a bit discouraged. After reflecting for a few minutes, I truly believe my approach was misdirected.

You see, my approach was focused on explaining a program; and although that is important, it painfully misses the whole value of the sponsor. It fails to capture the value of two hearts staying connected.

Finish Sponsor

If Akama would have heard that phone call, I don’t believe he would have approached the situation by explaining why the final years of the program were so critical. I believe, he would have said the exact things we’ve heard from countless youth and young adults in our program:

“Words cannot grasp the joy I have already received from you”
“I still have all your letters
“My family believes you are a gift from God”
“I love you, no matter what”
“I want to complete this program and make you proud”
“Will you Finish with me?”

This approach captures the value of every sponsor. This is what you, as a sponsor, mean to the child you have chosen.

Finish Hug

The full power of God’s mission for Compassion will never be found in $43 a month. It will never be fully found in an exceptionally developed program at a local church, either.

The full power of Compassion is found when two souls, both in need, shape each other’s destiny and help each other grow. The power of Compassion is relationship and empowerment. The power of Compassion is finishing together.

Finish Line

As an advocate for children in poverty, I encourage you to Finish the journey with the child, teen or young adult you sponsor. Finish the good work you started. Finish the race. (2 Timothy 4:7).

27 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Sherrie August 26, 2016

    I would like to know the name of the program at the centers that counsels the students in furthering education.

    1. Sarah August 29, 2016

      Hi Sherrie! We use a curriculum called “My Plan For Tomorrow” that we have developed internally to help children in the program have the opportunity to pursue their dreams, making them a true reality. If you’d like to know more about it, I would highly encourage you to watch this video.

  2. Mickey May 13, 2016

    Continuing sponsorship until the child is finished is a big commitment for some, especially if the sponsorship was started when the child was very young. It could very well be that a reason for ending sponsorship was really just part of, or an excuse if situations had changed in the sponsors life. I can see that if a very tight relationship is formed, it would be hard for either to drop out and then with a new sponsor/child, to start another.
    We had sponsored Jona for several years and then started another sponsorship with Nailandie, both from Haiti. Suddenly Jona was gone. I first knew when the automatic payment went back to one. Contacting Compassion, I learned it was a time lag in letting us know, but it was devastating. We then did find out Jona had just dropped out of the program. No reason was given, so it’s still a mystery. But I can assume she maybe moved, outgrew it, parents didn’t need or want this particular help any longer etc.
    I would assume the same may be true for the child if a sponsor is suddenly gone with no warning.
    I didn’t think that an older child sponsorsip would be as fulfilling as starting with a younger child and going though to the end, but perhaps picking up where someone left off such as with Akama, would be very important for the child.

  3. Karen Sheets May 10, 2016

    This is the one thing about being a correspondent sponsor that makes me uneasy. If their $ sponsor stops the $ sponsorship and the correspondent is unable to take on another $ responsibility, the relationship is immediately severed. Then thinking and wondering if that correspondent child is sitting for months waiting for a new sponsor is heart breaking. I think Compassion should allow the correspondent to continue writing to that child UNTIL such time a new sponsor comes in and commits to writing to them. I hope that rule might change in the future. I don’t think explaining it to the child would be any more difficult and definitely less heart breaking that leaving them without a friend to communicate God’s love to them for months. I had to say goodbye to a couple of little boys whose $ sponsors stopped paying the support. And I took on a 2nd $ sponsorship when another little correspondent girl’s $ sponsor stopped the Support. I just know it would be extremely difficult to take on anymore financially. But it makes my heart sad to think the kids get stuck on the waiting list and have no one writing when there is someone already bonded to them who is willing to continue writing until the next $ sponsor steps in and commits to do so. I’m happy Akama found a new sponsor so quickly. It sounds like the first sponsor did not really have that bond with him………or they fell on hard times financially.

    1. Emily Vanhoutan May 10, 2016

      Karen, it’s so evident how deeply you care for each of your children and that your heart is to see them receive consistent love and encouragement! I understand how difficult it is to say goodbye to a child unexpectedly when their financial sponsor, for whatever reason, is unable to continue supporting them. Because the correspondence between a sponsor and a child does cost money to make it happen, a financial commitment is needed in order to make correspondence possible to and from the child. We believe letters are incredibly valuable and an important part of a child’s development in our program. For this reason, we work very hard to find another sponsor for the child as soon as possible. Although it’s not a possibility at this time to continue correspondence with a child when a sponsor discontinues, I have passed along your comments and we appreciate your feedback. Thank you for continuing to personally invest in the lives of your children and for allowing God use your life to emanate his love and compassion towards his precious kids.

  4. kathleen May 6, 2016

    Thank you for this post, one of our sponsored children has left the program at 14, and we just found out. We have been offered a 17 year old, and at first I was not sure, thinking a younger one needed our help more.My husband,a high school football coach, was not at all hesitant, he knows about teenage boys! Thanks for confirming the need in my mind and what I have come to know, God is the one who chooses for us, and we will now look forward to our older child.

  5. DDS March 6, 2016

    I am excited about sponsoring older students as they find their way through adolescence and transition into the world of adulthood. Reminds me of when I was going off to college and dealing with even the “little” things that felt both amazing and amazingly awkward, like respected adults inviting me to address them by first name now. The cultural nuances may be different, but the 16-22 age range is powerful. It’s also quite humbling to realize how many of the adolescents have others-centered responsibilities like buying/selling in the market and teaching children, while my biggest responsibilities in those years were more about taking care of “my” space and schooling.

    1. John Hackbarth March 7, 2016

      DDS, what you have stated hear is very true, “It’s humbling to realize how many of the adolescents have others-centered responsibilities like buying/selling in the market and teaching children”. When I visited El Salvador, there was a 12 year old boy responsible for feeding and caring for 6 cows. He would wake up very early and milk them so his mother could sell the milk while he went to school. I watched him train and teach his siblings as well. The work ethic you witness in poverty is quite humbling, indeed. Thanks for leaving a comment.

  6. Karla Hofmann February 28, 2016

    This is how i feel about Sponsoring Nataly in Columbia. I will continue to do so till she ages out. Even at times when letters get lost or it is awhile before I hear from her and it gets a little discouraging I would never consider stopping.For me personal I think what kind of message would that send to her after I told her I care about her and love her. It is amazing now much you can care for your sponsored child so far away who you have never met. I pray some day I will get to meet her. 🙂

  7. Diane Hollister February 25, 2016

    I have had 2 different experiences for my sponsored children leaving the program. One, from El Salvador graduated at age 18. The other from Thailand had stopped attending the project at age 18 because she was away at school. I received a letter from Compassion that said I would be getting a final letter from her project manager. I have always heard that children graduate from the program at age 18 but from reading the comments, it looks like the children leave the program at different ages depending on the country. Is that right?

    1. Emily Vanhoutan February 26, 2016

      Hi Diane! Yes, you’re right and it depends on the child’s specific situation as well. We recently raised the maximum age that children are able to be in our program. We want them to be prepared and equipped with the resources, knowledge, and tools, that they need to tackle the world and the futures ahead of them once they leave our program. Some of our countries have a maximum completion age of 22 years old. Children may or may not choose to stay in the program until they reach the completion age. Some children are ready to leave after high school graduation or leave for other reasons like being away at school like your child in which they could not longer continue attending all project activities at their center. Others decide to stay for extra vocational training :).

  8. David Robinson February 24, 2016

    Great blog, John. Really touched my heart. I have seen one child all the way through the program and have another approaching 18. So hoping she will continue on as she goes to university and pursues a career in tourism – she has actually moved away from home to another area and is living alone to make her dreams come true. So encouraged that she chose to also find a local project ‘to learn more about God and stay in contact with me’

    1. John Hackbarth February 26, 2016

      David, I’m so glad this blog touched your heart. And I am excited for the teenage girl you sponsor and their opportunity to advance their education. What a great story you are involved in as you walk alongside this wonderful young woman. Thank you for your commitment to helping shape the destiny of your sponsored student. Keep up the great work!

  9. Susan February 24, 2016

    I agree with the importance of finishing well with a child you sponsor. This past November, my first Compassion child graduated from the program. I had sponsored her since 2001. Unfortunately, the process did not go smoothly on this end, and although I believe she is doing well and Compassion has given her the skills she needs to move forward successfully, so far, I have not received a final letter from her. While I acknowledge it is my need (and not necessarily her need) to have some closure on our relationship, and in my final letters I expressed my thoughts about our relationship and the importance it has had for me, and my wishes for her moving forward, it would have been nice to have a more clear pathway to saying good-bye.

    1. Cynthia February 26, 2016


      I am sorry that you did not receive the closure you needed. I sponsor two young children. I hope that the future holds a better closure for me. I didn’t realize that when the sponsorship ends so does the relationship. There should be a way to remain in communication, if both the sponsor and the child wish it. I know that God has his hands on you and he sees your pain. I would hope that someone from Compassion International contacts you to at least help you to attain some sort of closure

    2. John Hackbarth February 26, 2016

      Susan, Thank you so much for your total commitment to sponsoring the young woman you chose through the entire program. I can assure you that this was a very meaningful time for her, and that you will never be forgotten in her mind. Perhaps, someday (on earth or in heaven) you will experience the warm embrace of this precious life you helped change forever. That is my hope for you. I am sorry your experience with the final letter did not go well in your opinion. I would encourage you to call us at 800-336-7676 and let us research a bit. We can talk you through that situation and help answer your questions more in depth. Thank you for being an advocate for children. Keep up the great work!

  10. Janet Luck February 23, 2016

    I am currently sponsoring two girls in Tanzania. One of the girls is 18 about to turn 19 and I believe she is hoping to go on to nursing school. I am in the beginning stages of planning to visit the girls in October through a Compassion tour to Tanzania. I am afraid my 18 year old might age out of Compassion before I get to visit her in October. Is there some way I can check to make sure she will stay with Compassion?

    1. John Hackbarth February 24, 2016

      Hi Janet, I am so excited for you to meet your two girls in Tanzania. This is perhaps the most powerful experience Compassion has to offer. I wanted to let you know that our children in Tanzania can stay in our program up to the age of 22 years old. So I would have to say there is a pretty good chance that you will meet both of the beautiful girls you sponsor. I know this trip will be a life changing experience, full of joy and celebration. Praise God that this can happen. “The full power of Compassion is found when two hearts, both in need, shape each other’s destiny and help each other grow.”

  11. Yvonne Reynolds February 23, 2016

    Thank you John for sharing this with us. I can only imagine how many similar phone calls you all receive each day. I pray that more people realize the importance of walking to the end with these young adults. The relationships we build with the children we sponsor is life changing.

    1. John Hackbarth February 24, 2016

      I am so happy you enjoyed this post, Yvonne. As you said, the journey to the end of the program with your sponsored child is so rewarding. I know that through my sponsorship (Sam and Samson, from Togo), I have experienced more joy and fulfillment in my life. Knowing that these little children not only ask for my prayers but willingly pray for me and reference Scripture in their letters to me, has changed my life. I know God is glorified in this. It is amazing to me that I feel most alive when I am helping others. I wish more people would understand this simple truth: “Becoming who God created you to be is far greater of a reward than simply getting what you ask for” Keep sharing the message 🙂

    2. Nancy L Miller February 24, 2016

      For older sponsors (I’m in my 60s), is there some paperwork we may use to transfer our sponsored children to our own children’s care and support upon our deaths? I’m sure I could come up with a letter for my own use, but if it were a subject communicated to all sponsors, maybe more would think of that as s potential loose end they’d like to get straight if the need should arise.

      1. John Hackbarth February 29, 2016

        Hi Nancy, what a wonderful question. Yes, you can make arrangements to continue to provide for your child no matter what happens in your future. The best way to gather more information and share your thoughts is to call our planned giving department at 855-315-5019. They will be able to answer your questions and listen to your ideas.

  12. Lisa February 23, 2016

    This really hurt my heart. (I got an actual pain in my chest reading it!) I am praying that Akama will get a new sponsor soon. I contacted Compassion about a month ago because my child will turn 18 soon and I wondered if she would graduate from the program then. (Most of the children I’ve sponsored did, but my Rwandan child stayed in until she was 22.) Unlike Akama’s sponsor, I was thrilled to learn my current child could stay in the program until age 22! Our relationship could last four more years; hooray! And then a couple of weeks ago I got a letter from her in which she told me that she was in college studying for a B.A. in Economics. I got teary reading that. A little girl who lived in a hut in an impoverished village in India became a young lady who is a college student! No way would that have happened without Compassion helping her as she grew up, and continuing to help her as a young adult working toward a college degree.

  13. Juli Jarvis February 23, 2016

    I would be glad to finish out Akama’s sponsorship with him–I have taken on other students that lost their sponsors for some reason. One of them is just now graduating from the program, so I could take Akama. It’s really too bad, though, that the sponsor didn’t get the meaning of staying the course. These are really critical years for this child.

    1. Susan Sayler February 23, 2016

      Hi Juli! That is such an incredibly sweet offer! Thank you! I completely agree that these are really important and formative years for these kids! Akama has been sponsored by someone else.

  14. Melissa Kunz February 23, 2016

    If Akama has not yet found another sponsor, please contact me. I have a heart for encouraging teenage boys in the Compassion program, especially older teenage boys. Thank you.

    1. Susan Sayler February 23, 2016

      Melissa, thank you so much for your willingness but it looks like Akama has been sponsored by someone else. Thank you so much for your heart to bless and encourage boys and young men in the Compassion program! This is such a need!

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