Give a Gift, Not Guilt

Last week, I was able to attend the Willow Creek Association Leadership Summit at a satellite location here in Colorado Springs. It was so encouraging to hear many of the speakers talk about the need to lead people toward answering the Biblical mandate to speak up for and care for those in need.

Something Wendy Kopp said at the Summit struck me about how we approach leading others toward caring for those in need.

Wendy Kopp is the founder and CEO of Teach for America, a non-profit that asks college graduates to commit to two years of teaching in under-resourced schools.

She was asked how she approaches asking these graduates — some of who could otherwise accept six-figure jobs — to sacrifice so much, putting aside wealth and “success” to teach in schools many would avoid. She said (and this is paraphrased, as my little hand could only scribble so fast as she answered):

You’re giving people an opportunity to be part of something larger, and of significance — people want that … are we afraid to ask people to sacrifice and set a high bar? Your own personal conviction about the work makes it easy to ask others to sacrifice because you’re giving them a gift that will change their lives.

When we tell others about the opportunities to care for those in need, we might feel like we’re putting a burden on them, but far from burdening them, we’re giving them a gift. We’re giving them the opportunity to enter into another aspect of our relationship with Jesus as we follow him.

Several times when talking with someone who has come across the book I wrote about responding to poverty, they say they’re scared to read it. So many are scared of this issue of poverty, and understandably so — it’s big and hairy and complicated. And God might ask us to do scary things.

But I think there’s a third reason people are afraid of poverty — they’re worried a big, fat load of guilt is going to be placed on their shoulders. We’ve been bombarded by so much guilt when it comes to poverty, seeing so many images that evoke guilt and being told “shame on you for drinking that Starbucks instead of caring for a baby.”

Are we guilty for not responding to God’s mandate to care for those in need? Yes, but God hasn’t appointed us as judges of others. He has appointed us as messengers of his grace. And I think when we do approach others not with guilt but with grace, they grasp that helping those in need isn’t about checking off a requirement on our good-Christian to-do list so that we can not feel so guilty. It’s about our relationship with Christ — about following him, obeying him, and knowing him all the more as we become like him in our service to others.

“He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 22:16, NIV, emphasis added)

24 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Jan V. February 5, 2011

    My husband pastors a small gospel-preaching church resulting in a small income. We currently sponsor four beautiful children not because we can afford to, but because we can’t afford not to. Over the years, the Lord has allowed us to “adopt” nine precious children. Although some have graduated and left the program, we look forward to spending eternity with them. Thank you, Compassion, and to God be the glory!

  2. Steven N January 14, 2011


    Remember that Jesus is the “Bread” that people need. By sponsoring these children that is MOST important. We “will always have the poor amongst us”, not only the poor in riches, but the poor in Spirit, the poor body, the poor in love ……


  3. Amy December 8, 2010

    I once had someone tell me what a great thing I was doing and that I was a hero. At the time, i only sponsored one child. I said that I have the easy part… I write the letters, I pray and I send the check. My child is the actual hero. He has to live the life.

  4. Monica Koors November 12, 2010

    Eight years ago my sister told me about the children of Compassion and God put it on my heart to sponsor a child. I thought I would be blessing her but I can’t tell you how much of a blessing her precious heart has been to me. While my children were wanting a third pair of black shoes, she was so gracious and thankful for the new brass bucket her family had received to carry the water to their hut without it leaking out. It was so heartwarming to hear how Jesus had made all the difference in her life. I am so thankful that God led me to Compassion, I have been so very blessed! monica

  5. Ellie Campisano September 15, 2008

    Hi Amber,
    Thanks for sharing your reflections about Wendy Kopp’s presentation at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. It was a fantastic conference overall, and we’re glad you found Wendy’s thoughts on the importance of service so valuable. We are so excited about continuing to grow our movement, and want leaders to join us. If you, or someone you know, is interested in learning more or joining our movement, please visit

    Ellie Campisano
    Recruitment Coordinator, Faith Community Relations Team

  6. Kees Boer August 17, 2008

    Hi, Heather,

    Don’t give up on him. I remember about 6 years ago, trying to convince a pastor that it wasn’t our responsibility to help the poor. Also, I spoke with a person about 1/2 year ago and talked with him about sponsoring a child with Compassion. His response was that it wasn’t our responsibility, but it was the responsibility of the government of that particular country. Today, he sponsors someone for a month and I think he has already written 4 or 5 letters!


  7. Shelly Quigg August 17, 2008


    I’m sorry about your experience with the Christian man, but I am sorry to say that I understand his attitude. There was a time when I felt similar things. I am ashamed to admit it, but for years I heard of AIDS/HIV in Africa and how millions were going to die from it. I thought that maybe their deaths were for the best, because there was no hope for their lives anyway. I would think that with fewer people, there would be more food and resources available. When I sponsored my first child, I chose a child from Latin America. They looked more “like me” and didn’t have that whole AIDS mess to deal with. This was, of course, BEFORE God placed His love in my heart for the children there. Now I realize the worth of each child/person in Africa. After learning the personal stories of Ugandan children from the bloggers in February, I started sponsoring a child there as well. God loves each of them and so should I. Their lives are no less meaningful than mine. Our excess resources should be used to help those in poverty. My help may not save lives, although I hope it does.
    As Amber wrote in her book Hope Lives, “…my service can’t be contingent upon ‘success’. It can’t be contingent upon me getting anything in return for my service. Of course I will receive a benefit -in serving others, my soul will probably be changed far more than any I serve- but my payoff can never be the motivation. Jesus gave everything but it didn’t always ‘pay off’. Many turn their backs on his grace. But he still gives and loves. I want to love as Christ loved, unconditionally. I want to show Christ’s mercy, not make a spiritual investment or deal.”

    I pray that God will soften this man’s heart as he has mine.


  8. Heather August 17, 2008

    I love this post! It hits the nail on the head so to speak. I feel for you Shelly because Ive run into the same thing.This well to do older Christian retired man always talks to me about Africa and the poverty there.Ive told him of Compassion and even mentioned WorldVision 4 good measure. His response was shocking.He said tht the people there were all going to die anyway so why help..I also mentioned Ethos Bottled water and how they built wells in Ethiopia with some of their profits and he said Why should we help Ethiopia? Theyll never be able to do anything for us.I about cried! Such a cold heart!Ive met athiests more caring.

  9. Kees Boer August 16, 2008

    Hi, Ken,

    I feel the same way. I would feel it would be a bigger sacrifice to not sponsor the children than to sponsonr them. It’s actually not a sacrifice at all. Just like a father doesn’t think how burdensome it is to sacrifice for his children.


  10. Ken M. August 16, 2008

    A few people have said to me that I’m special for sponsoring kids and God will bless me. Even though I will tell them thank you but I start thinking that this is something that all of us are called to do. Why should I expect an extra blessing or feel special as though I’m above everyone when we are called to take care of the children, orphans and widows. My blessings come in receiving a letter from my children and when their parents write to me. Sometimes I think the kids and their parents bless me more than I bless them.

  11. Vicki Small August 15, 2008

    Shelly, one thing I have not said to you, in our e-mail exchanges, is that, no matter how shy you are, if you speak from your heart and your own experience of sponsoring children, you can be very effective.

  12. Amy Brooke August 15, 2008

    Thanks for the perspective.

    I heard that Gary Haugen spoke as well. I read his book Good News about Injustice many years ago. When I decided to sponsor a child, I chose one in Rwanda because of it. Now I am reading his latest book, Just Courage. It’s very good.

    You are right. It is about asking them to be part of something bigger than themselves. That is a gift!

  13. Compassion dave August 15, 2008

    When God wants to correct something in the heart of a man, He convicts the heart; ignore that conviction it turns into guilt. I raise that issue because when someone feels guilty as a result of a Compassion (or similar) presentation, it is NOT the presenters fault. When the ‘guilty’ point their finger and announce, “You are just laying a guilt trip on me,” it is nothing more than an attempt to get the focus off of them and onto the messenger.

    It does not matter how careful the presenter is, someone is always going to come away feeling guilty. I was once at a Christian event with Compassion and stood among the crowd holding a Compassion child packet above my head. A girl approached and asked me what I was doing. When I told her I was merely trying to find sponsors for children living in poverty she told me I had to stop it because I was making her feel bad and added, “What you are doing is unacceptable!”

    Can you imagine?

    Obviously this girl had guilt-issues, but the fact that my behavior released the demon she worked so hard to keep covered is an issue she must ultimately deal with. You could rightly say that God (through my action) was trying to do her a favor–one can only hope that people who find themselves in situations such as these deal with them. Ignore the guilt and it turns to cancer that attacks and devours the soul. No one is doing anyone a favor by walking on egg shells so that people don’t feel badly.

    Judging other people…

    I agree with you–there is no place for judging others when sharing this or any ministry, but that does not mean we cannot ever judge others. There are in fact three (3) basic types of judgement: judging to damnation, judging for identification, and judging for restoration. It is the latter that is often broached during a Compassion presentation. Oh not that we judged the hearer, but in their perception that they believe they have been judged, the restoration process can begin.

  14. Shelly Quigg August 15, 2008


    I have emailed Compassion to find an Advocate in my area, but I never heard back. Another advocate then contacted someone on my behalf, but he is out of the country right now. So I was hoping that someone on here would be from my area 🙂

  15. Kees Boer August 15, 2008

    Hi, Shelly,

    You can probably contact Compassion about where to find an advocate in your area. I think if you were to apply, you normally go through an interview type of thing on the phone. I’m sure you can talk with them at that time about it too.

    I must say that the vast majority of children I have found sponsors for have been one on one. If you have a heart for the children and Compassion, which you certainly seem to have, it is not that difficult to find sponsors.


  16. Shelly Quigg August 15, 2008


    Thanks for the compliment. I have thought about it and am interested in talking to an advocate in the Central Illinois area. I live in Springfield, IL. If you know someone in my area, please let me know. I am trying to plan a Compassion event for November and I am talking to my church about it. I am just very anxious and shy speaking to a group of people. I am better one-on-one and in writing.

    Shelly ([email protected])

  17. Kees Boer August 15, 2008

    I agree with this. Many times, I am moved to tears and thankfulness to God, that I can sponsor children. It’s a privilege. Sometimes people will compliment me. Though I say thank you, I feel kind of funny about it, because I couldn’t not do this. (Does that make sense with the double negative?) What I’m saying is that if a father were to be complimented that he loves his children, he is just compelled to do it. It would take me more energy and effort not to sponsor children. That would be an accomplishment for me. (a pretty bad one, but still)

    Shelly, I love how you want to speak up for the children. Have you ever considered being an advocate?



  18. Amber Van Schooneveld August 15, 2008

    Cheryl, that was beautiful! Thanks for sharing.

    Shelly, Thanks for sharing your frustrations. One other thing that was shared at Willow Creek that was an encouraging reminder is that we’re not responsible to change people or make them do anything. God has just asked us to be his messengers, and the changing of people is up to his Spirit! That can be a real relief when we feel like what we’re doing is in vain!

  19. Shelly Quigg August 15, 2008

    Thanks for this post, I needed it today. I am feeling pretty depressed about conversations I’ve had with coworkers about my sponsored children and other children in poverty. I am actually starting to get angry because they just seem so uncaring and heartless towards the need of children in poverty. I know that they are good people, but they only seem to care about their lives and those of their immediate friends/families. I asked that instead of birthday cards, gifts, or a food day for my birthday next month, I would rather they donate to Compassion’s Global Food Crisis Fund or another organization I support. One said no, and the other say yes but I could tell it was only out of guilt. I always share my letters and photos of “my girls” with them, and it saddens/angers/hurts me that they don’t really care. I wish that I had approached them differenly about it. Maybe I am laying a “guilt trip” on them instead of showing them love. I know I can’t “make” people care, but it still upsets me to see people so blessed financially and not respond with generosity and love towards the poor.
    Thanks for letting me vent.

    1. Clarice Seipp April 13, 2011

      I so Agree with you Shelly

  20. Vicki Small August 15, 2008

    What a great perspective this is, that we’re offering people “a gift that will change their lives.” We’re not asking them to do something so they can suffer–although we all may sometimes suffer in the course of serving Jesus. But we know what blessings come from sponsoring a child. We’ve experienced the mystery of giving to those in need, and finding ourselves recipients.

    Thanks, Amber!

  21. Cheryl J August 15, 2008

    This is so true. I don’t know how many times I have thanked God for bringing Compassion into my life. How grievous it would have been to me to be 80 years old and realize I missed this opportunity. Having the kids I sponsor be part of my life has blessed me, I am sure, at least as much as it has them. What a joyous thing it will be to get to spend eternity with them. I must say I never knew helping the poor could be so much fun. That is the message I want to get across to people. In this kind of giving, God pours out His love and showers US with His blessings. You want to share this with people because you don’t want them to miss out! And in helping the poor, you are drawn even deeper into the heart and purposes of God.

  22. Jill Foley August 15, 2008

    Thank you for this! I always enjoy your insights.

  23. Sarah August 15, 2008

    Well said!

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