Of the heartbreaks sponsors may face, one of the toughest is when children leave the program without having received Christ Jesus in their heart.
So far, we have “lost” only two sponsored children — one by early departure and one through graduation. I’ll call this second “child” 20-year-old Sara.
We began sponsoring her just before her 18th birthday. She completed the program a year early, catching us by surprise and leaving us with no chance to exchange final letters, as she had already moved.
But then I learned from Compassion that Sara had never responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ while in the program.
Worse yet, according to a 2004 article by the Barna Group, the chances of her ever coming to know Christ as Savior and Lord lessen with each passing year. The report states:
“Perhaps the most significant outcome of the research, in Barna’s eyes, is the prevalence of decisions made during childhood. Families, churches and parachurch ministries must recognize that the primary window of opportunity for effectively reaching people with the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection is during the pre-teen years.
It is during those years that people develop their frames of reference for the remainder of their life — especially theologically and morally.”
As a result of Barna’s findings, the 4/14 Window movement responded to the urgency of evangelizing and mobilizing children of ages 4 through 14:
“God is calling us to radically change the way we view children and to respond to their strategic importance and rightful place in His Kingdom. This often ignored and suffering people group can be transformed into a precious window of opportunity.
“In God’s hands, this enormous and largely ignored people group can become agents of transformational mission under the headship of Jesus Christ.”
What does this mean for Sara and others like her?
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For one thing, it means there is no way I can or will stop praying for her. God does not operate according to our statistics, and mature adults are still known to come to Christ for the first time.
In Sara’s last two letters, she told of spiritual lessons she had heard at the center: She wanted to know what I thought about sin and about the Holy Spirit. Wow! What opportunities those questions offered!
She almost certainly never received those letters, which intensifies my grief. But the fact that she asked points to the importance of our exchanging letters with our sponsored children, building those relationships so that they can feel safe asking important questions.
The fact is — and it is a fact — that even with the wonderful staff who love them, hug them at each visit to the child development center, serve and guide them, and even with the Bible teaching that they hear at the center or in Sunday school, they need us to be Jesus to them.
They need to know that we love them and pray for them; they need our encouragement to do well in school and at the center, and to remember that Jesus loves them very much.
The girls, I’ve discovered, also want to hear that they are beautiful (don’t we all?). They also need our encouragement to focus on their studies, the work at the center, their families, and most of all on Christ; to remain pure as they grow up; and not to give in to other pressures.
The boys need encouragement to do their best in school and at the center, to help their families, and to grow up to be Godly men, strong and loving with their families and others around them.
They need us. We have an awesome responsibility to “be there” for them.
Whatever the reasons any might give for rejecting the gospel during their Compassion years, we lose some. Knowing that happens doesn’t make it easier when it’s one of our own.
But because I know this, I will continue to pray that God will bring some of His people into Sara’s life, and that He will continue to work in her heart, drawing her ever toward Him.