What Does Sponsorship Mean? (I Didn’t Think I Would Cry)

We arrived half an hour earlier than scheduled and did not expect for our sponsored child to be there. “Edwin!” I heard a staff member howl, and from the tone of her voice I knew right away that our child was already there waiting. She came an hour early.

I looked to where the voice came from and there she was, smiling, walking towards me with a card in her hand. I walked to get the card and knelt before her. My wife followed closely behind.

Are you Shan?

She nodded and gave the cutest smile.

My wife approached her and gave her a big hug. We opened her card together and read her carefully written message.

Welcome! I love you Daddy Edwin and Mommy Daisy.

Later we found out, that every day for a week before we came, Shan has been asking her center director when we would arrive.

After she warmed up a bit and began to communicate freely with us, I asked her a few questions not many sponsors can ask.

Shan, is it OK that we are Filipinos?

She gave me three big nods.

Is it OK that we live in the same country and that I won’t be showing you pictures of a home in the snow or of a snowman?

Her dimples on both cheeks and missing front teeth are what make her smile so cute.

“Do you know where we live?” I asked her.

Very quickly she replied, “In Manila.”

man and woman with small child opening giftsDaisy and I were afraid that she would be disappointed to see that her sponsors were not foreigners. We gave her gifts — bags, stickers, dolls, school supplies, shoes and other cuddly stuff, all coming from Manila, Philippines. We were just one hour by plane away from her.

The delight we saw in her eyes and her cute smile that almost got permanently stuck to her lovely face for the entire time we were there proved to us that we were right in deciding to sponsor a child. We were right to decide to commit US $32 a month for Shan.

While US $32 may not be considered big for the average American, it is quite substantial here in the Philippines, even for someone like me whose income is above what the common Filipino worker gets. (In fact, millions of Filipinos earn just around US $32 a month!)

We’re happy to sponsor Shan. We’re happy to see that the way she reacted to us was exactly how other sponsored children react to their foreign sponsors.

As a staff member of Compassion in the Philippines I have witnessed dozens of sponsor visits, and I knew that my own sponsor visit with Shan was running “normally,” until I saw where she lives.

My wife and I grew up here in the Philippines. We have never lived in another country and have never enjoyed the comforts of living in a developed country.

We know poverty. We have lived with it. So we were not expecting anything out of the ordinary on our way to Shan’s house, which is why I told Daisy to just wait inside the taxi as I delivered the groceries to Shan’s hovel. I knew what was coming my way — congested homes along damp and smelly alleyways with half-naked, drunken men littering the dark corners and mothers washing clothes just beside stagnant sewer lines. I’ve seen them before.

I was carrying two bags of groceries as I negotiated my way through the crowded neighborhood. Then I stopped. I literally felt a thud on my heart and tears began to roll.

I imagined Shan walking and playing through these alleyways. I imagined her running scared away from drunken men. I imagined her playfully skipping over canals filled with green-brownish goo, not knowing how dangerous it is if she falls in.

The unpleasantness of the scenario became doubly unpleasant when I realized that this is Shan’s reality. It’s not the safest place for a child to grow up. Shan’s father was murdered here when Shan was only 2 years old. He was shot in the head in broad daylight.

I was crying when I got to Shan’s tiny home. Her grandmother greeted me, invited me in and offered food. But the taxi was waiting.

As I returned to my wife she was surprised that my eyes were swollen red.

I thought it wouldn’t hit me, but it did; and it hit me hard.

What happened back there? Why did I cry?

I think I finally understood what sponsorship means. It means loving a child as your own but not being able to physically protect her all the time. And so you resolve to be the best sponsor you can be.

Before the visit, sponsorship for me and my wife was just a nice thing to do, a very nice thing. But now we know we just got us a daughter whom we will love, pray for, support, communicate with, and watch over as she grows (although from a distance).

As the Field Communications Specialist for Compassion in the Philippines, I talk with sponsored children, visit their homes and write stories about them on a regular basis. And now that I am a sponsor of one, it won’t hurt that as I write about a sponsored child I will be thinking about Shan.

27 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Neve Kimble February 17, 2010

    Thank you, Edwin, for being an example. It is important to know that you are on staff with Compassion who sponsors a local child in the country you live in. I will look forward to you giving me more of a glimpse into the life of the Filipinos. I don’t know how different the TFC Channel depicts their actual living. I am a Filipina born in Manila but raised in America. My parents,though now retired, worked hard to provide for us. I am a privileged & blessed Christian even though I am not rich with $$$, I am rich in Jesus Christ, my Lord! My husband & I just sponsored a boy & a girl today from the Philippines. I am very excited as I hope to visit there some day again – having them will be motivation to visit soon, for sure. After being touched by the hardships I saw on Filipino news during the recent floods & Mayon Volcano evacuations, I wanted to help but didn’t want to just support a cause or an organization, I knew I wanted to specifically touch a life who eventually could make a difference in their own community. I give God the glory for what we are able to give away and what we are able to give up. God is good all the time and He is a faithful provider! God bless you…

  2. Marvin February 17, 2010

    Yes, the cost of living is different in different places. I live in Chicago and my taxes and expenses are about twice what most people pay unless you live in New York or LA. I have never lived in the Philippines I have only visited 3 times; a middle class person in Manila lives like someone in Chicago making $2000 a month. (I have a friend who worked for World vision Philippines before he immigrated to the USA.) A family living on 2000 in Chicago would be considered living below the poverty line. They would have to make sacrifices to sponsor and still support other ministries like the local church. Yes 10% would be $200 a month. But it would mean giving up some things….
    In 1992 when I went to Moody I dropped the child I sponsored because I could not afford it. At Founders week this year they showed some LDP kids that are attending Moody on a scholarship and they dropped meals at school each day to afford sponsoring a child. When I was a student I had 3 meals a day and no sponsored child. Most of us that sponsor do not make such a big sacrifice; as someone living in a developing country would or who live at the poverty line in the USA. God bless the people who are giving sacrificially…like give up a meal every day so they can help others…it is something we should all learn from.

  3. Heather February 15, 2010

    I think this is a wonderful story and it made me think about my sponsored children.

    Giving $32 may be a huge amount to many in the Philippines depending on what their other expenses are. If the average middle class income in the Philippines is $500, then $32 per month is about 6.4% of total income. As Christians, we are called to give a minimum of 10% of our income a month. (I’m not saying this person does not do this or making any assumptions) We can’t be looking at dollar amounts as equivalents, it all depends on the cost of living. Someone in the US who makes $2000 and gives away 10% ($200) yet has rent, food, clothing, and other expenses totaling $1800 per month may be considered more poor than someone in the Philippines because they can’t afford any extras. It’s all relative. Just because someone in the US makes $2000 a month versus someone in the Philippines making $500 a month does not mean the US person is richer. It all depends on what else you have to pay out to live.

  4. Arijana Lukic February 5, 2010

    Thank you Edwin for this story. I am very new in the sponsorship and I will be already meeting my sponsored child in Brazil in March. I think it will give me the opprotunity to really see what we fight for and the value of our help to those children. Your experience that you shared is great and it gives me the opportunity to be open minded about my visit and expectations.

    Many thanks

  5. Avery February 4, 2010

    Edwin your story moved me.

    I didn’t realize that the average worker in the Philippines only earned US $32.00 per month and middle class earns $500 per month.(I learned that from Dwight’s post)

    Edwin, you really are giving a lot, percentage wise it would be more than US or Cdn citizens are giving.

    In January of 2009 I finally decided to sponsor a girl through Compassion Canada. I was deciding what country I wanted to sponsor a child in. A dear friend of mine (who came to Canada from the Philippines) asked me to sponsor a child from the Philippines as she said it’s a poor country. That made my decision easy.

    I went online and chose a girl from the Philippines and was happy when I received her picture and info in the mail. I was teary eyed when I recently received a hand made card from her.

    I enjoy receiving letters from my sponsored child and even received one from her mother. I just developed some pictures to send to her and will be writing to her again soon.

    I can’t control where she lives but I’m glad that my contributions help to make her life better.

  6. Camy N February 4, 2010

    I am planning to visit the Philippines this year (I’m a filipino as well living in Canada) and I am hoping to arrange a meeting with my sponsor child during my stay.

    I heard that meeting your sponsor child changes your life and strengthens your relationship with them.

    Thank you for sharing your story and I believe this really shows that these children don’t care where you are from (foreign or fellow citizen) they really appreciate all the help/support/prayers that each person gives. I can’t wait to visit my own sponsor child this year.

  7. Edwin Estioko September 2, 2009

    Hello Dwight,

    I’m delighted to know that you’re coming to visit your sponsored children. It will be a blast, for sure. To respond to your questions better, I would need or (Compassion US would need) to ask the most appropriate people to give you tips and advice regarding your visit. They can help you best.

    Yes Lem is my cousin. He was here last year to do missionary work. Say Hi to him for me. Thanks

  8. Dwight August 27, 2009

    Can you answer a question I have about a visit?
    I am planning on taking a missions trip to Manila Philippines and thought I might visit my sponsored children. I have the option of visiting the project or having the children travel to the capital city. Traveling to the project will be a difficult trip but if the project staff and others at the church would like to meet a real life sponsor it might be worth the time. If not it would be less work for me to not travel in country but stay in the capital and have them visit. Or just skip the visit. Is it worth visiting the project? Do the project workers come out to see you? Would they like to see a real life sponsor or does it really matter? Do most projects get the chance to have sponsors visit or only ones in Manila and Cebu?
    Do you have a cousin in Chicago IL America named Lem? He goes to my church and said he had a cousin that worked for comparison named Edwin
    Sorry the list is so long. Thanks for your advice

  9. Chris Giovagnoni June 22, 2009

    @Dwight – Compassion South Korea told me that they don’t have any record of Filipinos sponsoring children, other than the staff members in the Philippines office.

  10. Mike Stephens June 7, 2009


    Thanks for sharing!!!!!!! I am writing this from the Hong Kong Airport and starting to sweat a little, so we must be getting closer to the Philippines! See you in a few hours 😉

  11. Dana June 7, 2009

    Thank you for sharing this with us, Edwin. I think ti’s easy to forget the reality that our children go home to. We know they are well cared for in the centres, which are clean and well-kept, but their reality can be much different. I often see pictures of homes of different sponsored children and think of my own children, wondering if their homes are like that, too.

    It makes Compassion’s work all that much more important.

  12. Chris Giovagnoni June 2, 2009

    @Dwight – Edwin told me that the Philippines country office doesn’t have a way to track the number of Filipinos who sponsor children because the sponsorships aren’t handled by the Philippines office.

    Rookie mistake on my part. I knew that.

    I’m reaching out to Compassion South Korea to see if they have the information.

  13. Chris Giovagnoni May 28, 2009

    How many people in the Philippines sponsor children?

    @Dwight I know this isn’t exactly what you asked for, but since I’m still trying to get the answer for you, I’m giving you this as a stalling technique. 🙂

    As of May 25, 2009, there are 26,594 U.S. sponsorships of children in the Philippines.

    And Edwin told me that

    There are around nine children already being sponsored by staff in the Philippines country office.

    Almost all staff members are sponsors now, but not on a one-to-one basis. Many have joined hands together, in groups of five to seven people, to sponsor a child.

  14. Chris Giovagnoni May 21, 2009

    Originally Posted By DwightHow many people in the Philippines sponsor children? Like South Korea at what point does compassion turn the ministry over to the local church? Do they have a goal for the Philippines?

    @Dwight – I’m still trying to get an answer for your first question. And for your second question, there are really two answers to it.
    I’m quoting here, from the person in International Program who answered the question for me. 🙂

    First, the child development program is really the local church’s from the outset – we simply partner with churches that already have a vision for ministry to children and provide them with resources and training. There is an expectation that the local church mobilize resources as well, including people, services and even funds.

    Then the second part of the answer involves a longer-term perspective.

    We would of course desire that every partner, indeed every nation, fully fund its child development ministry. However, for this to happen large scale economic development must occur.

    South Korea went from a worn-torn nation to an “Asian tiger” over the course of 50 years. But this generally requires a transformation of the nation’s political institutions and the maturity of its legal and economic systems, and this work is beyond the mission of Compassion.

    We do work in such emerging economies, such as Brazil, and our hope is that one day these nations will also become like South Korea and able to fund not just its own development but also that of other countries. When this happens, our partnership with local churches will no longer be needed, or it will take on a very different nature.

  15. Dwight May 16, 2009

    How many people in the Philippines sponsor children? Like South Korea at what point does compassion turn the ministry over to the local church? Do they have a goal for the Philippines?

  16. Monroe and Barb January 30, 2009

    Your story makes us wonder even more about our Philippine “daugher” Jesusa. We do know she lives with her parents and younger brother, and they appear to be a loving family, for which we are thankful. But we can’t help wondering wht their living conditions are like. We feel sad for anyone who has to live in such poverty.

  17. Dwight January 22, 2009

    Wow this is an amazing story! I have been to the Philippines a few times… the average middle class Filipino makes about $500 a month. Giving away $32 dollars is a great sacrifice.

  18. Mary January 2, 2009

    LOVE this post. Thank you for living our your message by sponsoring a child even when it is hard for you to “afford” to.

  19. Sumana July 24, 2008


    great story. Great that you are sponsoring Shan. You are blessing to these kids. God bless you.

  20. Susan Buan July 13, 2008

    Thanks, Edwin for putting into print what’s has always been in my heart. As Compassion staff for 21 years now, the heaviness in my heart and the tears in my eyes have always been there whenever I see children who seem helpless and hopeless. But thanks be to our sovereign Lord and to Compassion who have always brought hope and help to these children. That explains why I am still with you in this ministry of releasing children from all forms of poverty. Continue writing for us, dear brother.

  21. Marlene July 13, 2008


    Thanks for sharing the story about Shan. I know the children are living in such poor conditions, but the Compassion staff is making their lives just a little bit better. I think it is awesome that you sponsor a child in your country. Your story shows how much we take money for granted here in the US.

    My girl, Olphine lives in Haiti and I hope to one day visit her. I blogged about her here: http://queenoftheclick.com/?p=150

  22. Crystal July 12, 2008

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and the reality of what you saw. As I was reading, my thoughts flew to our sponsored daughter and my heart tightened as I realized you might be writing about her situation too. I am reminded that my gifts of prayer are as important as the dollars and the letters.

    I love that Compassion continually seeks to share the reality of the work being done among children around the world. Thank you!

  23. Mary July 11, 2008

    Thank you for sharing your story. My heart breaks with you.

  24. Ron Taylor July 11, 2008

    Edwin – Thank you for sharing your experience. I think you cried because you were expressing Christs love and compassion for Shan and her family. It is a life changing experience.

    No, $32 per month is not a lot from most of our perspectives but God multiplies it like the bread and fishes.

    Gods Blessing to you


  25. Beth Ingersoll July 11, 2008

    I hate to think of it, but I know my sponsored child probably lives in circumstances much like you’ve described. I wish I could see it. It would become so much more real to me, make me realize just how important our contributions really are…

  26. Vicki Small July 11, 2008

    “But now we know we just got us a daughter whom we will love, pray for, support, communicate with, and watch over as she grows (although from a distance).”

    You’ve described some of what I felt, when I met one of my girls 19 months ago. We were not meeting in her community, but in a park filled with Compassion sponsors, their sponsored children and various country and project staff members, so I did not get the full force of her realities, as you did.

    However, I saw a child who, after being free to play safely for a while, would go back to a home where I suspected she had been abused, and could well be abused repeatedly. She’s in a very “macho” culture, a young girl with older brothers and an on-again, off-again father, and she looked very sad.

    I don’t know, for sure, that she has been physically abused, and I’m not sure I can ask. Nor can I protect her. All I can do is love her, pray for her, encourage her, and pray for her some more.

    Thanks so much for sharing so effectively your experience and your love for Shan.

  27. Lindy July 11, 2008

    Your description makes me so much more aware of how I can pray for our sponsored children! I want to weep with you. Thanks for giving me a glimpse of what our children are experiencing. May Jesus bless you!

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