What If This Was the Fate of Your Letters?

After taking a trip to Guatemala with Compassion, as a sponsor but more importantly as a ministry advocate, I felt a responsibility to protect all other sponsors from what I experienced.

You amazing sponsors out there who put your heart and soul into writing letters. I didn’t want anyone to hear this story and have it stop them from writing their sponsored child again. Let me explain …

I had been to Haiti to do medical missionary work and I thought I had seen poverty. I was confident after that experience I would not be affected by anything I saw in Guatemala. God didn’t agree and set me straight.

The home we visited was no home but two pitch-dark wood sheds. It was pouring that day and the rain seemed to just add to the feeling of despair that surrounded us. What hit me more than the physical structures the people were living in was the emotional wreckage I saw and heard as we asked them about their lives.

housing in the slums

The mother was unable to speak after being raped by guerrilla soldiers years ago, two of her children had gone to gangs never to return again (or they would themselves be killed for leaving), and three small children looked up at us with such hollow eyes and empty hearts.

I always make a point to ask Compassion children I meet anywhere if they receive letters from their sponsors. I think this question is important for many reasons. To hear their feedback helps me to know what I need to do to get the word out to others that they must write more. And, it is good to hear out of their precious mouths why it’s so special.

So, I asked my question to this family as well. The response hit me like a knife going through my heart … literally.

I guess that’s just one of the reasons I burst into tears and felt so completely foolish. What right did I have to cry when they were the ones living like this?

The oldest little guy still at home, was — I’m guessing — maybe 8 or 9 years old. He responded.

“Yes, I have sponsors.”

He showed me only one letter. I asked him,

“Only one letter?”

He replied,

“This one is newer. I did have more but not now.”

Now? Why not now I’m wondering?

“They did send me letters, but my dad was an alcoholic. He died. After that, my mom had no money, no food. So we had to burn my letters to stay warm.”

I felt this rush of pain traveling from my brain down every nerve ending to my heart. It was so profound. At first, I just couldn’t stop the emotions as I hugged him and he was crying. We cried together.

But then, my own selfish fears kicked into gear silently like a train hitting me at full speed. What did he just REALLY say? Wait … what about my letters to all my children. What if?…

I have thought and thought about what I saw and heard, not sure if I should share. Thinking it could be so irresponsible of me as an advocate to tell sponsors this, knowing how wrapped up into letters everyone gets, including me.

woman sitting in front of standing man and boy holding letters

A boy in Guatemala shows off a letter from his sponsor.

After awhile, we begin to crave those beautiful cream envelopes. Think of them so often, almost wanting to tackle the mail people before they even fill our mailboxes! We are sincere in our love, truly giving to our children that which brings us closer together when distance separates us.

The question I kept asking myself was, how can I relay this in a way that others can see the much, much more important message in this, rather than focusing on how the letters were burned and what if that happened to mine or yours.

Just as in our own families we treasure photos and letters of our time together, ultimately it is the memories of those events that no one can ever take away from us. When we receive a letter from a loved one, sponsored child, friend, we don’t forget … ever.

We hold the memories inside us like a time capsule and nothing can change that, not even a fire to stay warm.

What the sponsor family of that sweet little boy doesn’t know won’t hurt them. You know why? Because not only have they been supporting their little boy each month, but they also provide something they never could have guessed. They sent survival for a family, literally.

God protects and God provides, always. We really have no idea how much we are doing each and every time we send small gifts in our envelopes, letters and photos.

I never, ever, ever want what I have shared to deter anyone from writing more. Instead, I pray that it will in fact do just the opposite. When you send a letter, realize that you are doing so much more than simply writing because you are sharing your life with your child.

We cannot control what God plans and shouldn’t even try to. What we can do though is understand and allow God to use what we give of ourselves to help our children in ways we could never imagine.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Julie Berger sponsors seven children and is a correspondent sponsor to three additional children. She lives with her family in Pennsylvania where she works as a medical missions coordinator.

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31 Comments |Add a comment

  1. JustMe April 18, 2019

    That’s so sad! 🙁 My heart would break if this was the fate of my letters to my girl…how sad….

  2. Roan March 31, 2014

    I see this as God working. He provided your letters two-fold: One, so that the child knows he or she is loved and cherished. Two, so that the family would have something to burn to keep warm. What more precious gift is there?

  3. Rachel September 21, 2013

    This is actually very encouraging, to see how God used those letters not only to provide emotional support for the child while he had them, but also to provide physical support when they most needed it. Amazing.

  4. Jose Mendez September 22, 2012

    That breaks my heart, I`m just starting volunteer work with COMPASSION in Guatemala. We`re starting with 200 sponsee-to be children. God will have the last word!
    Jose from Guatemala


  5. 4xc July 1, 2012

    i’m sure the moderators won’t approve this, but i’m going to say it anyway. it seems to me that when some people sponsor children, it’s more for their own selfish reasons… like receiving letters from children make them feel like some kind of super hero. what if none of the sponsored children would ever write back? i’d bet people would stop their donations because they wouldn’t get that “i’m a hero” high anymore.
    what a clever marketing ploy.

  6. Arleen Borrillo March 31, 2012


  7. John Hudler March 10, 2012

    Wow! I never thought letter writing was so important. I have sponsored 2 children for some time, and sad to say haven’t written often. I will change that behavior now! THANKS for the wake up call.

    1. Becky March 11, 2012

      Hi John! It always makes other sponsors happy to know that more sponsors are writing letters! If you ever need ideas, please click the about letter writing tab above, join ourcompassion.org and their virtual letter writing party group that supplies a monthly topic, or look through Michelle, a CI advocate’s blog that includes lots of posts about letter writing topics and goodies (flat paper items) that can be sent to our kids.


  8. Nicole February 12, 2012

    I always thought of my letters as a mental life line to my child and her family. Never once did I see as a physically life saving thing. I will write her more. What a great way to realize they still need us. Thanks for the encouragement!

  9. Kees Boer February 10, 2012

    I’m very sorry that the letters had to be burnt. I will say though that it’s a huge exception. I’ve done over 160 childvisits and I’ve never run across this. Most of the time the children are very happy to show you the letters and they save them, even past the time that they are in the project. I have had it where I was teaching at a project and one of my children was in the class, but she couldn’t pay attention, because she was required to write a letter to me. Then a few months later I got it.

  10. Beth February 8, 2012

    I was saddened that the letters had to be burned, but thankful too that he had those. So many children just don’t get letters.

    I am hoping that none of my kids that I write to have to burn them to survive. But, if they did, I don’t feel so bad about how often I must repeat myself.

    I used to be a bad letter writer – once every 6 months or so. Then, a sponsor tour changed my vision for what sponsorship is about. It’s not the money – it is about God’s work in a small child’s life – it is about praying into their life and pouring out words of encouragement, hope, and love for each child. I do that now – at least 1x a month.

    I think that it is sweet that he was able to keep at least the most recent letter and photos. God bless him and many prayers for his family situation.

  11. Chicky February 8, 2012

    If my letter provides encouragement, and then a means of survival, it has done double duty. Maybe we could include a couple of blank sheets of paper in every letter, so they have extras.
    If my Lauzi had to burn the letters to survive, or do something else useful with them, that’s fine.
    Just make sure you tell your child you love them in every letter, so if they do have to use them in such a way, they always have a letter expressing your love for them!

  12. Cheryl February 8, 2012

    I also wish that the children could let us know what they need. But I understand Compassion not wanting to use the letters that way. I just try to send family gifts as I can and then when I hear what they bought with the gift, I can tell if they are in desperate need or seem to be doing OK. One of my boys in Kenya wrote of my family gift, “Thank you for the gift. I never had a mattress or a blanket before and our roof used to leak when it rained.”

  13. Christin @ Joyful Mothering February 8, 2012

    If it helps – my first thought upon reading that he burned his letters to stay warm was: “Thank God He had them to use in order to keep warm!” I think it’s a gift, truly. While the tangible side of the letters are great for our sponsored children, it’s the heart behind them that matters most.
    Thank you for sharing.

  14. Marvin February 8, 2012

    This is a very interesting post…personally I would not expect the children I sponsor to save all my letters. 12 letters a year times 10…years…. Maybe I’m a bad person but I don’t save all the letters I receive. At first I did but after a few years it was like a box full of letters…I saved a few special ones and scanned the pictures into my computer…. I have visited most of the children I sponsored and never thought to ask if they saved my letters. The fact that the letters might not be saved has no impact on my desire to write letters…my words are not really that important and maybe my letters from year to year sound the same in some ways, talking about the holiday’s or my birthday, my church, but it’s just nice to write and let them know your thinking about them. Some people spend a lot of time thinking about writing letters, sending stickers and cards and it might be intimidating to some people who just don’t have the time or the creativity…to do this…. I do my best to make sure that when the mail arrives each month they have a letter…and if it gets burned…that’s ok, they will get a new letter next month….

  15. Kathy February 8, 2012

    Julie, I think this begs a deeper question that goes beyond letters…are all the kids in the Compassion program really getting their needs met at home? What can be done so that these kids aren’t going hungry or cold or lacking basic blankets or shoes or whatever…. I don’t have the answer, but maybe more sponsors need to be encouraged to send family gifts if they can. Chris in Uganda was a sponsored child and he told me once that he would write about things they needed and the staff at his project would reject the letter and make him write it over and leave out asking for what they needed….Maybe there is a larger issue here than letters? (Everybody definitely write letters, often!)

  16. Lisa Miles February 7, 2012

    What jumped out at me is how this situation must have felt for that child’s mother. Imagine what it would be like to tell your children, right now, that you need to burn their toys or other special belongings to heat the home. At our house, that would go over like a lead balloon. I’m not sure it would be something my daughter would ever forget. Or that I’d ever forget.

    This post doesn’t so much make me want to write more letters –what it does is remind me to send a child gift and/or family gift!

  17. gabby February 7, 2012

    This is such an inspirational story you decided to share with us Julie. I love thinking about where my letter is and how it’s affecting my sponsored child, Mariette. Recently I haven’t been writing to my child, but this story reminded me just how much our sponsored children love the letters that we send.

  18. Linda Shinn February 7, 2012

    Wow. I, too, would have thought that you had seen the extent of poverty in Haiti, Julie. This was a heart-breaking post, knowing what those letters mean to our kids, but that was all they had to burn…. Bless them!! Thank you for sharing. I think, as several previous posts indicate, it will inspire people to write all the more….

  19. Jolanthe February 7, 2012

    This just makes me want to write even more ~ and brought tears to my eyes today. Thank you so much for sharing!!


  20. Lizzie February 7, 2012

    I do agree that this is heartbreaking, but it does encourage me to write more as well. May God bless that little boy with many more letters with lots of love.

  21. Michaelene February 7, 2012

    Thank you for sharing that moving story. That does motivate me to write more and to let go of the ideas I have of what I think my children should do with the letters I send.

  22. Linda Bolt February 7, 2012

    This brings tears to my eyes!

  23. denise smith February 7, 2012

    That definitely is encouraging me to write MORE letters to my 2 sponsored children! I’m curious though, what is a correspondent sponsor?

    1. Becky February 7, 2012

      A correspondence sponsor is a sponsor who writes letters to a child, but does not financially sponsor the child. Some sponsors, large corporations or individuals, choose to make financial contributions to sponsoring children and request that a different person write to their child. If you are interested in learning more, you can join ourcompassion.org (a network of sponsors) and read some journals (aka short blogs) about it and connect with other correspondence sponsors or you could contact CI and speak to one of their representatives about it.

    2. Judy February 7, 2012

      It is where one person sponsors a child financially, and another person (the correspondent sponsor) is the person that writes to the child. Call the Compassion office and ask to be put on the waiting list if you’re interested.

    3. Mandy February 7, 2012

      A correspondent sponsor is one where they don’t support the child financially but they are responsible for writing to them. For example if a corporation supports 50 children they could get correspondent sponsors to build relationships with the kids while the corporation pays for the sponsorship.

  24. Donna Cone February 7, 2012

    Thanks for sharing this very important message. As a new sponsor I needed to hear this. May God bless you. May God poor out many blessing for the family you mentioned.

  25. Denise Lusby February 7, 2012

    Please don’t take this the wrong way. The letters I receive are precious. The letters I send are, as you said, carefully prayerfully and painstakingly crafted and sent (not often enough) with the assumption from reading about some sponsored children and their relationship with those letters – that they will be cherished. But, if I set aside my pride and expectations for a minute, and the sadness of knowing a a precious picture might be destroyed. The idea that the simple act of sending a letter could provide both the emotional and spiritual support a child needs. WHILE contributing to their physical needs – makes me want to write more. Makes me want to provide kindling if kindling is what my sponsored child and their family need. It motivates me to write and write so that as much as possible can be retained in their memory while they don’t have to feel bad about burning the couple of precious letters they have. If they get them frequently – they’ll know there will always be more to burn if they needed to!

    1. Judy February 7, 2012

      I agree with you, Denise. It makes me want to write more!

      “It motivates me to write and write so that as much as possible can be retained in their memory while they don’t have to feel bad about burning the couple of precious letters they have. If they get them frequently – they’ll know there will always be more to burn if they needed to!”

  26. Duane February 7, 2012

    Thanks for sharing Julie. Erick is in Guatemala. And Barbara is in Haiti. The Lord’s hand is on all of them..

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