These are my boys, Asher and Avery. Asher is 8 years old and will be in third grade. Avery is 6 and will be in first grade.
They’re good boys but as you might be able to tell, they’re sort of goofballs. And while they’re so much the same, they’re also very different. Asher is more careful and plans his approach, whereas Avery is more of a “dive right in” kind of kid.
Just like everyone we know with kids at home, we had to homeschool them for the last part of the school year due to the coronavirus pandemic. And I’ve learned something from the experience that can provide some insight into a question I have heard from sponsors, especially sponsors of multiple children:
Why are some letters from my sponsored children personal and relational while others feel formulaic and impersonal?
Here are some example letters from some fellow sponsors so you can see what I mean.
Notice how the letter on the left feels prompted, how it follows a structure of greeting, update, question, update, blessing. While in the letter on the right, it’s pretty clear that a real, relatable conversation is being had (even if you can’t understand the words).
I think the letter on the right is what most sponsors hope for when they make the decision to sponsor a child. But there are many reasons why your child’s letters may not be like this, especially right away.
Between my wife and I having to be our kid’s teachers over the last part of the school year, I noticed there are some key factors that affect a child’s ability to communicate. Here are a few:
A child’s age is a big contributing factor. It’s also something we can easily take for granted. I became hyper aware of this while trying to lead my kids through their homeschool lessons. For example, Asher, my 8-year-old, could cruise through his homework without much help. I thought it’d be just as easy with Avery, but he needed more guidance. I guess I forgot that he’s just 6 and is still learning the basics.
And it’s the same with sponsored kids. Most people, when they begin to sponsor, choose to sponsor a younger child, between the ages of 4 to 9. There’s much that they are just learning. Writing a letter — a letter that carries forward thought, context and emotion — is a skill that takes practice and experience.
Oh, and good examples. Even from a very young age, sponsored children love receiving letters from their sponsors. It’s something we hear from our church partners and in-country Compassion staff all the time: Sponsor letters are so important and cherished by a child. Many children keep every letter and store them in special places. So, stay the course and keep sending good examples of your own letters that your sponsored child can learn from.
Relationships take time to develop and grow. Unless you go to visit your sponsored child, your child will likely never meet you in person, and so much nonverbal communication and warmth is lost in letters.
Give your relationship time to deepen and encourage it along by sharing how proud you are of your sponsored child. Share how you pray for them, how God has a purpose and a plan for their life, and how you are honored to be a stable source of encouragement in their life. A feeling of security and trust can go a long way toward helping your sponsored child to feel comfortable in opening up over time.
Wow! Can these be different! As I said at the beginning, my boys have so much in common. They are just shy of two years apart in age. They play together well and enjoy a lot of the same things. But in so many ways, as I experienced in trying to be their teacher for the last part of the school year, they are the exact opposite.
When Asher worked on his school writing assignments, his sentences tended to be direct and to the point without much embellishment or added flare. While Avery needed more help in the initial stages, his personality really comes out.
Your sponsored child has a core personality that has been gifted to them by God. Of course, it will be shaped, stretched and molded by the people around them, but who they are is who God made them to be. So it’s possible that your child’s personality is simply such that letters will tend to be more direct, businesslike and short. It doesn’t mean that your child doesn’t appreciate or care about you. (And if you ever visited them to have a face-to-face conversation with them, you’d likely see that.) But it does mean you might need to shift your expectations a bit for how their deep affection and appreciation for you is communicated.
Remember that this is a ministry – YOUR ministry – to a child who lives a vastly different kind of life than the kind you or I may have lived up to this point. This ministry to a child in poverty isn’t about what you or me get out of sponsoring. It’s all about reaching into a seemingly hopeless situation – life in extreme poverty – and showing a child a kind of compassion that instills a belief that even in desperation good things can happen.
Perhaps you might even want to write an encouraging letter to reinforce that message now …
Never forget what a blessing you are to your sponsored child. And if you could only see how cherished your letters are, even if the sentiment isn’t greatly expressed in letters, you’d be blown away by the impact you’re having. Your presence in your sponsored child’s life is powerful! Even if you may never fully know it on this side of heaven.
What’s been your experience with child letters so far? For my friends who have been sponsors for a while, how do you think age, relationships and personality impacts the letters you’ve received over time? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.