Why Aren’t My Sponsored Child’s Letters as Engaging as I Hoped?

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.

Two boys make silly faces.

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.

Two letters, side by side.

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:

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1. Age

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.

2. Relationships

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.

3. Personality

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 …

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A girl reads a letter.

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.

16 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Avatar
    PB June 15, 2020

    I sponsor 6 kids through Compassion. Some of the letters I receive are “formulaic,” and some are not. It’s important to remember that we are in the child’s life to bless them, meet their needs, and help provide for them, not the other way around. I encourage everyone to just KEEP WRITING, even if the results are not what you hoped for! there may be cultural issues, educational issues, all kinds of reasons that the kids are not writing in the way you may hope. Maybe your sponsored child is a little spitfire who struggles to sit still through the tedium of writing a letter and would rather be off playing.

    I have been on two sponsor trips (El Salvador and Ghana) and it is SO IMPORTANT to write the kids you sponsor! They treasure the letters. In Ghana I heard from an older teen, a graduate of the Compassion program, who had been sponsored by several people through his time in the program. There was one sponsor who never wrote and the teen considered dropping out because he felt like he didn’t matter. Thankfully, he did not and eventually had a sponsor who did write to him.

    In Ghana my child has never written to me, letters are written by a staff member on her behalf. When I visited her, I discovered she has a vision problem and struggles in school.

    In El Salvador, a group of us visited the home of a sponsored Compassion child. When we arrived, the first thing she did was run inside the house to bring out a letter from her sponsor who lives in Scotland. I took a picture of her and the pride and happiness on her face as we passed the letter around was priceless.

    So please just write! You may be one of only a few people who the child ever receives kind words and encouragement from.

    1. Avatar
      Shannon June 15, 2020

      PB,

      Wow! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your heart for letters with us! It truly means so much that not only do you sponsor, but you also choose to advocate for these sweet children! We are honored to have your voice standing up for these children and are so thankful to know that you are here to help us share the value they bring these kiddos! You are so right. Letters of love and encouragement truly go way further than any of us can imagine! 💙

  2. Avatar
    Amy June 11, 2020

    One of my kids (who just turned 20!) writes me pretty much the exact same thing every single time… But it’s OK – I trust God that my sponsorship is blessing him and his family. I didn’t see it mentioned in the article (although it may be in one of the many comments) that in some cultures letter-writing is just not a typical thing that’s done. (And what with email and texting, we in the US are writing fewer letters as well!)

  3. Avatar
    Kate June 10, 2020

    I was fortunate enough to meet my sponsored son during the Rwanda trip this past summer. His letters have always been updates about the weather, crops, and school. After meeting him, I think he is just generally more reserved and also a 16 year old boy. I view his updates about crops as important information about how he and his family are doing as farmers. I have told him that I pray for a balance of sun and rain and healthy crops, because that’s how they earn a living. With that said, after my trip, he has been more open with his love for me and gratitude for my letters and gifts. The more I have expressed in my letters to him, the more he has been able to express. In contrast, I also sponsor a 19 year old girl in Rwanda and her first letters have been full of expressions of how much she and her family love me. One tip/thing that I have found helpful is to provide answers for any questions I ask my kids, e.g. I recently asked them where they would like to travel and then told them where I would like to go. It’s a way for us to learn more about them, while they also learn about us. For the young kids who fill out templates, I provide answers to the questions they’ve been asked, e.g. fave colour, what my house is made of, fave food, what holidays are like in North America. It helps them feel connected, e.g. they also know that I like the colour blue or eating pizza or going to the beach.

  4. Avatar
    Joanne Looney June 10, 2020

    I am a new sponsor. On Mother’s Day I asked God for a child to sponsor and received a six year old little girl named Helen. She lives in Ecuador. Being new to sponsorship, I know that I will not receive a response anytime soon to the two letters that I have written. With the pandemic the offices are closed. Hopefully as people become healthy again the offices will open. In reading everyone’s comments I am gaining insight as to how to communicate with her and what I might expect in a return letter. . They are helpful, thank you.

  5. Avatar
    Ryn June 10, 2020

    I have three children currently, ages 5 (started when she was 3), 6 and 10. While I tend to get great letters from my youngest’s mother, I’ve definitely noticed some formulaic response when they’re translating “for the kids.” I think sometimes center teachers and parents who assist want to say what they think we want to hear or perhaps even what is recommended or suggested to them to say. Always very grateful (way more than they need to be ;)) and usually the “child” asks me to pray that they will be obedient to their parents and love God. Some of this I think is cultural, either the Compassion center culture or the country/region culture. Some of the kids honestly are just really young… I make my own children (twins – seven) write thank you notes and you can very much see the same issues. “Thank you for X. I also got A, B, C. The end.” Thinking back, I did the same thing as a kid, even into my tweens. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate hearing from adults; it was just that the actual process of writing was kind of a pain and I never really knew what to say. As a parent, I’ve found that sitting and talking my child through what they might have to say helps a lot, but that’s very likely not happening in most cases, nor is it necessarily a reasonable expectation for us to have of them. I didn’t really take to writing until my teen years when I became more aware of my own thought processes and feelings. Writing is very much not natural for a lot of our kiddos and not necessarily reinforced the way it is in more developed nations, who are regularly required to communicate through writing.

    I also recall distinctly having my Girls in Action class (6th grade) each choose a missionary and write letters of encouragement to them. A couple of them got tons of things in return and had a really engaging relationship. Some of the others, not so much. A couple never heard anything, and they were discouraged and frustrated. We had to talk a lot about what ministry means and how we do these things because it pleases the heart of God and encourages our family in Christ. Not because of what we get in return. They were able to address that issue from a good perspective by the end of the year.

    As a side note, I received a letter from one of the Compassion partner pastors in Haiti who mentioned that the children get frustrated and angry when they are required to write letters to sponsors who never respond. Which is fair… they have to write, we technically don’t. But it’s worth noting that even when they aren’t great letter writers, they’re sending those words out into the great unknown, watching others around them receive answers and hoping, hoping that the next envelope, the next answer, will be for them. From us.

  6. Avatar
    Linda Douglas June 9, 2020

    This is a reply to Bev June 8, 2020. Perhaps the Teen you mentioned who still has letters written for her has a
    “learning disability” which is not yet overcome. I had that problem only in the area of writing though I enjoyed reading a great deal. It took me the first two decades of my life to learn to write well.

  7. Avatar
    Laurie June 8, 2020

    I have 8 children currently, and have had a few more in the past. I absolutely love writing and receiving letters! I think the quality also has a lot to do with the person helping them write the letters, and sometimes the translation. I have some younger children whose family members or center workers help them write amazingly detailed letters, and others who only write the basics. I have gotten really good at translating a couple of the languages, and many times I can tell that something has been translated wrong. I will type it into a translation website to verify, and see what they really meant. Regardless of the quality, it is all about the children, and making them feel loved and special is what matters most!

    1. Mackenzie
      Mackenzie June 9, 2020

      Hi Laurie! Thank you so much for ministering to your children with your letters! I am so glad to hear they have been a blessing to you! I am really sorry that there have been several translation errors, but I appreciate your willingness to investigate the translation and find the true meanings from context. If you ever receive a letter you cannot understand or find what they really meant, please let us know by sending us an email at socialmedia@compassion.com.💙 We are happy to look into the letters and see if we can fix the translation problem.

  8. Avatar
    Carolyn Myers June 8, 2020

    I sponsor a 6 yr old in Bolivia for 2 years and a 16 yr old boy from Kenya for 9 years. I learned pretty quickly that if I asked some very specific questions, they are always answered. I absolutely love every letter I get because to me that letter means they know I love them and they know God loves them regardless of what they would say in a letter.

  9. Avatar
    Peggy June 8, 2020

    I agree with your perspective about letters that our sponsored children write. However, I think there is at least one other concept to conside—that of the child’s culture. Some cultures even within the same country are more reserved than others, or more gregarious. Some cultures are more formal than others. The child may be trying to meet his cultural norms as he/she learns to write letters.

  10. Avatar
    Caryl Tieszen June 8, 2020

    For the most part, the children I have written to for a longer period of time [several years in some cases] write better letters, and mostly the older children do better, but not always. I try to ask questions and mark them with asterisks to draw attention to them, and I have found this to be pretty successful in getting answers to them. Even with all of this, I know that the letters I get from most of my kids aren’t like some of you get from your kiddos. You are right, though, that this is a ministry and it’s about the kids and not about me.

  11. Avatar
    Leanne Long June 8, 2020

    I have sponsored 3 children to date and 2 of those are still under my sponsorship. Miguel was 4 when I sponsored him 7 years ago; Nia was 12 when I sponsored her 10 years ago (she has since graduated and left the program); and Elias was 14 when I sponsored him 4 years ago (he says he has graduated but I have not been notified by Compassion that he is or is not still in the program – guessing he still is as I am still having $$ taken from my bank account for him).

    Elias and Nia were engaging letter writers from the beginning since they were much older (14 and 12). Miguel was pre-school aged so his initial letters were just checked boxes with a drawing sometimes.

    Letter writing can also be a huge challenge for sponsors. I initially found it really difficult to write to children in poverty without hinting of my prosperity (even though I am considered lower middle class!). I had to write, rewrite and rewrite again to take out things or add things that would be of interest but not making it seem that I was “bragging” about my wealth compared to theirs. I still sometimes find this a challenge.

  12. Avatar
    Phyllis Smith June 8, 2020

    Is it just me or would others have found it fun to see the contrast in translation for the letter on the right? Disappointing. However, of course a lovely and thoughtful post nevertheless.

    I was fortunate to be mentored in the Facebook group early on that it is for we the sponsors to uplift our kids through letter writing. Even what might feel like excessive writing probably really isn’t, that’s how much the children need encouragement. The encouragement needed is immeasurably large. This mentoring was a godsend because I otherwise would have “held back” with uncertainty about overstepping or cultural misunderstanding, etc…my mentor helped me understand a kid is a kid anywhere in the world and needs heaps of loving attention.

    So I have learned to use my imagination and just take off with each letter, being sure to ask numbered questions and balance info about myself and life with inquiries to the children and mention off pride and love for them. My mentor also assured me that sending worksheets, puzzles, games on paper as far as electronic attachments to the letter are welcomed ecstatically.

    I’m still new to this and haven’t received a letter yet complicated by the pandemic, but when I finally get one, even if it feels – let’s say – not very “deep,” I will treasure it so exquisitely and look forward to the waves of letters to follow from kids who, I trust in God, devour my letters.

  13. Avatar
    Janita Offereins June 8, 2020

    Never forget how important your letters are, because they really are!
    I noticed this myself when I went to Tanzania with Compassion Netherlands. There I would meet two of my correspondence children. I wrote with both of them for 5 years. One was 20 and always wrote very long letters to me. The other was then 12. I always received the same kind of letters from her, with little new information. I was quite excited to meet them and didn’t know how the 12 year old would react, maybe very shy.
    But when the time came, the 12 year old jumped around my neck and kept repeating that I was her friend. She had taken all the letters I had written to her (or at least recently) to show how important they were to her!
    Her letters are still a bit the same, but I now know how important my letters are to her. And that’s what I do it for!

  14. Avatar
    Bev June 8, 2020

    I could relate well to this article. The child I have sponsored the longest (>10 years) was too young to write at first and his mother wrote letters in English and we had wonderful exchanges about him. But then he got old enough to write and in 10 years I get pretty much the same formula letter and exactly the same drawing he did 10 years ago — a house ,a tree, and a mountain. He never answers questions.

    Another older child I sponsored (now graduated) was a wonderful artist and as soon as I started commenting on the drawings he sent, he stopped send them to me. He wrote the obligatory letter a year and never shared a single thing. He didn’t even mention when he graduated, nor mentioned birthday gifts I sent each year.

    I have a handful of kids (of the 17 I sponsor or write to) who actually write letters, but most of them are formulas and yes, it is disappointing. One is in her teens and still has someone from Compassion write for her, though I don’t know why.

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