You may have noticed a link on my right hand column, for Compassion International, an organization that I am a “part” of. I sponsor a 6 year old little girl named Felista, who lives in Tanzania (at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro).
Last summer, while spending some time at a Christian Music Festival, I was in awe of how much money people spent on things that didn’t matter. CD’s, clothes, books, jewelry, sticker, you name it, they sold it.
Don’t get me wrong, the things sold in the vendor tents are not in and of themselves bad, in fact a lot of the booths were for ministries and Christian organizations. I also realize that the merchandise of the vendors are a ministry for many business owners. I understand the reasoning between the buying and the selling.
From my observations, I think most of the motivations of purchases fell under one of two categories.
1. People who are looking for an “evangelical tool” to share the gospel. Maybe they wear the T-Shirt with an awesome design that is intriguing to someone unfamiliar with biblical ideas, and it opens up a door for conversation. Or someone finds a sticker they want for their school binder, or back of their car, in hopes that someone might ask them about it.
(Category 1(a) is people who just buy Christian “junk” because they want to deck out their wardrobe, accessories, rooms, homes in Christian stuff – so that it says “Hey I am a CHRISTIAN”,” fearful that without these literal labels somoene might not recognize them as one…I think this is another issue that could be covered at another time.)
2. People who buy things because they need new shirts, hats, flip flops anyway, and might as well buy them from a fellow believer.
Anyhow, regardless of what category most buyers fall under, a LOT of money was being thrown around for “more” stuff. I don’t think the right description for me is apalled, but in shock of how much money people have to spend, and in awe of how they choose to spend it.
Spending two days at the festival, I had a good amount of time to circle the booths, several times. It was interesting to see which booths were popular and which booths were manned by someone usually reading a book, due to lack of interest in whatever they were displaying, most of these were booths that weren’t selling things but informing people about different ministries and organizations.
There were a handful of things that caught my eye, but after the first night, I was convicted of spending my money on things that don’t matter, when I could just as easily give twenty bucks to any number of charities present, that invest in what does matter, PEOPLE.
I felt a great sadness thinking of all the money spent for people to get to this event, tickets, lodging, food, transportation, and souvenirs.
Now let me say, that I think there were some redeeming things about the festival, Christians sharing time in fellowship, meeting other believers (whom they may share similar thoughts and ideas with or not), meaningful conversations, families and youth groups attending a wholesome event, sharing in learning and worship.
But back to my point. The Compassion booth was quiet. There were about five volunteers manning it when I first went by. My heart kept tugging me back to it though. I felt convicted of spending any of my own money on trivial things for myself before doing something by putting another person before me. (ok confession, I did get a henna that first night, so yes, I did put myself first and probably shouldn’t have based on what I am saying here).
The words of Matthew 25 were echoing through my head,
‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ – Matthew 25:45
Wow. My heart broke realizing this was one of those instances:
For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me – Matthew 25:42-43
I knew that I was called to give back what God has blessed me with, and was pulled back to the Compassion booth. There, some incredibly helpful people answered all my questions about Compassion, about how the program worked, what exactly the financial support paid for, what to expect, etc. Overnight I prayed about sponsoring a child and the next day, I made my way over to the table and signed up.
I sifted through the different children, not sure what I was looking for. Maybe a child with the same birthdate as me, or from a spanish-speaking country, or a country that one of my friends has visited as a short-term missionary. And then I found Felista, who lives in the outskirts of Arusha, Tanzania. A city I had never heard of until a coworker mentioned he was going to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro and that is where he’d be staying. Coincidentally, a missionary family at church also lives and serves there. (Hey now I had even more of a reason to share about my sponsorship with my coworkers!).
So I filled out the paperwork and took home the package of information on Felista, Tanzania, and what it means to be a Compassion Sponsor.
Sponsoring Felista has been a lot more interactive than I would have thought. I have been able to write her several letters, and she has responded to each one, usually very quickly. She draws me adorable pictures and tells me about her family and what she is learning at school and in Bible classes. At Christmas and for her Birthday I was able to share a little more financial support with her. Compassion has updated her profile with more information and sent me an updated picture, bookmarks, and wallet sized photos for me to place in different locations, reminding me to pray for her. And those are the tangible benefits I “get” from supporting her.
There is so much more, that I didn’t even realize. The main thing I have learned is just how much I have. It is much less of a comparison of what I have that she doesn’t, but considering what I can share with her in my letters. Compassion asks that you don’t brag about your wealth, size of your home, new cars, etc. (I think this is a pretty obvious instruction).
But when I write her letters I carefully consider what I do share.
What in my life is meaningful? What can I share that would encourage her and her family? What types of things have I invested my life in that matter, that translate from human to human, despite geographical and economical differences?
Felista’s picture sits on my dresser, facing my bed. Usually I think about her as I am crawling into bed, or getting up in the morning. What would she be doing at this hour? Have I written her lately? What would I say this time? This is her gift, and God’s blessing to me.
I think about her family’s humility, that a stranger 9736 miles away pays to support their daughter’s education and healthcare. I wonder, would I be humble enough myself to accept that kind of support?
I am joyful of the way God has designed the Church to take care of one another. He provides in different ways for different people, and then asks us to share that with each other. It is so much more awesome this way, than money just growing like leaves on trees.
I then question, if the tables were reversed, would I be as joyful? If I was the one in need of the financial support would I be as joyful?
I measure my happiness based on my circumstances rather than my calling. These children are happy despite their circumstances. They are happy because they know God and because they are known by God. How else can we become truly fulfilled?
I am inspired by them. That they worship God our creator DESPITE their circumstances, and unlike me worshiping BECAUSE of them.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Now you know why I sponsor. My heart bubbles with joy from this sponsorship, and I have no motivation to ask you do consider it yourself, except to encourage you to be obedient to our God, and that you might share in that same joy.
If you already have a child you sponsor, consider sending them a quick note about the things you are learning, and reminding them that you love them.