In 2007, Beth and I were perusing the Compassion website searching for our first sponsor child. I'll admit it. I agreed to begin sponsoring a child through Compassion International because I thought I was doing something great for a child in a developing country.
I didn't expect it to change me.
Beth spent a semester in college studying in France. She majored in French and was endorsed to teach K-8 French and Music. (Fun fact: a few years later, she actually was about to commit to teaching in a French immersion school when we found out she was expecting our oldest son.) Beth being a Francophone lover, she was drawn to that specific area of the world. And, we both share an interest in Africana (she's still insanely jealous that I have travelled to Africa three times now).
Adissa. She's the one. Adissa lives in Burkina Faso (a Francophone country). Burkina is in West Africa - check. Done.
While Beth chose who to sponsor, I committed myself to praying for our sponsor child.
As you may know, one of the fun parts of the sponsor child program is that you can write letters back and forth. Over the years, we enjoyed receiving letters from Adissa. "Watching" her grow up from a young girl to a young woman made our hearts overflow with joy. I loved reading about what she was learning and about her family. One Christmas she shared what she received from Pere Noel (Santa Claus). I remember helping Adissa receive her first Bible. I recall the letter she sent and the feeling I had when I read that she gave her life to Jesus.
Beth wrote to Adissa. I regret not writing more than a few times.
I remember the day we were informed that Adissa "aged out" of the program.
Weird feeling flowed through my body from my head to my toes. I had never met Adissa. I knew her through Air Mail and the occasional photograph. We never celebrated any holidays together. Beth loves French. I can hardly say, "parele ou français?". But, I felt super connected to her.
I wondered if she felt the same kind of grief and change I did in that moment.
Grief and change leads us to reflect on not just why we feel what we feel, but what we're learning from what led up to those feelings.
You see, I thought I was helping a "poor girl get out of poverty" - which I may or may not have since we didn't stay connected. I started sponsoring her because I could afford giving $30 once a month to feel good and hey - Compassion was a Christian organization, so bonus!
As I think about Adissa today, I can say that God used her - our sponsor child, to change me. As I got to know Adissa, she became less of "the poor Burkina girl we're helping" and she became a part of my life. In a way that is difficult to explain, Adissa became part of our family. She is like the child we've never met. An equal. She wasn't a number of a pamphet. She was deeply loved. She had a mom and brothers whom she loved. She had a community that she loved and who loved her. And she had a sponsor who she loved - and we loved her.
Jesus said it best, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). I like how Pastor/Author Tim Keller explains this verse in one of his sermons that I heard many years ago. He says something to the effect that while Jesus invites us to be poor in spirit, we want to be and are all too often, middle class in spirit. Middle class in spirit is the spirit of independence and self-sufficiency that led me to a self-righteous attitude that I as a "middle class Christian" can "help this poor Burkina girl". And, to a degree, in a material way, I can. Perhaps, I did.
But, what I learned is that God wanted to help her and me, together. I could give Adissa a few material things, but only God could give her what she really needed. And God could only give me what I needed. I needed to become poor in spirit.
Here's the point: God knew we both needed the same things... love. Grace. Community. Compassion. Acceptance. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Gentleness. Faithfulness. Self-Control. These are things $30 a month cannot buy here in America or in Burkina.
To sum it up - both Adissa and I needed more of Jesus and less of ourselves. And only by God's grace were we both able to receive what we needed. Truly, blessed are the poor in spirit... for we experience the kingdom of God, together.
Fast forward a decade.... Beth and I continue to sponsor children all over the world, including Pilar in Indonesia through Compassion. We love it.
Here's what I've learned: There are children right here in our own neighborhoods and communities who need the same love and care that I was praying for Adissa to experience over 5,600 miles away.
There are thousands of Adissa's walking the streets in my neighborhood. In my son's classroom. Hanging out in the mall. Strolling through the grocery store with their adults.
God is already at work in the hearts of the Adissa's everywhere. Rich and poor. Burkina's and Americans. So as much as we love continuing to sponsor children (and it's a very good thing!), I have learned the greatest things in this world can not be purchased or sponsored - but they're only given when one life changes another life through the bond of Jesus Christ.
Adissa - if you by chance ever read this... thank you for being the hands and feet of Jesus to teach me a part of what it means to be poor in spirit.
The OSLC ministry team is a growing collection of women and men who live as a family on mission, leading the OSLC family in connecting an unchanging God with a changing world by loving God, loving people, and living like Jesus.