The Gritty Reality of Being a Child Sponsor

Kent Shaffer —  March 7, 2010

I sponsor a child in Africa. His name is Owen.

For 5 days, I am touring Kenya to see, learn, and blog about the incredible impact Compassion International’s 287 projects are making in Kenya. Each day teaches me more about the importance of child sponsorship. And each day teaches me more about how child sponsorship dramatically changes a kid’s life.

Today I had the honor to take Owen to a Kenyan amusement park. I’ve seen the local poverty. I’ve heard the stories. But this was the first time I saw with clarity the gritty reality of what my child sponsorship means to Owen.

Owen is a smart kid. He knows 3 languages. He loves school. And he works hard. But the gritty reality is this alone will statistically never get him out of extreme poverty. Without the support of Compassion International, children like Owen spend their lives in a cycle of poverty constantly struggling against hunger and disease.

We get that story. Many of us have seen the photos, watched the videos, and listened to the stories. But many of us are still detached and unable to truly grasp the gritty reality of what extreme poverty is. We get the concept of the bad, but it is not until it is benchmarked against the good (that we’re so often desensitized to) that I was able to understand how important of a role my family will play in Owen’s life.

Compassion International

I’ve never seen chicken bones picked so clean. Owen’s smile was heart gripping as he cleaned a few inches thick of food off his plate. His eyes were wide and voice filled with “ahh’s” as we looked at photos of my wife (Evie) and son (Eli), who were unable to make the trip.

“He has so many toys!” Owen exclaimed about a photo of Eli with a bag of erasers and preschool basketball goal. His comment wasn’t necessarily surprising, but I was amazed by the stark contrast between his perspective and those of U.S. kids.

What did surprise me was Owen’s excessive joy when he climbed into an inflatable playground. I don’t think he had ever experienced such a thing. It overwhelmed me, and I began to cry. I held back my tears not wanting him to rob him of an ounce of joy by thinking that something was wrong. But after years of children’s ministry, I have never seen a child so thrilled with an inflatable playground (watch video).

Compassion International

Compassion International

The smiles continued as we rode rides, gave presents, watched crocodiles, and spent the afternoon together.

Compassion International

Compassion International

Compassion International

Compassion International

Compassion International

But this story also has bitter to go with the sweet. I had to leave Owen. And Owen had to leave the park. I cannot take him back to the park (at least anytime soon). I want to return someday with my family to visit Owen, and I wanted to promise him I’ll be back soon. But it is not a promise that I can guarantee soon or ever. The best I can do is write him often. It is hard to say goodbye to Owen. It is hard to say goodbye to each Kenyan child I leave behind, like the Masai boys who grabbed my arms and legs and sat on me saying that I couldn’t go… that I have to stay.

If you let yourself become detached from child sponsorship, it is easy to look at it as an inconvenient $38 per month. Some even consider it expendable when budgets get tight. But if you ever have the honor, the privilege, the life changing opportunity to meet your sponsored child, you will no longer think about the $38. You will think about how can you give more to that child.

In Kenya, there are 3,000 children waiting to be sponsored. If this story touches you in the least possible way, please try to make the time and money to write and sponsor a child monthly through Compassion International.

Compassion International

Kent Shaffer

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I live in an RV with my wife and 2 kids and work with to help Christians collaborate and build a global Church library of free, open content.

10 responses to The Gritty Reality of Being a Child Sponsor

  1. Kent, thanks for sharing..can’t imagine the heartfelt joy you express & the gut wrenching heartache you experience..thankful the Lord is using you to influence many..keep serving & leading strong!! Lookin forward to meeting my child Dji in Haiti, still praying he is ok…blessings brother!!

  2. WOW! what a smart little boy. thank you for sharing your story. it truly touches my heart.

  3. Thanks for helping us share your day with you. What a great day you both had!!

  4. I’ve always loved missions and supported missionaries and I’ve taken lots of short-term missions trips — but it wasn’t until I adopted my first Compassion Child that the burden became something more than money & prayer… it became LOVE too. maybe that’s a sad statement about me – I don’t know – but since adopting our first child, all the other areas of missions previously mentioned have intensified (including our giving) and we seen many friends and family join us in adopting children.

    I plan to visit one or more of my sponsored kids within the next year or two — until then, I know that my prayers visit them daily, my money visits them monthly and my love for them is constant.

    cool testimony Kent. so encouraged…

  5. Thank you. Thank you for taking your life to Kenya, and sharing it Owen and with us. I am going to share your blog on my facebook page. Many of my friends support Compassion Int’l as my husband has for years with 2 children. You remind us of why it is so important. Again, thank you for sharing Owen with us.

  6. Kent, thanks so much for sharing so much of your Kenyan experience with the rest of us in this way! It has really touched my heart! I know it will be life-changing for you and for Owen and I trust God will use what you’ve shared to spur others to become sponsors of a child somewhere! Owen is just precious and I’m sure it WILL be hard to leave him! Covering you both in prayer as your time together must come to an end…

  7. Kent, I appreciate your heart for sponsoring Owen, visiting him, and sharing your story with us. Helps us get a better snapshot of what it’s really like. It’s good to know that Compassion International has made it so easy for us to be involved. Praying for you.

  8. The Gritty is good. I think God is in the Gritty. Like C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia when Lucy asked Mr Beaver about Aslan. “Is he safe?” Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.”

    God is Good. Compassion for children is part of His heart. Of course it isn’t safe but it is good. And so is He!

    Terrell Welch

  9. Great post Kent! What an awesome chance-of-a-lifetime to meet Owen for the first time, and for you both to enjoy the experience so much.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

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    [...] the journey Kent met several inspiring young people including 8 year old Owen, the child he and his wife sponsor. He introduced his readers to other beautiful people like Eluid, [...]