Confessions of a Child Sponsorship Skeptic

My name is Ryan and I am a recovering child sponsorship skeptic.

When I came to Food for the Hungry just over 10 years ago, it wasn’t that I doubted that good work was being done through child sponsorship. I would never have come to work Food for the Hungry if it required me to leave my integrity at the front door. Rather, I doubted the efficiency of child sponsorship.

Child sponsorship gives access to an education.

Child sponsorship gives access to an education.

As “someone in the know,” I thought even greater impact would be had if I simply gave a monthly gift and did not worry about letter writing or the complexities of a sponsorship program. While God can use any gift to His glory, I realize that my thoughts about the value of sponsorship were way off.

In his recent book Creativity, Inc, Ed Catmull, head of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, quotes the old adage: “A cat will never jump on a hot stove twice.” While the adage is true, Ed points out something that it is equally true: “A cat will never jump on a cool stove either.”

The idea is that it’s easy for a cat to misinterpret the true forces of cause and effect. Having experienced the pain of jumping on a hot stove, a cat can incorrectly assume that jumping on any stove (whether on or off) will result in a painful experience.

Ed’s point is clear. We can’t assume that our experiences will give us a complete and accurate understanding of cause and effect. As “someone in the know,” I now realize that I also had misinterpreted some of the cause and effect of sponsorship.

Child Sponsorship Helps Communities End Poverty

In my early years at FH, I had the opportunity to take short-term team members to visit our fields. In one of those trips, the church I was traveling with had been in a long term church-to-community relationship with a community in the Dominican Republic. Thanks be to God, we had collectively run the course and Food for the Hungry was making plans to exit the community.

In my mind, there are few higher validations of our work than when we can exit a community because they have become owners of the ongoing work. That is what had happened in this community and we celebrated the successful work!

Child sponsorship helps to end poverty in vulnerable communities.

Child sponsorship helps communities end poverty while creating connections that validate God’s image.

Like the cat in the old adage, my instinct was to attribute that success to the way God had used the expertise of our staff and skillfully executed programs. While it’s true we did have wonderful staff and programs that had been well executed, it was not the complete picture of cause and effect.

As some of the sponsors on that trip began to meet with the children they had sponsored (in many cases, for years), I began to see an even more complete picture of what had happened. The sponsored children — and even their parents — were so appreciative of the sponsors; however, it was not the sponsor’s money they appreciated. The children and their families appreciated that someone cared for them by name. They appreciated that someone felt they were worth it. As they sat down to talk, it was simply a conversation between people who knew they cared about each other.

God uses Child Sponsorship to Validate His Image

I believe that, being created in God’s image, all people are image bearers of Christ. While our ability to recognize that image has been distorted by sin, the image is still there. When we recognize that image of God in our lives or the lives of others, it transforms us. As I witnessed these conversations between people who cared for one another, it served as a beautiful example of people recognizing the image of God in one another.

I have no doubt that God used the financial donations afforded through sponsorship to create programs and provide staff to work in the community; however, God had also used the program itself to validate the image of God in people’s lives. Through letter writing, notes of encouragement and simply knowing they were sponsored, individuals had recognized the image of God in their lives and others. Taken all together, God had used it to transform lives and a community.

These days, I spend much of my time at Food for the Hungry focusing on child sponsorship. I celebrate incredible stories like the one shared in this year’s Impact Report. However, I realize that despite all of our attempts to understand and articulate what is happening through child sponsorship, we are not fully capturing the picture. I continue to be amazed and thankful that we serve a God who is doing immeasurably more than what we ask or imagine (Eph 3:20).

See how one child describes the impact of child sponsorship below.