Interview with Mark Peters

Interview with Mark Peters, Ministry Director of Child Sponsorship Program

By: Brandy Campbell   |   Posted: March 20, 2008

The Child Sponsorship Program (CDSP) is Compassion's flagship program. For more than 55 years, Compassion has paired children in poverty with loving, supportive sponsors who provide for their physical needs. But in those years, the Child Sponsorship Program has evolved into a holistic program — one that releases children from spiritual, economic, social and physical poverty. Mark Peters, who oversees the work of the Child Sponsorship Program, shares how Compassion has evolved — and where it is heading.

1. What is child sponsorship through Compassion?

The goal of child sponsorship is to release children from poverty in Jesus' name. We do this by linking one child with one sponsor for the purpose of enriching both lives. For children, this involves the opportunity to participate in a program designed to address their spiritual, physical, cognitive and socio-emotional development. For sponsors, this involves the opportunity to be a blessing to a child in need. Sponsors and children also have the opportunity to write letters to each other and learn more about one another.

2. How has God uniquely equipped you to work with Compassion's Child Sponsorship Program?

Ministry to children has always been a part of my life. Even as a child, I was involved in our church's bus ministry, inviting children to ride the bus to church every week. This passion for ministry to children continued when I spent time in California, overseeing a Nazarene sponsorship program, as well as throughout my 16 years of service with Compassion.

3. What first attracted you to Compassion?

As a former pastor, I strongly believe that God has established and commissioned the Church to minister to the poor and suffering in our world. Compassion partners with more than 4,500 local churches in 25 developing countries to help children become responsible and fulfilled Christian adults. This partnership with the Church is what drew me to Compassion.

4. Tell me more about this partnership with churches. How does this relationship benefit the church? How does it benefit Compassion?

The churches we partner with have a passion to change their communities for Christ. They understand that children are not only the Church of tomorrow but they are also the Church of today. Compassion plays an important role in providing local churches in developing countries with a significant share of the resources (financial and training) they need to realize the vision God has given them. Our church partners also play an important role in providing the information Compassion needs to acquire and engage sponsors in their ministry to sponsored children.

5. What new things is the Child Sponsorship Program doing that we weren't doing 55 years ago?

Compassion's program models have changed over the years. We have transitioned from "family helper" type projects to church school projects to child development centers that are focused on children. We are very intentional about the program being holistic. Our CEO Wess Stafford often says,  "An empty stomach has no ears." We work with our church partners to address the needs of the whole child — physical, social, spiritual and economic.

We are working to challenge and equip sponsors to be advocates not only for their sponsored children but for children in general.

We have also implemented new technologies, such as digital cameras and a system to capture child information in field offices, in order to increase efficiency and minimize administrative costs.

6. There are a lot organizations that use child sponsorship to fight poverty. What makes Compassion's Child Sponsorship Program unique?

Compassion is Christ centered, child focused, church based, and committed to integrity. All of our core programs are holistic. We also value the dignity of all people and endeavor to uphold high standards of stewardship and excellence. The Child Sponsorship Program focuses on the long-term spiritual, physical and socio-emotional development of children from age 3 up to 22. It is during those years that children develop their self-image, acquire knowledge and skills that can help them become financially self-sufficient, and develop good health habits. It is also during the childhood and adolescent years that the majority of Christians come to know Christ as their personal Savior and Lord.

7. So, why Compassion? Why should someone choose Compassion instead of another ministry that helps children?

Compassion sponsors often tell me that they chose to partner with Compassion after researching several different organizations. They want to work with an organization that shares their Christian values and convictions.

8. Compassion focuses on development, not relief. Why? What is the difference?

Providing relief to victims of natural and man-made disasters is necessary, and several organizations do that well. However, Compassion's area of expertise is long-term child development. We believe that children need sustained nurture and instruction to develop into the men and women God desires them to be. Additionally, our Complementary Inventions activities assist children with any special needs they may have along the way, including disaster relief.

9. Most sponsorship organizations place less emphasis on the one-to-one connection and more on the physical resources provided through monthly gifts. Why does Compassion focus on that relationship, specifically through letter-writing?

After 55 years, we have begun placing a greater emphasis on the role sponsors can play in encouraging their sponsored child through letters, gifts and visits. Sponsors have a unique opportunity to speak into the lives of the children they sponsor. They have the special opportunity to bring children to Jesus through their words of encouragement and by sharing their testimony of God's faithfulness in their own lives. They can speak words of life, love and hope into the lives of children.

I have seen firsthand how this relationship can be transformational for children and sponsors.

10. What's your favorite Child Sponsorship Program success story?

Lillian is a wonderful example of a young person whose life was dramatically changed as a result of being in Compassion's program. Lillian's mother died when she was 3 months old, and her father died just two years later. Then, her guardians abused her. But one day Lillian was spotted by Patrick, the director of a Compassion-assisted center near her uncle's house, and she was registered in the Child Sponsorship Program. This was a critical turning point in Lillian's young life. She went on to attend college through the Leadership Development Program, and now she is a full-time staff member in the Compassion Uganda office.

As I think about all the twists and turns in Lillian's life and her amazing story, it is impressed upon me that she is a product of her participation in Compassion's Child Sponsorship Program. Lillian tells me, "I am a living testimony. I would have never seen my value in life if it were not for Compassion."

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