When Jenny (far left) began sponsoring Vanessa (inset) through Compassion, the two girls were only 9 and 7 respectively.
"God, please help Erick, Kerline, Rene, Emmanuel, Clarissa, Mercedes, Laura, Alba, Diego ..."
For as long as 9-year-old Jenny Stafford was able to remember, her family had prayed for the different children they sponsored through Compassion International. Her dad worked for Compassion and she knew it made a big difference for children in other countries who were less fortunate than her.
Jenny loved coloring pictures for these sponsored children around the world. She prayed for them faithfully with her mom and dad. She felt directly involved in her parents' sponsorships. And when she turned nine, she decided it was time to take her involvement a step further she needed to contribute financially.
She thought about this decision at length. While her dad, Wess, was on a work trip to Africa, she got serious about making it happen. When he returned home late one night, tired and jetlagged, Jenny had her easel ready and pointer in hand. Her presentation, "I Want to Be a Compassion Sponsor," was accompanied by two colorful charts, "Why I'm Old Enough" and "How I'm Going to Pay for It."
"I was too tired to discuss it that night. I told her we'd pray about it, and I went to bed," Wess says. "But how were we going to say no to that?"
Jenny didn't have to wait long for an answer, and soon she was sending in her first hard-earned $24 for 7-year-old Vanessa, her very own sponsored child. Over the next few years, she raised her "Vanessa money" through odd jobs and chores, as well as little fundraisers such as selling mini lop-ear rabbits at the local pet store when her own rabbits had babies.
Jenny didn't waste any time writing to her new friend, and soon she received a letter in return. When the sponsorship began in 1993, Vanessa hadn't yet learned to write but her tutor at the Compassion student center helped her:
It is with much love that I am writing to you in the name of Vanessa. ... Dear, you cannot imagine Vanessa's beautiful smile when she heard that you were her new little friend through Compassion. She loved to receive the drawing of Mickey Mouse. ... Vanessa says that she is looking forward to receiving letters from you so she can know you better. ... She loves to sing, pray, and play with her dolls, Rochole and Cassia. Dear, Vanessa sends a lot of kisses and hugs.
Jenny was happy that Vanessa liked to sing, because it was one of her favorite things too. Over time, the girls learned that they had other common interests as well, including drama, volleyball and a love of dogs. They even shared some dislikes neither girl enjoyed math.
"How much people are alike"
Jenny's friendship with Vanessa during the last decade has taught her much about Brazil and poverty. But even more, she says it helped her "realize how much people are alike around the world. We have our likes and dislikes, our desires and struggles. We've gone through so many of the same things. Really the only thing that makes my world different from Vanessa's is the amount of material possessions we have in the States."
In different cultures, on different continents, and never having a spoken conversation, Vanessa and Jenny still had a profound impact on each other's lives. While many Compassion sponsor/child relationships are between adults and children, these two girls had the unique opportunity to grow up together.
View Part 2:The Chance to Meet ... Finally
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