letter-writing-topics-faq

Letter Writing FAQ
Answers to your questions about letter writing.
What should I write about? Is there anything I shouldn't write about?

Compassion children regularly pray for their sponsors. You are investing in their lives, and they consider you family. Write as if you are.

Be encouraging! And please be sensitive to the child's economic situation. Avoid discussing the material aspects of your life.

  • Describe your family (e.g., where they live, what they look like, their interests, type of work they do, pets, etc.).
  • Include a small paper gift — photos, postcards, bookmarks, greeting cards, etc. Learn more about what items can and can't be sent.
  • Explain special holiday and family customs.
  • Talk about important events — weddings, graduation, trips, new jobs, holidays, etc.
  • Mark your calendar and send a card to celebrate a holiday or festival that is important to your child.
  • Share your dreams and the daily activities of your life.
  • Write about the terrain/climate/people where you live.
  • Reminisce about your childhood.
  • Discuss a person who influenced you.
  • Talk about an important life lesson you learned, something you learned in school, or something you're learning now.
  • Describe how you overcame a challenge or met a goal.
  • Share your favorite Bible stories and verses.
  • Elaborate on your church and the various ways you serve Christ.
  • Remind your child that you pray for him or her regularly. Mention specific items your child has mentioned in his or her letters.
  • Explain how your family includes your sponsored child in daily life (e.g., praying for him or her or displaying his or her photo in your home).
  • Share your prayer requests and praise reports.
  • Express what a privilege it is to be your child's sponsor.
  • Affirm that God loves him or her and has a great plan for his or her life.
  • Include a verse:
    -about God's provision for the future (Jeremiah 29:11)
    -about God's love for us (John 3:16), the value of each child (Psalm 139:13-14)
    -or loving one another (1 John 4:7)
    -about the power of prayer (Matthew 21:22)
    -about the importance of learning (Proverbs 4:13)
  • Encourage your child to write back and/or draw pictures for you.

Read about what your sponsored child wants to hear from you.

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What topics should I avoid?
  • Discussing the material aspects of your life (e.g., the size of your home or the kind of car you drive).
  • Sending photos that show your possessions.
  • Sharing your home address, e-mail address or telephone numbers.
  • Using colloquialisms and slang. 
  • Suggesting your child come for a visit or that you'll send a particular gift. 

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Can I ask if my child believes in Christ or is a Christian?

Yes. Compassion is a Christ-centered, church-based ministry. However, a child does not have to be Christian to benefit from Compassion's Child Sponsorship Program.

In our Child Sponsorship Program, each child has the opportunity to hear the gospel in an age-appropriate and culturally relevant way. But neither the children nor their families are obligated to become Christians.

Your letters and questions offer another opportunity for your child to hear the gospel and demonstrate faith in action.

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How do I convey personal issues like death and divorce to my sponsored child?

Honesty and openness invite a child to a deeper, more personal relationship with you. Euphemisms, such as "passed away" in reference to a death, don't always convey the message you intend. 

When discussing personal issues such as death and divorce, the best approach is to state the fact — "My mother died" or "Susan and I are getting divorced" — rather than explaining the details or using indirect expressions. 

Because your child's perspective is different from yours, based on his or her culture, age and personal experiences, the child might not ask additional questions.

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How do I ask personal or sensitive questions, like those related to health, without offending the child or his or her family?

Discussing personal issues requires great sensitivity, particularly when communicating through letters and across cultures, and when the questions deal with health matters, which can often carry strong cultural stigmas.

Whether or not you should ask a particular question depends on your relationship with the child and the nature of the question. If you are uncertain, please consider delaying the question until you have built a stronger relationship with the child or have a better understanding of the culture.

Invite your child into a deeply personal relationship by modeling trust and honesty. Share with your child first. Allow him or her to see your courage and to take the first step.

Remember you are a mentor. Show your child you care by being patient, open, inviting and, most important, involved.

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How do I tell my child that I cannot continue to sponsor him or her?

Speak to your child honestly and clearly. It is not necessary to go into detail about why you cannot continue the sponsorship. Instead, focus on the positive aspects of the relationship. For example, you may consider talking about:

  • what you enjoyed most about the relationship

  • how you grew stronger in your faith or as a person

  • what you learned from your child — about his or her country, culture or even about yourself

  • how proud you are

  • that you will continue praying for him or her

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Where can I get more information about my sponsored child and his or her child development center, community and country?

Log in to My Account and visit the My Sponsorships page to learn more about your child. At the bottom of this page you can view information about your child and his or her child development center, community and country, including:

  • the child's schooling, health and Christian activities

  • his or her family duties, hobbies and sports

  • a description of the child development center he or she attends

  • general, environment and economic information about the community

  • details about the child's country, such as

    • history

    • education

    • religion

    • culture

    • holidays and festivals

    • typical foods

    • and more

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How do I write to my child?

You can write online or by hand. You can use your own paper or download our stationery (PDF, 76 KB), which leaves room for translation by our language specialists.

If you choose to mail your letter, please remember to include your sponsor number and your sponsored child's name and number on each item you send.

Our mailing address is:

Compassion International
Colorado Springs, CO 80997

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Can I write directly to my child?

Our experience has shown that routing letters through the Compassion system is the most efficient way to handle correspondence.

  • It allows us to secure the appropriate translation service you and your child need for effective communication.

  • It allows us to obtain the quickest delivery method, which for children in remote or highly transient areas is hand-delivery.

  • It allows us to protect your privacy.

  • It allows us to protect the children.

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How often should I write? You may write to your sponsored child as often as you like. You will receive a minimum of three letters a year from your child, and we encourage you to write at least as frequently, even if it's just a brief note or card. In fact, short, simple letters help with translation and are preferred because your child receives your letters sooner.

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Can I send photographs to my child?

Certainly! We recommend you send a picture of yourself in the first letter and lots of pictures after that. You can send landscape photos, artistic pictures, pictures of your pets, the town you live in, your family and friends, etc.  

Please avoid sending pictures that may accentuate the economic differences between you and your child (e.g., homes, cars, etc.). Be aware of what is in the photo's background. 

If you happen to send a photo that our country staff considers inappropriate, we will return it to you.

Please remember to include your sponsor number and your sponsored child's name and number on each item you send.

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Do I have to send a photograph to my sponsored child? No. But since photographs are not as common in the developing world as they are in the United States, they are particularly valued. A photograph of you, the caring person from another part of the world, adds another dimension to your relationship; it personalizes your correspondence and helps deepen the connection the child makes.

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Can I send a package to my child?

Regrettably packages cannot be sent. Because of strict mailing and customs regulations in our various countries, letters that are not flat, are not made of paper, or are larger than 8-1/2" x 11" and 1/4" thick can delay an entire shipment of sponsor correspondence in customs for weeks.

View a list of items you may send your child.

Please remember to include your sponsor number and your sponsored child's name and number on any item you send.

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Do you have any suggestions for increasing the chance that my questions get answered?

To help the center staff and translators recognize that you expect an answer to the questions: 

  • Number your questions (1, 2, 3).

  • Highlight the questions.

  • Keep the questions brief and to the point.

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Why can't I include my address, e-mail address or phone number in my letter?

Your cooperation by not including this type of information allows us to protect your privacy.

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I'm writing as part of a group. Can group members take turns writing letters? Your group can write the letter together, or can take turns writing, but it's best to have the same person consistently sign each letter. It's far less confusing for a child to talk with one person than to a group of people.

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What should I expect from the letters I receive?

Please do not expect a pen-pal relationship. You will receive a minimum of three letters a year from your sponsored child. Your child is living and learning under circumstances much different from those in the United States. 

Sometimes letters are written as part of a class exercise and may seem a little impersonal or formal. And cultural differences may cause your child's letters to seem excessively pious or grateful.

Your sponsorship is an opportunity to mentor your child. As your relationship slowly develops, your consistent presence fosters trust and tells your child "I care about you and want to be a part of your life." Your relationship should improve over time, as your child matures and learns to write more personal letters.

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Are my letters really that important?

Yes. Your letters are life-changing. They matter as much as your financial generosity. 

A child who understands his or her true value to God has taken the first step in overcoming poverty. And the easiest way for you to help your child take that step is to be involved in his or her life by writing letters.

As a sponsor you are in a position to model Christ's love. Your letters establish you as a significant person in your child's life. You are acting as a mentor.

Sponsored children treasure every letter they receive, and many children read their letters repeatedly, eagerly sharing them with visitors. Even into adulthood Compassion graduates emphasize the importance and influence their sponsors' letters had in their lives. Regardless of cultural and age differences, everyone grows stronger with consistent messages of love and support.

Plus, letters are an important part of your child's development. Exchanging letters improves your child's basic literacy skills and his or her self-awareness and ability to put thoughts and feelings into words. 

And keep in mind that topics you consider uninteresting, or that you feel you've discussed before, are viewed differently by a child in the developing world.

Every day poverty tells children, "You don't matter." But that is a lie, and your letters demonstrate that. They say, "You do matter, Suzana." "I care about you, Renato." "Jesus loves you, Lerionga."

You can read more about the importance of letter writing from a sponsor's perspective on the Compassion blog.

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How often will I receive a letter?

You will receive a minimum of three letters a year from your sponsored child, in addition to a new photograph every two years.

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How long does it take for my child to receive my letter?

Correspondence between you and your child is not "overnight mail," but it is efficient — given the remote areas many of the children live in. Delivery may take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

Strict mailing and customs regulations in our various countries dictate the type of items letters may contain. A letter that contains an "unusual" item can delay an entire shipment of sponsor correspondence in customs for weeks. 

You can learn more about what takes place after you write your letter by taking a look at these Compassion blog posts:

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Why do my child's letters seem impersonal?

Communicating between cultures is difficult. And this is especially true with written communication. It becomes even more apparent when the written communication is between an adult and a child in different cultures. 

Many children in developing countries can't imagine that anyone would be interested in the details of their lives (e.g., how tall they are or how much they weigh). They may not think the sponsor really wants to know, or it may be considered vain to discuss personal things.

A child may be reluctant to open up because sharing is emotionally risky or the child may fear a cultural stigma or repercussions. However, children are encouraged to discuss their faith and to share what is happening in their lives and the lives of their families.

Developing trust in a relationship is difficult enough without having to cross cultural, geographic and age boundaries. Your consistent letters and your messages of love and support are invaluable and immeasurable. Your words of encouragement give inspiration and hope to a soul living with despair and rejection. As a mentor, your letters plant seeds that will bear fruit in your child's life and in the lives of your child's family and friends.

"Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop — a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."
                                           — Matthew 13:8, NIV

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Why doesn't my child answer my questions?

Many children in the developing world don't immediately grasp the concept of "conversations" by mail and must be trained to develop the skill. Your love, understanding and encouragement should help you see progress over time as the child's writing skills mature.

Often, when a child receives a letter from his sponsor, he takes it home to show his family and then saves it in a "special place." Several weeks later, the center staff schedule a time for children to write letters to their sponsors and the children may not have the last letters with them and may not be able to remember the questions that were asked.

Frequently, a center worker or teacher will sit down with a younger child and write on the child's behalf. Questions can sometimes be overlooked or forgotten because of this.

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Why did my child thank me for sending a photo when I didn't send one? Sometimes letters are written as part of a class exercise. The child may thank you for a photo when you didn't send one because a suggestion on the blackboard mentioned thanking for a photo (if one had been received).

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Why is my child's name spelled in different ways?

When children are registered, they are often too young to spell their own names. A parent, who is often illiterate, will spell the name for the child, as best as the parent can. In time, the spelling may be determined to be incorrect because a family member learned how to spell it correctly or the child's birth certificate has been found (if there is one). 

Additionally, in many cultures there is more than one correct way to spell a name; therefore, a child's case study may give different spellings each time it is processed.

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Why was my letter not delivered?

We reserve the right to decline to forward any letters and materials that we view as incompatible with our ministry approach, including but not limited to:

  • items that advocate another religious worldview

  • materials that condone lifestyle choices inconsistent with our ministry values and beliefs.

We also reserve the right to decline to forward materials that:

  • might be considered inappropriate in the child's culture

  • threaten the safety of the child in any way

  • depict or describe the use of alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, unlawful drugs or materials or activities that we regard as dangerous

  • depict persons dressed in immodest clothing

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What if I have other questions? If you have additional questions about writing to your child, please contact one of our Sponsor Relations Representatives at (800) 336-7676 (toll free in the continental United States).

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