"That’s where Compassion does its best work — deep inside the heart, inside the potential of individual children."
When Dr. Bruce Wydick, an economics professor at the University of San Francisco, approached Compassion several years ago asking to research outcomes in the lives of adults who were once sponsored through Compassion, I had mixed emotions.
At that time, nearly 1 million children had experienced Compassion’s program of whole-life development, and I had witnessed so many of their success stories. I’d embraced adults who told me about their release from poverty. I’d even held their children — children who did not need a program like Compassion’s because of their parents’ release.
But university researchers? Would they understand the heart of our program?
What’s more, in the 35 years I’ve dedicated myself to Compassion’s cause, I’ve seen us strengthen and hone our strategies of child development. We’ve made carefully deliberated decisions about how we minister to children. I’ve seen us develop excellent curricula and training at the same time we strived toward meaningful measurements and outcomes.
But open up Compassion to independent empirical research?
That meant opening ourselves to questions we didn’t fashion. We couldn’t even control how the questions were asked. Frankly, that could be scary.
It’s not that Compassion was closed to outside inspection. We’ve never been hesitant to open our books on financial stewardship — ever! Why was this any different?
But deep inside, I was actually confident for two compelling reasons.
Measuring the outcomes of changed lives
First, we knew that individual child development is the most strategic long-term solution to poverty that exists. To understand our children, you have to understand where these kids are coming from. You have to understand poverty. Or maybe you need to understand where poverty takes root. It’s a very "inside issue."
There are so many great ministries tackling various aspects of poverty — and I love that. I love that Christians put in fresh-water wells or build houses or work on income generation. Compassion does some of those very things, too. But fighting poverty is bigger than repairing the externals. The worst thing about poverty is what it destroys. Poverty is an internal assault on self-worth, growth and hope. But that’s where Compassion does its best work — deep inside the heart, inside the potential of individual children.
That’s what I wanted to corroborate. If research could measure the outcomes of men and women who were shaped through Compassion as children, I was all for it.
The validation factor
Second, we knew that a new generation of sponsors and donors was on the horizon. Financial stewardship will always be critical. But wise financial stewardship is simply the price of admission to do ministry. Today’s sponsor expects more. She asks the same insightful questions that we ask: "Is my commitment to my child making a difference in his life?"
That’s absolutely our passion, too. As a matter of fact, we have Compassion heroes who have invested 10-, 20-, 30-plus years making Compassion child sponsorship the best it can be. They’ve spent hours on airplanes away from families. They’ve lived and walked in dangerous neighborhoods. And many around the world could have plugged in to more lucrative careers. But they’ve poured it out because they know Compassion’s program works.
So have many of you. Our sponsors have made amazing long-term sacrifices of time and money to disciple their sponsored children. So, for all of us, after investing years and lives and money and hearts into these children, isn’t it natural to ask: "Did it work?"
Opening the doors
That’s why Compassion said "Yes." Even though other ministries chose not to participate in the research, Compassion still said "Yes."
That response launched two years of one-on-one interviews of adults who, as children, had experienced our program between 1980 and 1992. It meant independent researchers obtaining thousands of names from Compassion. It meant going into neighborhoods and homes of formerly sponsored children and those children who were not. It meant collecting data on more than 10,000 people in six countries from three world regions. In short, it meant economic, scientific rigor.
This edition of Compassion Magazine reports the top three outcomes from that independent study. We’ll let Dr. Wydick and the data speak for themselves. But be encouraged. Compassion-assisted children received more education. They obtained better employment. And they became leaders.
It’s good to open the doors!