I’m going to be honest. I was totally naive when I first picked out my sponsored child’s picture from the sea of packets at a Compassion event. When I signed up to be a sponsor, I was sincere and well intentioned. But truthfully, I thought I was entering something purely transactional. I would send money that would help a child, and my family would get to correspond with them in return. I hadn’t considered the complexities of poverty. I didn’t realize that I had just opened the door that invited the pain of poverty into my world. And I never fathomed how this little girl and her family would become such an important part of our lives.
Maribela was too young to write early in our sponsorship journey, so her mother, Lilibeth, provided updates about her daughter. Maribela faithfully sent us drawings of coconut trees and flowers. Lilabeth and I would share about our kids like friends on a park bench, often apologizing that it had been so long since we last spoke. Maribela was learning to read. So was my daughter! Maribela was a picky eater but liked noodles best. Sounds familiar.
At the end of each of Lilabeth’s letters, she would tell me that she was praying for me and my family. I was amazed that she not only prayed for us, but somehow knew exactly what to pray for. I am still overwhelmed by the image of this weary mother thousands of miles away, kneeling on her dirt floor praying for my good. Indeed, I had no idea what I had signed up for.
Poverty sent a sucker punch the day I got a shocking letter from Lilibeth. What I expected was a simple update on Maribela’s progress and some fabulous crayon kid art. What I read was far different.
“Here we are trying to rise up little by little from the ghastly past.”
What did this beautiful yet heart-wrenching translation mean? I unfolded the letter and straightened it out on my kitchen counter. Lilibeth continued, “It’s painful for a mother to lose her child. We’ve been together for 22 years. My world is like falling apart.”
The kids were running around the house, my husband was bringing in the groceries, but all I could do was stand there with letter in hand as I tried to swallow the lump in my throat.
“Maribela keeps on crying during nighttime. Especially before she goes to bed, I hear her crying. She keeps on having dreams about her brother.”
Precious Maribela. Please God, comfort her now!
“We received the help you extended for our family. I was able to buy groceries and personal things for Maribela. Thank you so much. I pray for your family that you are safe. Respectfully yours, Lilibeth.”
I stood there stunned, clutching the words of gratitude she had found in the midst of unimaginable grief. This was not what I thought I had signed up for. Death had entered the picture and reminded me that this is real life. This sponsorship is not a sterile transaction, but a mingling of hearts in messy and broken places. How in the world was I going to respond?
Let Her Lead