Tuesday, September 25, 2012

You have Been Sponsored, Flora!

When I walked into the Compassion Center last September, our pastor met me at the door with a big smile on his face.

You have been sponsored, Flora!”

Pastor Timothy was so excited, he grabbed me by the hand and showed me a paper with the names of my new sponsors.

I smiled and thanked him, but inside my heart was torn…..

You see, I was first registered into the Compassion program fourteen years ago, when I had turned five years old. It was a big day for me and for my grandmother. I remember standing in a long line with other nervous children as our caretakers answered many questions about us. Then they took us to a place to have our pictures taken and we were all a little scared around the man with the camera in his hands. We had never seen a contraption like that before!

Several months later, I heard those words for the first time.

You have been sponsored, Flora!”

My grandmother was so happy when I was accepted into the program at the church. I was helped with my education and health care and it relieved some of the burden of taking care of me. I loved playing with the children and singing praise songs with our teachers. It was at the project center that I received my very first pair of shoes and I was so proud of them that I showed everyone I met! I knew that when I went to the center, I could count on getting a big plate of food and the teachers were always smiling and kind to us.

A few times a year, I would receive a letter from my sponsors, a family living in Canada. They sent beautiful cards for my birthday and for Christmas. I brought those letters and cards home and kept them tucked into an old cigar box I had found on the side of the road. They were my own personal treasures.

Then, one Saturday, right before I turned nine, Pastor pulled me aside one and told me that my sponsors had decided they couldn’t sponsor me any more. I wondered what I had done wrong and if it was because I still could not write letters on my own yet. I felt like I had not been good enough. When I went home and told grandmother, she held me as I cried into her shoulder.

Thankfully, I was still allowed to come to the student center. Every week I hoped that I would be told that another sponsor had chosen me, but the wait was longer than that.

Eight months later, Pastor Timothy flashed a big smile at me one morning.

You have been sponsored, Flora!”

Some of my friends heard the news and cheered for me. It was a happy day, indeed!

Week after week, I hoped that my name would be called when the center staff brought out the stack of letters. I used to hold my breath and pray that I would hear the name Flora in the list of children who were to come and claim their letters.

My name was never called.  As my birthday approached, I was sure that there must be a birthday card on its way to me. A few months after my birthday, I stopped waiting for a birthday card.. Weeks passed and the flicker of hope that I would receive a letter slowly fizzled out. A twinge of jealousy would flash as my friends showed me letters from their sponsors, but I tried to be happy for them. Sometimes my friends would give me a few of the stickers their sponsors had sent to them and I would pretend that they were from my own sponsors.

Though I was disappointed that they didn’t write, I really was thankful that my sponsor had decided to help me. At the development center, I received a school uniform and the notebooks I needed to attend class.  When I became sick, the center staff took me to get the medicines I needed. Grandmother was so happy because she didn’t have enough money to take me to the doctor. But I wished I knew more about my sponsors than just their name. I wondered what they looked like and what they liked to do. Did they have children or pets? I wrote letters a few times a year and asked many questions that were on my mind, but I never got a reply.

When I was twelve, I was told again that my sponsor was not going to continue sponsoring me. I felt ashamed and thought that it might be my fault.I wondered if it was because my grades had not been very good recently.  I prayed that I might do better in my studies.

It was five months before I heard those words again.

You have been sponsored, Flora!”

The center staff did so much to try to encourage me, but I did not feel enthusiasm in my heart when I thought of a my new sponsor. As usual, I worked on an introductory letter but I just shared the basics about my family and community. I did not put much effort into the letter. When I was done, I ran off to see if my friends had started their game of Nngapi.

I tended to keep myself busy during the mail call at our center, but one day I nearly fell over as I heard Pastor Timothy call my name. I thought, for a minute, that we must have had a new girl by the name of Flora that I had not met yet.  Pastor nodded to me and shook the letter in his hand and I ran up to meet him.

I must have read the letter ten times and I studied the faces on the attached picture. I learned that my sponsors were from Korea, they liked traveling and their children were starting families of their own. That letter came a week before my thirteenth birthday and it was such a wonderful gift! At home, grandmother rejoiced with me and I read the letter to her and then carefully slid it into my box with my letters from my first sponsors.

Despite the fact that hope had been rekindled in my heart, that was the only letter I ever received from my Korean sponsors. I imagined that they were busy with traveling and their new grandchildren. I was sad that I never heard from them again, but something was starting to change within me.

The year that I turned thirteen, I also accepted Jesus Christ as my savior. All of the teachings that I had been receiving at church and at the development center were coming together for me. As my reading was improving, I was spending more time reading the Bible I received at the center. In the evenings, I would read to grandmother and she, too, decided to give her life over to Jesus. My sadness over not hearing any more from my sponsors was comforted by lifting them up in prayer whenever I thought about them. I was learning that I could rely on God when I was worried or anxious and He would be my strength.

Four years later, when I was told that my sponsors had discontinued their sponsorship, it didn’t hurt like it did when I was younger. I had learned to love them, even though I did not know much about them and I was thankful that their support helped me to receive an education and health care and take part in all of the activities at my center.

So, as I said, when I saw Pastor Timothy smiling at the door that morning last September, I knew what was coming.

You have been sponsored, Flora!”

I smiled and thanked him, but inside my heart was torn. I was happy to be chosen, but couldn’t help but wonder if I would ever hear from my sponsors and learn about them.

A month later, my mouth dropped open and I heard Pastor Timothy shout out, “Two letters for Flora!” I was so stunned that I didn’t even move until my friend Phoebe nudged me with her elbow. I collected my letters and sat down at the bench by the window. The letters, dated a week apart were from my new sponsors who live in America. They sent several pictures of themselves with their children and their two dogs. Before the closing of each letter, they said that they would write again soon.

That evening, after sharing the letters with grandmother, I placed them in the box beside my sleeping mat.

Two weeks later, my name was called again during mail call. In their letter, my sponsors told me about their church and shared some Bible verses they had learned. They sent a picture of their dog playing in a yard covered in white snow, which my friends passed around and laughed over. The last lines of their letter brought tears to my eyes.

“Be sure to study hard in school and please say hello to your grandmother for us. Flora, we love you and we will write to you again very soon.”

I am happy to say that my new sponsors have kept their word. At least once a month, my name is called when it is time to pass out letters at the center. Some months I have even received two letters! They tell me all sorts of things about their lives and I love learning about them. Most importantly, they are always encouraging me and telling me that they love me and pray for me! For my birthday, they sent me a beautiful birthday card and also a financial gift that we used to buy mattresses for me and grandmother to sleep on. We even had enough left over to buy blankets and some rice!

In this last year, my little treasure box of letters has started to overflow and I have to place a rock on top of it to keep the lid shut! I will have to find a new box for them all soon! When I look over the piles of paper, my heart is so very happy. I feel like my new sponsors are my family and I know that they really do care for me and my grandmother. They tell me so in every letter they send.

I have been thankful for all of the sponsors I have had during my time in the Compassion program, but I cannot help but praise the Lord for the sponsors he has given me now! Their love and encouragement has been a tremendous blessing in my life!

~~~~~

Maybe you will be the ones to step in and bless the lives of Flora and her grandmother.

Flora (Click the picture to be taken to Flora’s page.)

While the story above is just a fictional tale, an assignment for Compassion International’s Blog Month, there really is a Flora in Tanzania who lives with her grandmother. She has already lost at least sponsor and perhaps, like many her age, she has lost several.  I don’t know if she has ever received letters from her past sponsors, but a majority of Compassion children rarely or never hear their name called on letter day.

Despite the fictional aspect of this account, you have the ability to help write the next chapter of Flora’s story. As she completes the last three years of the Compassion program, you have the ability to provide the support and encouragement she needs.

Will you consider doing just that?

Click on Flora’s picture to learn a little more about her.

(Edited to add: Compassion added and removed quite a few children on the site this morning. While Flora is no longer on the US site, this story could be told for any number of the older children on the website. To take a look at them, please click here.)

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(All photos within this post are from the Compassion Blog. Please click on the pictures to be taken to their original posts!)