“We are family and, more important, we are God’s children. He sees us all as equals and asks that we be His hands and feet in this world. He asks us to use what we have to give dignity to others, and ultimately to bring Him glory.”
The first time I encountered poverty, it was not a special day. I didn’t smell, taste, see, touch or hear anything out of the ordinary. Yet, for the first time, I realized how small my view of the world was.
Throwing my backpack across the floor as I ran up the stairs, I was immediately stopped by my mom. I sighed in annoyance. Without a word, she handed me a photo of a girl.
“This is your new sister,” she said.
Recognizing my confusion, she told me that the girl in the photo lived in India. Her family could not afford to send her to school. We were going to sponsor her and help her receive an education.
I always loved going to school and learning as a child, though there were moments I dreaded waking up early and doing homework. I thought this was just a regular part of every child’s life. But, for the first time, I realized my experience was far from normal for the majority of children in the world. This was poverty. It didn’t seem fair that not only did I have the opportunity to learn, but I could complain about learning. Though I didn’t fully understand the impact sponsorship could have on a child, I knew I wanted to make a difference.
I began saving all the money I had—presents from birthdays and Christmases—until I finally had enough to sponsor a child for one year. I handed the money to my mom to find someone special and help me continue sponsoring my child.
After school one day, my mom told me about Alvin. As a baby, Alvin was found abandoned by the side of the road, covered in burns. A pastor took him in, but with three children of their own, the family was struggling to make ends meet. I now had the opportunity to help Alvin go to school.
Over the years I received photos and letters from Alvin. I heard how he was doing in school and learned about his hobbies and interests. I felt like I knew Alvin.
When Alvin was 17, I travelled to India to stay with his family. I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived. I was scared the scars of poverty would make the experience too overwhelming. On one hand, a part of me thought I would feel like a hero for helping Alvin through the years. Another part of me worried we would never find common ground as we were from two different worlds. Since I knew Alvin’s background, I expected that the conditions in his home—the things I would see, hear, smell and touch—would frighten me.
What I encountered was not what I expected, nor was it profound. Alvin was an average teenage boy who loved playing basketball with his friends, who would rather hang out after school than go home, and who dreaded waking up early, doing homework, and studying for tests.
Sponsorship gave Alvin the catalyst he needed to live a normal life. I didn’t have to worry about my parents affording school supplies, and now neither did Alvin. I wasn’t a hero — I was just another kid using what was in my hands to create a level playing field. In that moment I learned the beauty of sponsorship.
A year later I travelled to Thailand to volunteer in a children’s home. Most of the children there were from small villages where access to local schools was non-existent. In the home, the children heard devotions every morning and were connected to the community church. They attended the government school down the road, where education was free and school supplies, books and uniforms were provided through sponsorship.
As I got to know the children more, one stood out. Saengfang was a sweet, quiet girl who loved to read and spend time with her friends. She reminded me of myself at her age, and despite language and cultural barriers, we had a lot in common. Like Alvin, she was a normal young girl who no longer had to be afraid.
Saengfang was in a safe place. She didn’t miss school because her family could not afford her uniform or because they depended on her to earn an income. Saengfang did not fear being married off to an older man, as was common in the village where she was born. Instead, she could play with her friends, laugh, read books, and enjoy being a child.
I found out Saengfang was waiting for a sponsor. I knew I wanted her to stay in school, so I signed up to support her.
Meeting Alvin and Saengfang made my view of the world so much bigger. Yes, poverty is unsettling. It’s unfair for children to live in a world where they lack opportunities. But when we meet those affected by poverty, we realize that even though our circumstances are different, we ourselves are not.
We are family and, more important, we are God’s children. He sees us all as equals and asks that we be His hands and feet in this world. He asks us to use what we have to give dignity to others, and ultimately to bring Him glory.
When I think back on the photo my mom showed me as a child, I am reminded of its significance. Though I never met the young lady in person, she is my sister. She is God’s daughter, and He profoundly cares for her. When we help the poor, willingly looking at poverty up close, we are supporting members of our own family.
To create a more equal world, sponsor a child at www.erdo.ca/sponsor-now.
Sabrina Shaheen is an avid traveller who is passionate about development. She works for ERDO (Emergency Relief and Development Overseas), where she connects people with children in need.
This article appeared in the April/May/June 2021 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2021 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photos © ERDO.