Is the picture of the child on your fridge simply there to make you feel better?

Is the picture of the child on your fridge simply there to make you feel better?

In June of this year, Christianity today ran an article by Bruce Wydick titled ‘Want to Change the World? Sponsor a Child: A top economist shares the astounding news about that little picture hanging on our refrigerator.’ It is a lengthy six page article, but I encourage you to set aside ten minutes or print it out and read it when you do have time as it is such an encouraging piece looking a little bit more scientifically at the effects of sponsorship of a child from a poor community than we are maybe used to.

Books like ‘When Healing Hurts’ and ‘Toxic Charity’ have asked some great questions about the kind of work that missions teams and others have done and some of the negative effects that it can have in a community as well as on individuals. And it is important that we ask these questions and continue to try and find more effective ways of helping others who are less fortunate than ourselves. But what I have found is that those kind of sentiments can really start to paralyse people from doing anything at all because of fear of the damage we might do, and that extreme is equally less helpful.

‘Indeed, every time we provide something for someone else in need, we send a subtle message to them that we believe they are incapable of providing for themselves. While some interventions are necessary, especially in the area of health, they come at a cost of reinforcing an inferiority complex among the poor. Good development organizations understand this. Along with providing some basic resources that allow children to progress farther in school, the child-development approach advocated by Compassion appears to get under the hood of human beings to instill aspirations, character formation, and spiritual direction. In short, it trains people to be givers instead of receivers.’

By helping a child receive education, the writer is suggesting that the real gift we are giving is Hope – the ability to believe that I might be or become more than I ever thought I could. And through a series of tests and experiments that are detailed in the article, some incredible results have come through that strongly suggest this approach might be working:

‘In Indonesia, my graduate students carried out a unique experiment with 540 children living in the slums in Jakarta. Of these 540 children, 288 were sponsored and the rest were either siblings of sponsored children, children on the waitlist to be sponsored, or siblings of children on the waitlist. We sat each child at a desk with a blank piece of paper and a fresh box of 24 colored pencils. We asked each to “draw a picture of yourself in the rain.”

Compassion children’s drawings displayed significantly lower levels of hopelessness, higher levels of optimism and self-efficacy, and higher levels of overall happiness.’

Bruce comments on the first time he got to see the results of this testing:

‘I was looking at the results of Compassion’s impact on educational outcomes in Uganda—I stared at the statistics on my screen to make sure I was seeing correctly.

“This is … amazing,” was all I could mumble. We tried slicing the data different ways, but each showed significant educational improvements. You could beat this data senseless, and it was incapable of showing anything other than extremely large and statistically significant impacts on educational outcomes for sponsored children.’

One of the exciting things about this research they are talking about is that it seems to extend past simply their time at school:

‘Compassion’s results extend beyond school attendance. We found that child sponsorship means that when the child grows up, he is 14–18 percent more likely to obtain a salaried job, and 35 percent more likely to obtain a white-collar job. Many of the Compassion-sponsored children become teachers as adults instead of remaining jobless or working in menial agricultural labor. We found some evidence that they are more likely to grow up to be both community leaders and church leaders.’

Seriously, take some time to read the rest of the article here and then ask yourself if this might not be one way you can get involved in the bigger picture.

While the idea of sponsoring a child from a far off country is romantic and exciting and good, I would love to hear any stories of people who are ‘sponsoring’ or pouring into a child that is not their own from closer to home. Does anyone have  a story of someone in their neighborhood they are putting some resources behind? Share a little with us if you will…


Brett Anderson

Brett "Fish" Anderson from South Africa (the country) is passionate about seeing the church live out what it says it believe in all areas of life. He is married to the beautiful Val (tbV) and hates raiSINs with a different kind of passion.
  • John Toler

    Awesome post, so glad you shared! I believe in the idea of development organizations verses an organization that just throws money at the problem and comes up with a solution with no effort from the individual that is being helped. Thanks for sharing!