Are Child Sponsorship programs healthy? A smart idea? A biblical idea?

Child Sponsorships.

We see and hear about them all the time – on Christian radio, in Christian publications, and even watching regular television. We all see solicitations asking us to partner with various organizations in caring for orphans or other underprivileged kids around the world.

The calls, pictures, and accompanying music can certainly tug at our heart strings! But all giving should be done with wisdom, including examining what – if anything – the Bible has to say about a giving opportunity. So let’s take a look; hopefully this blog post can help you decide if these sponsorship programs represent good stewardship of the resources God has provided you.

Some Biblical Background

It is clear that God has called us to be generous with all that He has given us to steward. Initially, generosity was an act of obedience and worship that acknowledged God’s preeminence in people’s lives. Later, it became a means of provision for the Levites and priests who did not receive an inheritance from God in the Promised Land. The gleaning laws in the Old Testament make it clear God intended for the Jews to care for the less fortunate by leaving the leftovers from the edges of the harvested fields. Paul tells us in his letter to the Corinthians that God desires generous hearts from His people, not blind obedience (2 Cor. 9:7). Finally, James makes it clear we are to care for the “widow and the orphan” as a symbol of true religion (James 1:27).

So, the answer is Yes, God calls us to care for those in need – including the orphan.

But it’s also clear from scripture that good stewardship is more than simply giving money to a worthy cause. Good stewardship requires prayerful discernment of where the money is going and how it will be used. Giving generously but blindly to an organization because you saw an advertisement (without determining the actual impact of the program) is not good stewardship. God also desires that our hearts are impacted by our generosity as part of stewarding His resources – rather than simply giving out of momentary guilt or concern.

Do Child Sponsorship programs help?

In March, I traveled to Peru with Compassion International, an international child sponsorship organization. I got to see first-hand how their program in that country works and how it makes an impact.

I embarked on the trip with a certain level of skepticism as to whether these sorts of programs really deliver as promised. I ended the trip surprised by how well-organized and executed the program was at every point in the process. I was also encouraged to see how strong the impact of the program is on the kids being sponsored, their families, and the communities they live in.

My own anecdotal observations were confirmed by an independent research project jointly conducted by professors from the University of San Francisco, University of Chicago, and University of Washington and published in the Journal of Political Economy. This research was conducted over a 6-month period of time in six countries where Compassion operations. The study evaluated how well the Compassion program delivers the promised impacts. (Click here for a summary of the research.)

Here are some of the more important statistics:

  • 56-62% of kids in the program graduated from secondary school (high school) compared to 44% for all students.
  • 42-44% of kids who completed the program obtain salaried employment, compared to less than 35% of the population as a whole.
  • 24% of kids who completed the program obtain what we would call “white collar” jobs, compared to less than 18% of the general population.
  • Kids in the program are more likely to become community and church leaders.
  • There were also measurable increases in happiness and life aspirations among sponsored kids.
  • The families of program kids were impacted by the sponsored child themselves – through spiritual development, aspirations of siblings, and overall physical, mental, and spiritual health.

So with the right partner…

So here’s the bottom line: Child sponsorship with the right partners can improve the current and future lives of kids, their families, and their communities. But while I’m discussing Compassion International here, there are obviously plenty of Child Sponsorship programs. So the key is to examine the practices and actual impact of a program before you invest.

(See this follow-up post for specific factors you might consider as you choose a program.)

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