They Told Me It Was Time To Say Goodbye


Recently I received the news that the humanitarian program for one of our sponsor children is being shut down. Because the organization was gracious, they spelled out clearly what this tangibly meant for us:


Yes, you will have to say goodbye to your sponsored child.


They warned me in emails and letters, then called me, and after that they sent me a nice big packet of why this region’s program was being shut down. They told me the families are now okay, that the area is now self-sustainable; they are developing well and have the tools to escape extreme poverty.


That this is a good thing.


But to me it felt like a bad thing because it was a sad thing.


My first response wasn’t the most Christian in nature (unless you consider it Christian because I acknowledged the existence of hell). A series of quick-fire questions succeeded this (with a vehement attitude attached): Why would child sponsorship program actually shut down? When does child sponsorship end? Can they really do this? Are they lying, saying things are sustainable but they aren’t? Is that even possible? Is the real reason this program is shutting down because the big, bad Myanmar dictator government want to kick all things good and holy out?


We’ve slowly trickled thousands of dollars in this child, and just like that, it seemed our investment was gone (or at least continued proof of it through letters and pictures). All of my questions were just a way to deflect my anger. And I was only angry because I was grieving a tiny bit.


(I guess I am becoming better at dealing with sorrow–check out these posts On Saying Goodbye and Memories From Sand.)

Loving Our Hippo


We began sponsoring this child about four or five years ago–I could be wrong, but I think she was around three at the time, the same age my daughter. I thought it would be cool if we could follow her growing up and that my daughter could relate to a girl across the globe until they reached adulthood. From far away, we could make sure she even reached adulthood.


We lovingly began to refer to her as “Hippo” because we had no clue how her extremely long Burmese name was pronounced. And because I am semi-dyslexic. And I have little kids who think animal names are awesome. (Which makes me wonder, are hippopotamuses native to Southeast Asia?)


We occasionally wrote, occasionally gave her family extra money, and occasionally prayed for her. I didn’t feel like we were great sponsor parents or were even that invested in Hippo. (Check out this companion post where I confront this lie—Are You a Terrible Parent to Your Sponsor Child?).


Sometimes it takes something being snatched from you before you realize how invested you really are in it.


When Does Child Sponsorship End and Why?


But to Hippo, to her family and her community, the fact that this organization is moving out of town actually signifies great news, all made possible by our combined trickles of investment. Child sponsorship works. We (and others like us) made a profound difference.


Before, the children in Hippo’s community’s had little sense of worth and were not bestowed basic human rights (let alone education). The community had no medical care, and disease was rampant. It lacked access to sanitary sewage and water. It had no prenatal care, birth assistance, or postnatal care. Also, parents often didn’t have the skills to take part in, let alone create a healthy economy. To top this all off, there was the aftermath of a typhoon to deal with after the program started.


Hippos community has been served by a child sponsorship program for the last fifteen years and in that time, all this has changed. (You can watch this video about this specific community in Myanmar). Everyone of these issues has been remedied and/or is on track to continue being improved. And vitally, the people who live there were respected enough to be given the tools and taught how to continue forward on their own. For that to progress, the humanitarians have to leave. This area can now care for itself!


Isn’t this what we want, right? This sustainable development? It is our ideal! It is what us advocates work for–there is no more need to depend on hand-outs and relief work.


Here is a cool little (blurry) chart that was sent to me depicting when a child sponsorship program is considered mature:

The Lifecycle of a Sponsorship Community (via World Vision)

The Lifecycle of a Sponsorship Community (via World Vision)


Although this is the result of it happening on a macro-level, on a micro-level, with Hippo, we worked ourselves out of a job. This is something to celebrate, not angrily cling to!


Hippo’s sponsorship has now been transferred to a new community and a new girl. This new girl can’t replace Hippo, whom we still love. But after the success of Hippo’s sponsorship program, I am excited to learn about my new sponsored child, to be part of changing her world by supporting the sustainable development of her community.


So it turns out my bad news is good news after all.


A Goodbye Letter To My Sponsor Child


Dear Hippo,

I can’t believe how much you have grown up in these last five years! I am so proud of how hard you have worked in school and am happy that you like it. I wish I could continue following your life, as I know there is a beautiful purpose for you to discover. I wonder what it is? Even if you make bad choices, you were not created by accident. You were made to experience love, life, and joy. I can only pray that you discover this joy.

I am glad that your community is healthy enough to close the sponsorship program in your area. This is such good news, even though it might not feel like it. But even without the sponsorship program, I hope you are able to write us on your own.

Please remember that no matter what, even if we never hear from each other again, we still think of and pray for you. You will not be forgotten. We have felt so privileged to be part of your care. We have also been changed by having the chance to love you in the little ways we did.

Live your life and never lose hope! Instead, search for and look for the truth that will make the empty part of you whole. There is One that loves you and your family so much more than we do! I pray with every part of me that you find that faith. And maybe read this again when you grow older, as I am sure it will mean more to you then. Don’t forget!

Be strong, brave and kind!

We love you always,

Elisa (your sponsor mom)


Become a Child Sponsor!


Below is a video sharing a little bit about child sponsorship through World Help. Other great orgs to sponsor children through are World Vision, Compassion International, and Friends of Orphans and Vulnerable Children–Ethiopia.


Rebuild Futures | Child Sponsorship from World Help on Vimeo.




(Image courtesy of World Help)

Hi! Let me introduce myself with my lovely cheesy fake smile. I’m Elisa Johnston and this is where I base online (in real life I’m usually in beautiful San Diego, CA).

I’m here to empower you,  an everyday, super busy, normal person who’s figuring out this adulting thing and who cares about stuff. I help you to be an influencer who makes a difference in the world. 

Stick around Average Advocate and together we will move past the overwhelm of life and the despair of global problems, find your purpose, and discover what your best role is to change the world is. 

I’m no magician. I just encourage and guide as I  write, coach, speak, consult and start-world-changing things to help us move forward.  

In case I sounded unapproachable, let me tell you a little bit about myself. Besides empowering this community, I spend most of my time attempting to live intentionally in my faith (I’m a Jesus person), in my home (the husband + raising my three kids + adult kid), in my relationships, and being creative and adventuring wherever and whenever I can. (Ya, I might live in beautiful San Diego, but I’m always itching to explore.)

Now it is your turn…  What’s your story? 

  1. susanlkh

    Thank you for posting this letter. My Compassion child is aging out of the program, and I wasn’t quite sure how to put my feelings into words. Your letter is going to help me to convey my love and hope for his future to him. Again, thank you.

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