The last few days have been so interesting in my quest to investigate and report on the efforts of one organization seeking to disciple 1.3 million people. This organization does not simply seek to reach any random 1.3 million people, but reaches the absolute “least of these.” I’ve been spending time this week with the 81,000 least of these in Kenya.
I’ve seen more in the last few days than I can quickly process. For this post I’ve decided to throw up on you. Sounds nice doesn’t it? Ok, what I mean by that inappropriate imagery is I’m not going to try to put everything into a nice flowing narrative. Hopefully that will come later as I can spend more time digesting many extreme experiences. I’m simply going to bring out a bunch of random pros and cons I’ve been chewing on from the last few days:
- Encouraged: Compassion International uses 83% of all donations to go directly to the children. Only 17% of funds are used for staff members, fund-raising, trips like the one I’m on, etc… This ratio is absolutely amazing. Most of the other prominent children-based organizations are nowhere close to this ratio.
- Encouraged: Compassion International is completely church-based. Everything they do happens through a local church. Children are selected by the pastor and elders of a local church. They best know what’s happening on the ground and can best team up with Compassion to make a lasting difference.
- Encouraged: Compassion International is a one-to-one organization. Every child is sponsored by one specific person in a developing country. I asked many kids who their sponsor was and received names like, “Carl, Mr. and Mrs. Wendt, Judith, etc…” Kids are not a number to this ministry, neither are sponsors just a wallet. Compassion processes more than 10,000 letters per month between children and sponsors in just their Kenya efforts. While we were talking to the director of letters in Kenya, a man named Ken who was once in absolute poverty and is now a college graduate all thanks to Compassion, we oversaw a letter written from a young lady in America showing her sponsored child her wedding pictures. It was very emotional for all of us. This is a real ministry, reaching real children by real people.
- Encouraged:Compassion International uses only local people for all staff members in a country. It takes a very good local organization to help 81,000 children and families. All in-country staff must be from Kenya. The same is true for the other 24 countries in which Compassion ministers to 1.3 million people.
- Discouraged I’ve sponsored a child for more than 10 years and I had never heard of their groundbreaking Child Survival Program and their unbelievable Leadership Development Program. I fear most people are the same.
Child Survival Program
- Encouraged: This program is unbelievable. There are currently 50 places in Kenya where the life of 35 women, and their husbands and children, are being radically changed. I met so many women who weren’t naming their children until they were 2 years old because so many had died. These women had no emotional, spiritual and physical hope. They now have hope. So many had found hope in Christ and hope in their future. Many were now: playing with their children for the first time, learning new skills with their husbands, creating products and services to earn a living.
- Encouraged: People are starting to see the undeniable results are get on board with CSP. I know of one Christian writer who has personally started 12 CSP’s in India. Yes, that’s more than a quarter of a million dollars out of the pocket of his own family. Thank you.
- Discouraged: We ran into so many mothers but so few fathers. I’ve heard several times from Compassion staff members, local pastors, and mother’s in these projects on sentence, “Women handle poverty much better than men.” This breaks my heart for the men, the children and the mothers. When men are confronted with the inability to provide for their families so many of them flee and turn to drugs and alcohol. They make such toxic alcohol that I was told I would probably go blind if I drank one glass of it. Some of these men are too far gone to help. I have hope, however, when I see pictures on the walls of many churches of fathers learning with their wives in Compassion’s program.
- Encouraged: The last place we visited I heard of 5 fathers who were taught alongside the moms how to have a successful garden and also how to cook. These men got so into doing it all they actually started their own catering business. They were in abject poverty, now they work weddings and parties and have forever changed the course of their families.
- Discouraged: I don’t think people in the U.S., Canada, South Korea, Australia, Europe and other developed countries have any idea about the Child Survival Program. In my opinion it is one of the most effective ministries I’ve seen at holistically making a difference in desperate communities. There are only 50 of these projects working in Kenya. There could be hundreds. They know how to start them, staff them, run them, tweak them, and make them work. The greatest bottle-neck is the funding. Right now it takes $25,000 to start one in a church in Kenya. In my opinion, if you have the means to give $25,000 to start a Child Survival Program with an adequate staff, this is one of the best ways I can think of to make the largest impact in the lives of others for Christ. The only other way I can think of having your donation go almost as far is giving to the Credo House!
- Encouraged: One of the guys in our group personally started a CSP along with his family. He had some success in business and instead of spending the extra $25,000 on the Mercedes he started a CSP. It was almost too much to handle when 35 moms with babies on their backs danced in front of him out of the new found joy they’ve found in Christ and the new found hope they have for life. He was filled with tears along with most of us guys to see the difference we can all actually make in this world if we look outside ourselves.
Child Development Sponsorship Program
- Encouraged: It still blows my mind that 1.3 million kids attend a VBS in a church every week in the world because of Compassion. They have built the native in-country organization to pull this off. It is not just a “get the kids out of the house” VBS. It is one where kids may not survive if they are not a part of the program. I visited the house of one family where everything the child had in the world had come from the VBS. Those of you who give $38/month to sponsor your child let me tell you two things: 1) those kids are real; 2) you make a real difference.
- Encouraged: The biblical and theological training these kids receive are quite good. I spent time this week looking over the curriculum, sitting in on some Bible classes, and my conclusion so far is most of these 1.3 million kids understand more of God’s Word than children of similar age in developed countries.
- Discouraged: Compassion has found the poorest of the poor, the most desperate of the desperate. Those are the 150-300 kids who are part of every local project adding up to 81,000 kids in Kenya and 1.3 million kids world-wide. Compassion, however, is only able to help one child per family. Let me say that again because it is significant. The funding from people only currently allows Compassion to reach one child per family. It is a difficult task for the local pastors and elders to decide which child out of 4 children in a family can be a part of Compassion. I’ve seen the heartache of pastors explaining to me the pain of only selecting one. We can make a difference by helping more children.
- Discouraged: Of the entire trip so far here is my greatest discouragement. I am a part of this discouragement as well. On average only half of the children receive letters from their sponsor. This is heartbreaking and it is our fault. Many families hold on to letters from sponsors as if they are family heirlooms. If the President of the United States personally wrote your child a letter saying how much he believes in and prays for your child would you keep it? That’s how they view your letters. Kids feel sad when their friends regularly receive letters and they’ve never or very rarely heard from their sponsor. Feel sorrow like me, but don’t feel shame. Send a letter today.
Leadership Development Project
- Encouraged: This project is out of this world. Can you imagine kids who were considered by the leading people in their community to be in the most desperate of poverty and they are now eligible for college? It is stunning. A movie could be made out of all these young people have been through. This program takes them from the children sponsorship program and helps them earn a college degree. A college degree means far more in a developing country than in the United States. We went to a gourmet coffee shop in Nairobi with a man who was the first Masai from his entire people group to have ever graduated from college!
- Discouraged: There are roughly 500 kids each year in Kenya who pass the educational and character requirements to go to college through this program. Only 80, however, are able to go to college each year. Why? There isn’t enough funding from people like you and me for them to go to college. Imagine that, 420 kids who have beat the odds, achieved the unthinkable, are stopped just short of the finish line. The LDP is also a one-to-one program. I asked every LDP student I met the names of their sponsors. Each student proudly told me the name(s) and country of their sponsor. I thanked God for each one. It costs $300 per month to radically alter the life of these godly young servant-leaders.
- Discouraged: As I was having dinner with the leader of the Leadership Development Program in all of Kenya one of the concerns he had was making sure these students receive in-depth theological training. This program has been around for about 10 years. Many of the students have become Business People, Doctors, Government Leaders, Pharmacists, Pastors, Lawyers, etc… One concern he has is making sure those who don’t attend seminary still receive foundational theological training. These students are making huge differences in a society surrounded by massive government corruption and decades of evil in East Africa. They need to be grounded in their God to stand for His ways. If only there was a ministry that equipped people who will never go to seminary with not-watered down but accessible theological training!
- Encouraged: I’m encouraged that the country director for the Leadership Development Project and myself have been working this week to make it possible for every LDP student to earn a certificate by completing The Theology Program! Pray for all the details to work out for this to become a reality. He told me after our dinner together where we discussed this in great detail, “I want you to know I’m so excited I’ll be losing sleep about this tonight.”