I confess that, until recently, the first thing that came to my mind when someone mentioned child sponsorship was Sally Struthers kneeling next to an emaciated African child, mascara running down her face, telling the TV that “if you can just save one life, won’t it be worth it?”
As passionate as I was about social justice and alleviating poverty, child sponsorship struck me as an old-fashioned model for giving, in which a few select children essentially walked through a breadline to receive meals, school supplies, and medical attention from faraway white “saviors” whose first-world guilt was eased by letters ensuring that their contributions made a difference. I worried that child sponsorship created dependency and that families were forced to attend church in order to receive assistance for their little ones. While I could certainly see the value in saving “just one life,” I longed to invest in efforts devoted to solving the underlying problems that perpetuate poverty in certain communities, rather than simply easing the effects of that poverty among a few.
These concerns didn’t stop me from sponsoring children (especially after visiting India a few years ago), but they kept me from advocating on behalf of the sponsorship model. I think that a lot of Christians in my generation are wary of the suggestion that our responsibility to the world is limited to caring for “just one child.” We long for justice to roll down like streams of living water, not for charity to drip out like a leaky faucet.