When it comes from nonprofit media directors and rock-band frontmen, good news can be hard to stomach. We at Christianity Today receive constant waves of marketing—e-mail ad blasts, book publicity campaigns, interview requests—touting new methods among goodhearted fellow believers to "eradicate extreme poverty" or "end global sex trafficking." And then we read the morning news and realize the world still needs saving.
But every so often, we get good news that makes us smile—no small accomplishment among a band of jaded journalists. One such tidbit came this winter from Bruce Wydick, whose credentials gave him a wide hearing: An economist at the University of San Francisco, Wydick has consulted for the World Bank, taught at Harvard and Princeton, and cofounded a development nonprofit in the Mayan highlands of Guatemala. (Oh, he's also writing a novel about fair-trade coffee. Slacker.) He came to ct with astounding news about the effects of child sponsorship in six majority-world countries—effects that were verified time and again and were published this spring in the Journal of Political Economy. "I stared at the charts on my screen to make sure I was seeing correctly," writes Wydick about the results in his cover story. It turned out he was.
Since at least the 1938 founding of the Christian Children's Fund, child sponsorship has been something of a darling of Christian charity models. And even amid a recession, it's growing: From 2007–2011, evangelical giving to sponsorship groups increased 74 percent, making child sponsorship the fourth-largest segment of our philanthropy. No doubt Wydick's research will inspire more giving.
But there's a profound truth to child sponsorship that transcends metrics. Several colleagues and I have sponsor children, and part of what compels us is the connection that forms between two people separated by geography, language, and even religion. One colleague and his wife have sponsored a Ugandan boy for 8 years. "Sometimes you wonder if they or the volunteer has written the letter. But it doesn't bother us. We know it's for the greater good."
And then there's hope, that immeasurable yet vital factor in the equation of human life. His studies, Wydick told me, "made me realize the importance of hope":
What is powerful to me is how Jesus gives many of these sponsored children hope by caring for them through the local staff and sponsors. These sponsors are usually people they will never meet in person, but it is a powerful idea to a child that across some ocean, far away out there, someone cares for them. Perhaps in this way, God's love for them is made more concrete.
May it be so.
Next issue: Christopher J. H. Wright shows us how to love Leviticus (and all those other confusing Old Testament books); Andy Crouch examines the gospel of LGBTQIA identity; and Amy Simpson remembers growing up with a mom with schizophrenia.
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