Sunday, July 09, 2006


It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

... Toto, 1983 (covered by UNC Clef Hangers, 1992)

Last Saturday, we volunteered to promote World Vision child sponsorship at a local Fourth of July festival, "Celebrate Freedom." It sounded like a great idea when I first signed us up, but as my lazy, pampered feet stomped across the hard and dusty ground to hunt for the booth, I was starting to regret the impulsive move.

We took a seat under the canopy and waited. Looking around, I could see that most of the child-information folders available that day were from India, China, and a variety of African countries, though it turned out there was also a map that showed all the countries with sponsorship programs. Soon the supervisor was going over the plan. As I'd expected, we aren't expected to go out and accost other people to try to sign them up. The emphasis is on getting the information into the hands of people who come to the booth, and also on making the organization's presence at the event highly visible so that people come check it out. Because it's so easy for people not to act on their good intentions, there's a focus on getting their child sponsorship started immediately.

One of the methods for doing this was offering CDs from recording artists that support World Vision, for those who begin their sponsorships that day, and also entry to a VIP tent on site for those who begin that day and use a credit card. (One of the factors that makes World Vision one of the most respected charities of its kind is the high percentage of funds that go directly to the kids and their communities, and using credit cards greatly reduces the amount of money that has to be spent on paperwork and processing.)

The young man directing activity in the booth confided that he found it "really depressing that we have to offer the VIP tent to convince people to sponsor a child." I felt for him. Once you know how desperate these kids' situation is and how much the organization helps them, once those of us who are fortunate compare our situation to those who are not ... it's hard to have compassion for those who don't share your passion. It was discouraging seeing people turn away after finding that the VIP tent's limited space meant they could only take one guest. But I told him to think of the incentives not so much as being to get people to sponsor at all, but rather to sponsor NOW. It's important to make the good-faith assumption that the people who respond to the incentive genuinely want to sponsor a kid, but would otherwise put it off to do another time.

One woman who showed up to look into sponsorship was clearly a stronger soul than I. Whereas I was internally fussing over how my feet hurt just walking down the quarter-mile dirt lane from the road up to the booth, this lady had decided to come from the other side of Dallas despite her ride falling through. So she took a train and then walked SEVEN MILES from the train stop, in the near 100-degree July heat, just to show up for the festival.

It was great fun helping people sign up. So many didn't have a country or type of child in mind and were overwhelmed by the hundreds of folders. While certainly any child they sponsor will be blessed by the assistance, when the sponsor wants to have a sense of connection, I try to suggest ideas: sponsor a child the same age as yours (or the same age as one special to you), or a child from a country you've visited or would like to visit someday. More than one person hesitated over signing up for the Phillippines purely because they weren't sure how to spell it! Naturally I reassured them that (a) no one could really care more about their spelling than about their willingness to help children and (b) with enough time as a sponsor, they'd surely learn the spelling over time.

People are so funny. There were teens signing up together, adults signing up because they'd "never had the means before" and were grateful to have it now. There were two little girls who got separated from their family and waited at our booth; they wanted to know if it was $1 per kid for the sponsored children. So I explained how it works. I encouraged people to go in together on a sponsorship; after all, that's how I started, sharing a sponsorship with my dad back in college.

Two days later, my feet still ache, but I'm so glad we went. ~July 9, 2006 - posted September

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