Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Worst Mistake You Don’t Know You’re Making

In high school, I had a teacher, Mrs. Kuntz, who was so tough on her students that we all feared failing her class. Never before had I worried so much about earning a passing grade, but her high standards made me wonder if I had what it took.

Letters

At the end of the semester, I wrote a book report and had to pull an all-nighter to finish it. The next day, I turned it in.

When Mrs. Kuntz returned the marked-up version, my heart dropped into my stomach as I saw all the red marks covering the paper. Furiously flipping through 15 paper-clipped pages, I arrived at the last one.

There it was in bold, red ink:

95%. A.

The teacher who rarely gave out good grades and never offered empty praise gave me something special, something I was sure the other students didn’t get. And below the grade was a note:

Please consider a career as a journalist or professional writer. You have a gift.

Nobody had ever said anything like that to me. I still have the paper today.

Words like that, affirming words from mentors and teachers and even strangers, make us into the people we become.

I’m embarrassed to admit this

There’s something powerful about words. They can tell a person she matters or that you believe in her. But they can also tear down and destroy, hurt and wound and make a person question everything about himself.

There’s no denying it: words have weight. So why do we often disregard their power?

For the past couple years, my wife and I have sponsored two children through two different child sponsorship organizations. And every so often, we get a letter from one, which we read, stick on the refrigerator, and then quickly forget about.

Apart from reading those letters and rarely responding, these kids have not been a part of our lives. I have never gone out of my way to tell them I believe in them or love them or think they’re special.

And I am so very ashamed of this.

Because today, I saw what those words can mean to a child.

When there’s no one to show you the way

In what’s called the worst slum in Uganda, we met a family today that I will never forget.

Ugandan family

“I led a hard life,” the 25-year-old mother told us, lines on her face revealing an age that exceeds years. Sitting on her newly-swept concrete floor, Shaun and I heard a story we could barely believe.

Sarah grew up outside of Mbale, Uganda in a small village 140 kilometers from the capital. When she was very young, too young to remember, she lost both parents to AIDS, with only her grandmother left to raise her.

By the time Sarah was 12 or 13, her grandmother could no longer afford to support her. So she decided to leave. Hearing of jobs in the city, she stole some money from her grandmother and took the bus to Kampala.

Uganda slum

Once she arrived, she didn’t know what to do. While staying in the park, Sarah was approached by a woman and told of a way to earn money as a “street child.”

“Street child?” I asked.

“Prostitute,” the translator explained.

Oh. Right. Prostitute. At age twelve. Twelve years young. A prostitute. Wait, what? A prostitute? As in, paid for sex? At twelve? Yes, that’s the word.

“I had many men,” Sarah continued, “until I found one who agreed to stay with me.”

She ended up having four children with three different men, the last of which claimed her youngest baby wasn’t his, threatening to leave if she didn’t give him up.

While contemplating whether to throw the child away or give him up for adoption, Sarah met Judith, a woman from the nearby church who told her about Compassion and how she could keep her baby.

Without such intervention, Sarah doesn’t think she would have survived.

“I would’ve died already… I had no parents, no one to advise me.”

“Tell them I love them”

Sarah started getting help with paying rent and providing food for her family and entered her oldest son, Dirisa, into the sponsorship program with Compassion.

At age seven, he had started staying out on the streets at night, finding scraps to sell for food, and not returning until morning.

This was her last resort.

Ugandan boy

The program is designed for at-risk children who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend school, so Dirisa’s situation made him an excellent candidate (those are just a few of the selection criteria). Since joining the program, he’s now going to school, has learned to read and write, and no longer goes into the streets at night.

“I am happy, because I go to school and because I have friends,” he says.

I ask Dirisa if he knows who his sponsors are.

“Miss Allison and Emily from the U.K.,” he says without having to think about it.

Have they written him any letters?

Sponsor letter

Leaping to her feet, his mother rushes to where they keep such things, removing the letter from a backpack and handing it to me. I pass it to Dirisa. Would he read it?

In perfect English, he does, and out of his mouth comes words from another part of the world, words of love and encouragement. Words he probably has read over a dozen times.

These words hit me hard for some reason, tears welling up in my eyes. I turn to Shaun, and he has the same look on his face. We both know: This is a sacred moment.

“How do the letters make you feel?” I ask.

“I feel good… because very few of us get letters, so I feel very special.”

Thinking of my own sponsor children, I grimace, trying in vain to remember their names. I am so ashamed.

“What would you tell your sponsors if they were here right now?” Shaun asks.

“Tell them that I love them so much.”

What will you do with your words?

Sarah is sick. She has a terminal illness and has lost a lot of weight. Most days, it’s difficult to get around, much less do any work.

Sarah

“Is there any hope?” she asks.

Always, I say. There is always hope with God.

When we offer to pray, she asks for a home, one she can afford that they won’t have to leave. She is looking for a safe place to die.

Pray for a place to leave my children when I leave this world.

Sarah's House

Looking at Sarah, what I want to know is, where were her words when she was young? Who was there to tell her she could be more than a twelve year-old street girl?

No one was.

The truth is there are millions of Sarahs in the world, and I don’t know how to help them all. But I do know how to write a letter, telling a little boy or girl they’re special.

And that’s a start.

Ugandan kids

I don’t have much, but I do have words. We all do. And what we can do with those words, what we must do, is share them.

“I tell people all the time that if you’re not going to write a letter, please don’t sponsor,” the former president of Compassion tells me.

I get it now. The money is insignficant compared to the letter that says, “I see you. You matter.”

Sponsor letter

Today in the slums, I saw what such words can do — in the hope-filled eyes of a boy whose smile could not be wiped away no matter how hard he might try.

And I read it in a note from a teacher so many years ago, and it made all the difference.

The part where I challenge you

This month, I offered a daily writing challenge to my readers, and this is the last day. So I want to do something special, whether you were a part of it or not. I want to issue a final call to action:

Write a letter today to someone who needs your encouragement.

This can be a note to your child, a memo to a colleague, even an email to a friend. Make it personal and meaningful and say what you’ve always wanted to say but didn’t. Maybe like me, you need to write one of your sponsored kids.

Sponsor a Child

Or maybe you’ve been on the fence about child sponsorship all week, and now’s your chance. If so, I want to take a moment to talk directly to you.

I had no idea how important a simple letter was, especially to a child — until this trip. These kids keep the letters under their beds; they pray for their sponsors, thanking God for them.

Sponsorship is so much more than a monthly check. It’s about reaching out to someone somewhere in the world who feels forgotten and assuring them they’re not.

And now, thanks to this trip, I can tell you from personal experience that I trust Compassion. They’re doing a great job, maybe the best job, at helping rescue children from poverty.

And it’s working — I’ve seen it.

Kids in slum

So today, try to make your words matter. Give them away to someone who needs them. Let them heal instead of hurt, inspire instead of overwhelm. And whatever you do, don’t make the mistake I did of taking them for granted.

You have no idea the impact that a few simple letters linked together in love can make. (Which reminds me: I’ve got some writing to do.)

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
—Proverbs 31:8

Read more posts from our blogging team:

Note: Many of you have emailed me saying you’ve sponsored a new child with Compassion this week. I want to say thanks by giving you a free, signed copy of my new book, The In-Between. Just forward me your confirmation email at jeff at goinswriter dot com with a U.S. or Canadian mailing address, and I’ll drop the book in the mail. And for those who have yet to sponsor, if you do that this week, I’d be happy honor that for you, as well.

Will you take the writing challenge? What will you write and to whom? Share in the comments.

Photos by Mike Varel, Shaun Groves, and me.

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About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. To get updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • http://davehilgendorf.com/ Dave Hilgendorf

    Jeff, thanks for this great post. I try to gather our family together every month to write letters to our kids, but we always write the online letter and I wonder if it gets to them because their response letters we get in the mail don’t make any reference to the letters we’ve sent. I wonder if it would be better to send by snail mail. At any rate, I’m glad to hear that you feel good about Compassion and thanks so much for sharing about the boy and how much he treasures the letters.

    • JD Last

      Dave, in many cases, the children bring their treasured letters home the day they are received, and when they gather for letter writing day at the Compassion centre, they may not have your letter on hand to respond directly to, as their letters are at home for safekeeping. Through my many visits to Compassion centers in Honduras, Haiti and Ghana, the most common message from the kids, families and Compassion leaders was “the letters are vital”. The kids who don’t receive letters sometimes wonder if they’ve done something to offend the sponsor or if the sponsor might not like them. The ones who receive letters demonstrate such a stronger sense of confidence and self-worth.

  • Angie

    Your posts have been great and they are eye-opening. We sponsor a child in Guatamala. I do write but probably do not write enough. Thanks so much for your blog.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      You’re welcome, Angie. Thanks for reading… and for sponsoring.

  • Terrie Coleman

    Jeff, this is one of your best posts ever. I used to sponsor a child through World Vision in Columbia. I wrote to her some, and I think I still have her cards and letters to me. Years ago, when I first became a Christian, I used to write cards and letters to friends and family, and people I barely knew. I would pray for the person and include scriptures in the card/letter as I felt prompted by the Lord. Going through stuff over the years, I slacked off. But I’ve had some of those people tell me they still had the card or letter and that it spoke to them at a moment they needed it most. It’s nothing about me, but God Himself wants to use us, and use our words (sometimes His Words through us) to encourage, strengthen and speak His heart. Thank you, Jeff, for the reminder. This is really the heart of writing for me. Bless you.

  • Allison Bell

    Jeff, you do have a wonderful gift. Thank you for sharing it with the world. Words do matter and I’m so glad that you reminded me of that.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thank YOU, Allison!

  • http://michelletessendorf.com/ Michelle Tessendorf

    Jeff, I have personally witnessed how African families squirrel away and deeply treasure letters and photos from sponsors. Words are truly powerful and yours here cut deep. Very meaningful.

  • Joanna Wiebe

    I’ve never thought about my sponsored kids wanting to hear from me. When I first sponsored a child nearly 20 years ago, I was obsessive about writing to him, and my family pitched in to give his community a goat for Christmas. But then, because this child was in Haiti and things were particularly bad there, the non-profit had to close service to Haiti – so I was disconnected from Jorel Augustin.

    I remember his name easily.

    But 20 years and two more sponsored children later, I’m like you, Jeff: I don’t know their names. I tell myself there’s so much bureaucracy it’s not worth trying to connect with these kids — but that’s really just a way for me to justify my lazy approach to sponsoring those kids. So I have two letters to write today, and two names to commit to my prayers. Gosh, I feel awful for not having done so already. Thanks, Jeff. You’re doing awesome work here.

    • http://www.bloggingfromtheboonies.com/ Michelle Wright

      I am so happy reading this, knowing that you have been inspired by this post! Praise God!

      ~Michelle
      http://www.bloggingfromtheboonies.com

  • Leslie Chamberlain

    We get letters regularly from our child in Cambodia. We have watched her grow up over the past 7 years. Every time we receive that envelope, I immediately open it to read her letter to see how she’s doing. And every time, I place the blank page that is enclosed in the envelope to write her back in my “to do” pile, never doing what I intend. Thank you for posting this today Jeff. It was extremely timely for me.

  • Linda Harless Belcher

    Jeff thank you for showing us the road to compassion. I email daily with a friend I have only met once. That one time sealed our hearts forever. I cared for my husband at home for several years as we fought the battle with Alheimers disease before he passed away. She is now going through this same battle with her husband. Those simple emails are therapy for both of us. Linda B

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Very interesting, Linda.

  • http://www.annepeterson.com/ Anne Peterson

    Loved your post today. Had to chuckle when I read the part about your teacher Mrs. Kuntz. I think it would be so funny if it’s the Mrs. Kuntz i know. Where did you go to High School in Illinois?

    As far as the content of your post, I can tell the experience has touched you deeply. I used to write letters when we were in Germany. I think I had written 900 letters in the last tour of 3 1/2 years. Loved writing those letters. I have not written a note or letter in quite some time. Thanks for the reminder of how much people still need to hear words from our heart.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Shabbona. She was from Sycamore. It’s probably the same person.

  • Marcy Mason McKay

    You were very brave to share this post, Jeff. Thank you. Not only for your words, but I’m not going to send a letter of encouragement to someone I’ve been meaning to contact for 3-4 months now.

  • http://www.islandsofmysoul.com/ Shari

    This post moved me to tears and an angel must have nudged me to read it today because it filled that little gap in my heart I’ve been having lately. The last of my four children began college this year and moved away from home. What used to be a crazy busy home with four active children is now a big, quiet, empty home with just my husband and I. The last four months have really taken some adjustment for me, and my husband. Lately, I’ve been fighting gloom – cold temps of near -42 below zero wind chills here in Minnesota have caused us all to retreat.

    But, your post today let in the sunshine. My heart warmed and tears were shed. These children. They need us.

    I now am a sponsor of three children through Compassion. I have always wanted to do this, but was always hesitant of if I could trust if the money would even get to the child. But, your words, Jeff, of letting us know that you TRUST Compassion. Those were the words I needed to hear. Because I trust you.

    Thank you for this gift today, Jeff. I am anxiously awaiting my first letters from the children of whom I will faithfully write to and call “my children in Uganda”.

    Feeling blessed today,
    Shari :-)

  • Cherie Norquay

    We started sponsoring a child this past year and I’ve thought about the fact that I hadn’t sent a letter and picture yet… I’m getting off my butt! Thank you!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Excellent!

  • Jill Foley

    Thank you for your encouragement to write to our sponsored kids. The message you shared is such an important one and can’t be said enough.

    I write to all our kids once a month. It’s something I’ve just committed to do.

    Today I sponsored Esther in Uganda and can’t wait to write a first letter to her.

  • Jody Noland

    Beautiful and convicting, Jeff. As much as I passionately believe in the importance of “leaving nothing unsaid,” I have been a poor correspondent to my Compassion child over the years. You’ve inspired me to change that. Thank you for your transparency.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      It’s never too late, Jody! I love what you’re about, and this looks like a great opportunity to apply that concept to a whole new field.

  • Dawn Wilson

    This is a precious post. God surely is using your writing to touch many hearts, Jeff. The Lord has been dealing with me on this very issue. I took time earlier today to encourage and praise both of my sons and their spouses in their parenting skills, then I made a phone call to encourage someone else. This is not me patting myself on the back – believe me! I get so busy doing good, but so often fail to look at the world with Jesus’ eyes.

    I wrote this afternoon in a Facebook post: “I can ‘preach at’ a person, or pray for change. I can criticize foolishness, or model wisdom. I can assume someone else will encourage the hurting, or write that note myself. I can hope God will provide, or find a way to give. There are many choices I can make every day. How many will I make that look like Jesus?”

    Thank you, Jeff, for keeping it real in your own life, and embracing the transparency that helps us live with eternity in our hearts.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      You’re welcome, Dawn! Thank you for reading.

  • http://www.onethingalone.com/ Asheritah Ciuciu

    This touched my heart. Thank you for your transparency. I have written my two sponsored children–Desta and Johannes–nearly as often as I should. I’m going to change that. Thanks, Jeff.

    • http://www.onethingalone.com/ Asheritah Ciuciu

      *I meant I haven’t written as often as I should. Whoops.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Hope it goes well, Asheritah!

  • http://corypeppler.com Cory Peppler

    A powerful reminder, Jeff, of the impact of our words. And a convincing endorsement of Compassion. My wife and I were considering long before you went to Africa and began telling the stories of the beautiful, amazing people there who are benefitting from sponsors. I’m in.

    And I’m sure this was your intent, but through your moving narrative, you have brought such honor and dignity to Sarah: a woman who has known such indignity in her short life. What a gift you have given to her.

    And us.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks for getting it, Cory.

  • Katharine

    Wow. I just did this a couple of weeks ago. As a pastor’s wife, I had the scary idea of writing a thank-you note to each lady in our church. How I feared I’d say something wrong, but, how wrong I was! They love it, and relate not only to me, but also to each other, better than ever. I am so happy this worked and I was silly to be scared. :)

  • http://sparkvoice.wordpress.com/ DS

    Really appreciate the awareness you continue to bring to Compassion, those who are voiceless, and those who struggle with purpose.

    One line in a book by Lopez Lomong said it all to me. The children in our refugee camp who were sponsored are the one’s who had a pencil and paper for school.

    Keep going!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Simple, but powerful. Thanks, DS!

  • http://www.minivansarehot.com/ Kelli

    This one made me cry. I wrote three letters today, one the each of our sponsored children, and one to the young woman we hosted this past Christmas who lives full time in a Ukrainian orphanage. A child who called me Mama for a month, and who became the daughter of my heart. Words are all I have for these kids. I wish it could be more, and that tears at me sometimes.

    But you reminded me tonight that words have power, and words are so good. Words hold hope, for the writer and the reader.

    Thank you for sharing your words with us this week.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      That’s so awesome, Kelli! Way to go! And thank you for caring.

  • http://cherylbarker.net/ Cheryl Barker

    Jeff, thanks for giving us a first-hand look of what our letters mean to kids we sponsor. So touching. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.kenzimmermanjr.com/ Ken Zimmerman Jr.

    Thanks for sharing such a powerful experience, Jeff.

  • http://leadbychoice.wordpress.com/ Kimunya Mugo

    Jeff, this struck a broken chord in me. I don’t have kids that I sponsor. But I do have a small boy who desperately needs a letter. He is broken so bad he wonders if he will ever be completely free of the demons of his childhood. He has a vault in his mind that is completely shut from the rest of the world. He even shuts it from himself, lest he self-destructs. I have to (no I need to) write a letter to myself, to completely heal my 7-year old self. From the hurt, pain and abuse. I have to be free, I want to be free… to speak out!

    • http://www.drmarylivingonpurpose/ Mary Mkandawire

      We hear you loud and clear in your blog and in your books Kimunya so I can only imagine what heights you will reach when you are completely free. Praying for the 7 year old boy to be healed and to use that freedom to heal others. God bless

      • http://leadbychoice.wordpress.com/ Kimunya Mugo

        Thanks Mary! You’ve been awfully quiet. Hope all is well your neck of the woods :)

    • http://www.theinspiredpilgrim.com/ Dustin White

      Kimunya, write that letter, my friend. Words have power. Be healed.

      • http://leadbychoice.wordpress.com/ Kimunya Mugo

        I have to, no holding back no more. Thank you for your encouragement…

  • Rachel Miller

    I read this with tears rolling down my cheeks. Thank you for your openness and honesty. This has been one of my greatest fears in the program we’re setting up. That there would be no meaningful contact, just monthly gifts. Sponsorships aren’t just about paying the kids’ school fees or providing their meals. They are so much more. Like you’ve said before, it’s all about the relationships. The opportunity to beautifully show the love of Christ.

    I worked/lived in an orphanage in Russia for ten years. I saw children cherish what we would consider to be the most insignificant of things. But, I have a confession to make. During that time when I was so far from my family, friends, and church, I too saved ever note and letter I ever received. I still have most of them. They and my journals take up an entire file cabinet drawer. Words have the power to connect us even when we’re 8000 miles apart.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      That’s incredible, Rachel! Words really do matter… to all of us.

  • winnie

    I always express myself through writing poems but I never really let people are write about to read them .now after reading your article I feel so quilty and I wish they could have heard just how I feel about them some are no longer in my life I feel so sad that I never let them know just how important they were in my life or what they have done in me .because I believe they are the part of the person I am today

  • http://katiehamer.com/ Katie Hamer

    Jeff,

    I’m almost afraid to admit that I’m one of these people who rolls their eyes when the charity ads appear on the TV, yet again. Your article has, quite unexpectedly, touched me. Through your eyes, I can see charity work in a new light. It’s amazing to see just how the simplest of gestures, such as writing a letter, can make a huge difference.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • JD Last

      Katie, I can relate… I too, am very guarded and cautious when it comes to charities and ‘those ads on TV’. Still am. That being said, there are a very few that I fully trust and support, and Compassion is one of the most effective, one of the best of the best. Our family supports 14 Compassion children, we’ve been sponsors since 2005, and have met 7 of our kids to date. We’re just simple folks, working simple jobs, having simply made this a priority. Sponsorship has rocked our lives right side up… God had so much to teach us through these children… We’re so grateful to Compassion’s ministry for making it possible for our family to be grafted to these families. We don’t know how they accomplish so much with relatively so little money — except by God’s Hand.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I can be that way too, Katie. Thanks for not rolling your eyes at this one. It came from the heart. :)

  • http://www.tanyamarlow.com/ Tanya Marlow

    Thank you for this. This was such a helpful reminder of the gift of words and relationship as an aspect of sponsoring children. Great stuff. Keep writing!!

  • http://www.selfication.com/ Patrik Edblad

    Jeff, this was deeply moving and a wake up call for me. Just like you I’ve had a sponsor child for years and never realized what it would mean to reply to her mails. I’ll definitely join in and write an encouraging letter to her. Thank you for this important message and keep up the great work!

  • Monique Dixon

    Thank you for this post. As a writer with busy working lives it can be easy to forget the power of words to our loved ones. The importance of expressing how we feel in the way of a letter so we leave a reference point to later take solace from, is often forgotten. You’ve prompted something that I know is necessary, can make a difference and can be so significant to the recipient. Giving of the self is so much more impactful than giving of material things. Thank you. Monique Dixon

  • http://www.drmarylivingonpurpose/ Mary Mkandawire

    Thanks for this powerful reminder Jeff.Have already sent one email, two more to go.
    “Watch the way you talk. Say only what helps, each word is a gift.” Ephesians 4:29, The Message

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Great, Mary! Way to go!

  • Arline

    I am touched Jeff, I have been helping my family in the Phils every now and then, some of them regularly. Last year we decided to sponsor 3 of my nephews (brother’s sons) to help them in some of their school expenses. And I’ve written a letter to my brother and his wife telling them how important education is for their children and a lot more to help them be more responsible parents. The thing is I haven’t sent that letter yet. It was saved in my other laptop which got broken sometime last year. What a shame. I’ve been delaying some of the most important things in my life that should be done to make a difference. Thank you very much that you are here to remind us about how it will make an impact to a person’s life. God bless you more and your family.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thank you, Arline. I hope you can send that letter soon!

  • http://www.theinspiredpilgrim.com/ Dustin White

    Inevitably, you say what matters, Jeff. Thanks for changing the conversation from the mundane in order to bring light into the world. Your words convict, encourage, and motivate people to act. The more we speak our minds, the more change we’ll see in this dark and crazy world of ours. Keep it up.
    Is it okay to repost this at my blog? I would like to share it with my meager, but most excellent, audience. l know that they’ll appreciate it.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      You’re welcome to share this, Dustin, however you think works. Typically a summary with a link to the full article is best. Thanks!

  • Katanga

    Jeff,

    Thanks for your clarion call to the ‘word-givers’ in us all!

    I’m pleased to report that I write stories for a living- and for a difference! I’m serving as a journalist in Ecuador with Operation Mobilization, a spirit-filled organization that empowers people to join various mission efforts of evangelism, relief & development, church planting, justice and mentorship, worldwide.

    While I feel committed to the call of missions, I often neglect my primary purpose: to live the life of a writer in all aspects and to allow my every word to be used as a medium for uplift and affirmation.

    Today that changes! Your experience in Uganda, and your words was the impetus!

    Warmly, and with much appreciation,

    Katanga [‘word-giver’, and writer]

  • Jo Ann

    My husband and I sponsor a child from World Vision and another from Compassion Outreach. The hardest thing that requires is keeping in touch through letters and emails. After reading your post I realize the importance of that. I will write to them today. Thanks for the reminder.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thank you, Jo Ann!

  • Sue Neal

    Thanks for a very moving and challenging post, Jeff. You’re so right about the power of words – I’ve just read about some research that demonstrates how careful we need to be about those we use, particularly towards children. It’s very relevant to my own experience because, as a child, I was constantly praised for being the “clever” one of the family – this became a huge burden, which ultimately led to anxiety and under-achievement, based on a deep-seated fear of failure – a terror of not living up to that “clever girl” image. In a fascinating book called “The Examined Life,” (which I can’t recommend highly enough) Stephen Grosz, a psychoanalyst, cites some research that shows how praising children for being “clever,” as opposed to simply praising them for their efforts, can sap their confidence and lead to exactly the kind of problems I’ve experienced in my own life. I don’t want to take anything away from what you’re saying about the power of encouraging, loving words – I just think we need to be mindful of the precise kind of words we use, realising that they can sometimes have significant and unintended consequences.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I’ve read similar studies, Sue. Thanks for sharing. You’re right. The kind of words we use is important.

  • Carolyn Sherrow

    when my Compassion child left the program due to an improvement in her family’s situation and the subsequent move to a nearby city, I felt I could not sponsor another due to a major downturn in my finances. Although I am still unable to sponsor, I doubt it will be much longer until I can join in and enjoy the letters that come from the child. I’ve enjoyed this series so much.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Carolyn. I appreciate that. And thanks for being a sponsor in the past; I hope you will have an opportunity to do it again some day.

  • AmyMak

    This is so beautiful – all of the recent posts and links you’ve posted. This weekend my family and I are going to sit down together and choose a child to sponsor; how do we even choose? I have always believed it’s our responsibility to care for the world’s children, but sometimes we just need a kick in the pants to get going. Thank you!

  • sandi

    Thank you for what you do and how you encourage people in the gifting that God has given to them. I will not use this as my only letter. :)

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      You’re welcome, Sandi. Thanks for saying that.

  • Michelle

    I regularly write my kids….. but you’ve inspired me to write more. Like, today. Thanks.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      That’s so great, Michelle. Thank you!

  • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

    I’m in Jeff and I know exactly who I’ll write too!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Great! Go get it, Kimanzi!

  • http://KatieAxelson.com/ Katie Axelson

    Just added “Write Roxana” to my “next time you have internet list.” Great post, Jeff! Keep them coming.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Excellent! Maybe you can meet her on your upcoming journey?

      • http://KatieAxelson.com/ Katie Axelson

        That’s definitely a goal. We’ll see if it becomes a reality.

  • Vaneetha R Demski

    Right after i finish this comment, I am going to write to my Compassion child. I am ashamed to say that the forms to respond to the precious child I sponsor sometimes stay on my desk for months. I say I’m too busy. Why do I think I’m too busy to encourage someone? Maybe even change a life? Seeing the impact of these letters makes it so much more real. I will remember this for a long time…

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      So glad to hear it, Vaneetha!

  • Kimberly Marciniak

    Thanks so much for mentioning this! When I met my sponsored child Maria in Peru our translator and Maria’s family both mentioned how important letter-writing was… and how special Maria feels being one of the few children that receives regular letters at her project.

    Thanks for reminding us all how important/powerful words are!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thank YOU, Kimberly, for being a sponsor. You are making such a difference.

  • http://www.bloggingfromtheboonies.com/ Michelle Wright

    Tears and cheers that you have mentioned this! As I said before, my passion is inspiring sponsors to make the most of their letter writing ministry to their sponsored children.

    My blog has LOTS of ideas for ways to connect and encourage these children who so desperately need it. It takes such a small portion of our time. Even in writing monthly to all 18 of our children, it still takes less time than I devote to Facebooking and Instagramming.

    Letter writing to these children should be look at as a ministry. Something to carve out time for. Something to take very seriously.

    Thank you so much for posting about this and spreading awareness. :D You made my day.

    ~Michelle
    http://www.bloggingfromtheboonies.com

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      You’re absolute right, Michelle. And now, I get it.

  • bonnierose

    as a writer, this moved me to sponsor a beautiful girl named Sarah in Uganda. thank you. I love to write.. I love to encourage.. a great book if u hvn’t read it is called BALCONY PEOPLE. get it.. u will love it.. it’s all about the gift of affirmation.. and how we should be balcony people and affirm ppl in their lives.. u would love it. xo

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Wow, Bonnie. Thank you SO much!

  • Steve Jones

    Great post and a great word of encouragement. Thanks for all you did this week to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Many blessings to you!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      It’s my pleasure, Steve. I am the one who is blessed.

  • http://www.yvonnereynolds.com/ Yvonne Reynolds

    Wow, just wow! I pray that many sponsors read this post and are encouraged to take the time to write to their sponsored child today! Incredible post!!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Amen!

  • alycia chase

    your words have done god’s work here, jeff. I know, for my family, writing to our sponsor child blesses us just as much as it does her. and that sweet girl’s letter in the mailbox is a reason to celebrate in this house! your honest “confession” has surely changed hearts.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      thank you, Alycia, for that. and thank you for writing!

  • Angela Gardner

    This one really got my attention this week, Jeff. Thanks for the wakeup call!

    http://angelagardnerwrites.blogspot.com/

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      You’re welcome!

  • http://www.healingbywriting.wordpress.com/ Sherrey Meyer

    Jeff, this post touched my heart so deeply having been raised where one parent discouraged me and the other tried to encourage me. I know the damaging power of words. If my 19-year old grandson could absorb the letter I would write to him, he is the child who needs encouragement in my life. But his ADHD and Asperger’s make it easier for us to communicate via texting. It’s simple, short, requires little concentration for a long period of time, and it’s his favorite mode of communication. I have just taken up texting with him at least once a week if not more. I am hopeful that he picks up on the encouragement in my words as he struggles to begin his freshman year in college. He is bright, a math whiz and science scholar, but no one to encourage and direct him. My heart is aching now as I think about him 2200 miles away in Cookeville (yes, TN!) and I’m here in Portland, OR. Pray for him will you? His name is Kory, and I pray that someone will enter his life and give him the direction he truly needs. Thanks, Jeff — safe journey.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks for sharing, Sherrey. I just prayed for Kory.

  • Joshua

    wow! You sound fulfilled in what you are doing and I’m happy for you. thank you Jeff, for encouraging us to step out to do what we are meant to do. God bless you.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      You’re welcome, Joshua. Thank YOU for actually stepping out. That’s the really hard part.

      • Joshua

        You are welcome. It’s evident you are having a good time in Uganda. Just thinking aloud: it would be nice if you could, maybe in the future, come to Nigeria to have a little Writer’s conference here for budding writers. we really do not have much training opportunities here. God bless.

  • http://marknoldy.com/ Mark Noldy

    Touching piece.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks, Mark!

  • Elaine Wood-Lane

    Thank you for sharing this part of your trip with us and how important writing letters to our sponsored children really is. I write to both my Compassion children, but not as often as I would like or should. I love them, pray for them daily, and am thrilled to get their letters. So why don’t I write them every time the Spirit nudges me to write? I don’t know, but that is going to change today. Thank you.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Amen! Thank you.

  • Kulandai Swami

    Either God is dead or helpless or malevolent! If not, whence cometh Evil?

    • Pam

      I believe the evil comes from man and with the grace and love of God it is banished. Read the word of God and you will witness a living and caring God. It is only through Him that man can overcome Evil.

      • Kulandai Swami

        If evil comes from man, doesn’t the omniscient God know of it beforehand? Why not prevent it before it happens? Let me quote Epicures here: IS GOD WILLING TO PREVENT EVIL BUT NOT ABLE, THEN HE IS NOT OMNIPOTENT. IS GOD ABLE BUT NOT WILLING, THEN HE IS MALEVOLENT. IS GOD WILLING AND ABLE, THEN WHENCE COMETH EVIL? IS GOD NEITHER ABLE NOR WILLING, THEN WHY CALL HIM GOD?

  • Kulandai Swami

    Your Ugandan tale of a woman and her family is very moving. Hope it will make a good movie with a good purpose to be served globally if made into a film!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Glad you liked it, Kulandai! You’re right; it would make a great movie.

  • Cathy Y

    Thank you for your words encouraging us to write letters. We sponsor a child in Peru so this was great reminder to write to her. Thank you!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      You’re welcome.

  • Jeralyn

    Thank you for the reminder of how important our letters are to our sponsored child. I did not realize how much they cherish a note or a picture. It was eye-opening…

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      It really was.

  • mercynotes

    This is so good, words matter, especially in kids lives like these. Grateful for what you’re doing!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thank you!

  • Jeffrey Agar

    Thank you for sharing these words; they encourage and convict at the same time. I have never written the child we sponsor (Holt Intnl) and will write him now. Thank you for this encouragement. Also, the words we write (say) to ourselves can build up or tear down.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      You’re absolutely right, Jeffrey!

  • Char

    Hi Jeff, I too was on a mission trip last week and it rocked my world. My family went to the Dominican Republic with the Starkey Hearing Foundation and fit 2,000 “deaf” children and adults with hearing aids. I had no idea the need was so great. What an honor to reach out and help those in need.
    The greatest impact though has been to return to this country and realize what a privilege it is to live here. Just the great medical care alone! We are blessed. And for most of us it is a privilege that we made no effort to achieve but are here just because of our birthright. That grace calls me to action! How can I live with such great opportunity and waste one single day?! Truly life is fullest when we reach out to others…. Thank you for sharing your experiences! I love your encouragement!

    http://Www.trekkingthru.wordpress.com

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I agree. My belief is when we are blessed, it’s so that we can be a blessing to others.

  • emily

    I have sponsored a Compassion child for years now. This post was one of the most convicting things I’ve read. I’ve wasted a lot of time investing only money instead of love and time which is what we all really want, isn’t it? How oes one go about apologizing to a choild through a letter…? Guess I’m about to find out :)

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks for your humility. Emily. It’s going to make a difference.

  • Barb

    This post is on point. I was in the same position you were a couple of years ago. I thought that the letter writing thing was more to boost the sponsors’ feeling that they were doing something good rather than something that was valued by the children. I don’t know how it happened, but somehow I stumbled on to Compassion’s blog and read post after post about how important letter writing was. I was dumbfounded and ashamed…I had written what, like 2 letters to each of my girls in 3 years and 2 of those 4 letters were the postcards that Compassion sends to sponsors who haven’t written in awhile…yeesh. I have since been writing regularly to my girls and do you know what? One of them is no longer failing school…both of them know that they are lovely, and highly valued by God and their sponsor. This ministry is so valuable because it ministers to the spirits of both the children and the sponsor. I praise God for opening my eyes through posts like these, they are a great encouragement and a testimony that even a non-writing sponsor can change for the better :)

  • Chris

    I came to learn about being a better writer and I am leaving with a sponsored child. How great is that? I’ve often thought about sponsoring but I always put it on the back burner. But today when I read about Dirisa and the joy he feels when he reads his letters, well that just did me in. Thank you for writing this. I can’t wait until my girl (she’s 15) starts to see changes in her life. I also can’t wait until I can write her. I can not wait.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Pretty great, Chris. Thank you for letting me share part of my journey.

  • Vicky Lightner Cox

    I have been sponsoring my current Compassion child for about 10 years now. We have a special relationship due to our letters – she calls me Mommy Vicky. But I still do not write her enough while I can expect at least 1 letter a month. I have not heard from her since the typhoon in the Philippines in Nov. You have reminded me I need to get another letter off quickly to encourage her.

  • Sherri Morrison

    I’ve truly enjoyed sharing your journey, Jeff. Your stories, and the words that built them, are beautiful. I dream of the day I can meet my kiddos. I’m also so glad you have been inspired to write your children more. I would gladly join your challenge to sponsor a child through Compassion, but I already sponsor 30. *gasp* I have always written every one of them, but the frequency has lessened over time and sometimes it’s been months between letters. You’ve inspired me, too. I will write all 30 tonight. When they are all grown, I don’t want my words to be the unsaid ones that any of them so desperately needed to hear.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Wow! 30?! Insane. In a good way. Thank you Sherri.

    • Lydia Weaver

      Wow! You write 30 letters?! This seriously makes me smile! You are obviously incredibly blessed . . . . and so are all those children!!

  • Sherri Morrison

    I forgot to add that I sponsor 3 year old triplets in Uganda. That made your posts even more personal. :)

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Awesome!

    • Lydia Weaver

      Aaaawww.

  • Yetunde

    Jeff, I grew up in Nigeria and had a penpal from Honduras. Our letters took months to get across by every letter was eagerly awaited and treasured. Knowing how I felt about those letters, I have an inkling about how my compassion kids would feel about my letters and their disappointment at my lack of writing. Because I couldn’t write to them, I decided to cancel my sponsorship. I called compassion canada to do this and they told me that they had volunteer writers who could take care of the writing part. That was eating to know.

    Please let your readers know that this option is available to them.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks Yetunde for pointing this out. It’s a great service Compassion offers.

      • Yetunde

        I don’t know where the “eating” part came from. I’m guessing I meant “elating” but fell foul of good ole’ auto-correct

        • Sara

          I am a “writer” correspondent to quite a few kids through compassion USA. I am so thankful that though their sponsors could not write, they gave them the gift of letters and at the same time gave me the awesome privledge of being able to encourage and love those kids.

  • Nyaran

    This made me sit down and write letters to “my girls”. Although their photo is on my wall, I think of them way too seldom.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      SO glad to hear it!

  • Musa

    This is a very touching story!!! I was sponsored by Compassion and now I work with Compassion. On centre days when sponsor letters were given out, we could all sit down and wait to hear if we had one when the project social worker read names. They could read your name, you go and pick your letter, sometimes with photos. I want to confess that my sponsors were not good at sending me letters. We could feel jelousy about children who received letters very often. Sometimes children could cry if they anticipated a letter for long and whenever they read, they find none belonging to them! Sometimes I could read letters sent to my friends and just feel, i wish it was mine. I just can’t say it all, Yes, very important to write!!!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks for sharing, Musa. I so appreciate your honesty here. And thanks for turning around and giving back to the next generation of kids!

    • Lydia Weaver

      Oh my! This is very good to know! It all becomes so real now.

  • June Mohd Som

    Jeff, your entry reminds me of my own happiness when I was very young, receiving a poetic letter from my dad, from my oversea pen-pal, greeting cards during Eid Mubarak and even a reply letter from a short story author who I admired and a band guitarist I liked. Ohhh dear, let’s write letter to someone we love or a stranger… Thanx Jeff…

  • LisaBobbyLMFT

    Thank you so much for writing this, and including all the video and photos that allowed me, your reader, to connect emotionally with the people in this story. We all need a reminder that our efforts do matter, and you did this so powerfully. Thank YOU for the things that you write! I will be eagerly awaiting your next post.

  • GMC3MOM

    Thank you for writing this. I needed a reminder of how important it is to write our child. I thought that our child probably got letters from other sponsors, that we were not the only one, that they wouldn’t miss it if we skipped a month. But I have realized from this article and the comments below, how valuable and important the letters are. We are going to do a better job writing regularly.

  • Lydia Weaver

    This was a spectacular read. I welled up with emotion from deep within. It made my resolve to write my sponsor children @ the beginning of every month a very worthwhile decision. The space for writing is quite short and it doesn’t take much to get those creative juices flowing. Normally, I was writing every 2 – 3 months, but @ the beginning of this year, I wanted to write right on New Year’s day to share with them while the excitement of a new year had just begun. And so, as February came around, I found I was ready to do it again, and had made up my mind that I could actually do this @ the start of every new month. Some letters are about deeper thoughts, while others are simply just for fun and more light-hearted. When writing a short card or letter, it doesn’t take long to run out of space! (I try to write small but the interpreters might have a difficult time with that). Reading this article and especially watching the video made it all so real for me. It totally confirmed my desire for these children’s’ relationships. To me, they are just as if they were adopted legally into our family . . . and they are adopted . . . spiritually! I put their pictures up on our photo display. I concentrate on their names and their family members (and keep their cards in my bible so to look @ them every morning as we pray for them). I try to envision what it must be like when they receive our mail . . . . and now I have a clearer picture! (Much like I imagined, so thank you so much for sharing!). PS: Thank you for your candidness. It seemed as though I could feel your thoughts. :)

  • Kelly

    When my husband and I met, letters were a part of our relationship-building. Real ones like you pictured from Uganda. Then email took over. We got married. Some years later social media took over. But I’d give anything to go back & have printed black & white hard copies of those first letters, treasuring them the way I’ve done journals for/from my kids. So yes, I’m taking your challenge and writing letters to my spouse this month. No better place to start than home.

  • Carolina Cooper

    Just want to say “amen” to what you wrote, Jeff. I have been going to the country where my sponsor children lives for many years. Kids don’t grasp the size of the USA. In every project that I visit, a kid will come up to me and ask me if I know their sponsor and say, “Well tell them to write to me.” (Even though I live in NH and the sponsor that I don’t know lives in WA, FL or MD). I have sponsored the same girl who is now 16, since she was 3 years old. What a joy to have kept all of her letters, and see the changes: from her telling the tutor what she wanted to say, to her writing her own letters sharing her hopes and dreams—priceless!
    These kids DO really treasure the sponsor letters. Twenty five years ago, my then 18 year old middle son began to sponsor a 9 year old girl. As she grew into adulthood and left the project, our families stayed friends. Now, 20 years later, I went to visit her with my youngest son (not her former sponsor). When we entered her house she said. “Wow, you have really changed” to my youngest son. He said Mom, “why is she saying that, she has never met me?”
    She promptly went and brought out a picture of him from 20 years ago, when HE was 9 years old, that my other son had sent her some 20 years earlier. She still had all of the photos and letters from him, 20 years later!
    Another child that I sponsor had both of her parents die of AIDS in a very short time. The ONLY photos that she has of her parents were taken by me on a sponsor visit, and she truly treasures them. Photos are as treasured as letters. So, send photos of your family, local sights from your area and post cards. And if you do ever make a sponsor tour, be sure to send your child hard copies of the photos that include them and you!

  • carol

    Amazing article. I have a child in Tanzania and i write her monthly. I am going to increase my letters. You are right in building up and encouraging all those we encounter. God bless.

  • jhon landeo mendoza

    hola :D mi nombre es jhon landeo mendoza de PERÚ Ica Chincha y quisiera preguntar por si alguien sabe porque no se puede hablar con los padrinos por otros metodos como: facebook , twitter

  • john

    ok. i’m writing now

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Great! :-)

  • Karen

    I’ve visited most of my Compassion kids and know what a difference this organization is making. Not only my own kids, but especially the older ones express how VERY, VERY important the letters are to them…more than anything else, it tells them that someone they don’t even know on a physical level loves them. It is God in the flesh to them in a way. That is precious indeed.

  • Tina

    I’ve never seen my parents praise me or help me with my novel. It’s been hard to write but every moment is still good..

  • Randy Schario

    While catching up on my backlog of blogs I enjoy reading I found myself here after I felt like I needed to keep reading instead of moving on to other things to do today. After reading this blog I have to confess that right now at this very moment we have a “write your sponsored child” page on our dresser in the other room that has been there far, far too long! Thank you for your honesty, we will be writing Priscila Atitikin today, and mailing it tomorrow!

  • Michael

    I did a word cloud of your beautiful post! Thank you for challenging and inspiring us! http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/7563688/The_Worst_Mistake_You_Don%27t_Know_You%27re_Making

  • http://akwaabagoldentours.com/ Akwaaba Golden

    This is a very touching post. Thank you for sharing. Me and my husband help a lot of children here in Ghana.

  • Della

    Beautifully written … deeply moving … welcome reminder. Thank you for this!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      thanks, della!

  • Shonie

    Jeff, I thank YOU for taking the time to show others how important they are in a child’s life. I sponsor a child in Peru and I have a deep, deep love for you. I have handmade a card for her and send her stickers and pictures to color often. She is truly a blessing from God and I am thankful that He has introduced us to one another. As I read the comments from many people I started crying from within and the tears of joy and love for my child and for others slid down my cheeks. Thank you for the love that you have shown and continue to show. God Bless you.