My first time “going home” was to visit the Compassion child my family sponsors, in the summer of 2011.
Take “going home” loosely, because the Philippines was never my home. But it was and is the home of my family, and so, as with many first-generation Canadians, the Philippines came to mean some semblance of home for me, too.
That trip was the beginning of a journey for me—a journey of learning to love my heritage, despite growing up in a community where I rarely saw my heritage represented or celebrated. A journey of understanding my identity as Asian-Canadian, as a person of colour. A journey home.
“I began to see and understand that God created me with these
identities—Chinese, Filipino, Canadian—not by accident.”
I grew up fairly disconnected from my racial, ethnic and cultural identity. It wasn’t that my parents didn’t proudly teach me where we came from—they did. But outside of my home, when I looked to media, my peers or my neighbours, I didn’t see my identities proudly represented. All I wanted was to be like everyone else around me, and I grew to resent being ‘different’.
That is, until sponsoring Florianlyn brought me home.
When I asked my parents to sponsor a child on my behalf in middle school, we chose to sponsor in the Philippines, knowing it would likely give us the chance to one day visit.
We visited for the first time when I was 14, and again three years later. Those trips shifted my understanding of home and identity in beautiful ways. I began to see and understand that God created me with these identities—Chinese, Filipino, Canadian—not by accident. I slowly began to learn that in each of those spaces, He had something for me to discover about myself, about others, about the world around me, and ultimately, about Him.
I saw deep poverty in the Philippines, but also a deep sense of community that made me question the individualism I was so accustomed to in Canada. I saw the local church in the Philippines serve their neighbours in ways that I’d never seen in Canada. I also saw injustice and brokenness at work in the Philippines in ways that I’d never seen in Canada. I saw, experienced and learned simpler things, too—cuisine, language, the best mangoes in the world (with no bias involved in that claim at all).
If it wasn’t for sponsoring Florianlyn, I wouldn’t have gone home and reclaimed a part of myself that I’d been largely missing for the first 14 years of my life.
I eventually came to realize something else about our sponsorship: As I sponsor Florianlyn, I am a role model who she can see herself in. I am a role model who looks like her—what I craved throughout my own childhood.
Through sponsorship, I also enable her to be part of regular programming at her local church—a place where she has local mentors who show her that God created her with intentionality and purpose. Instead of people coming from outside of her community and doing things their own way, Compassion’s sponsorship program empowers and equips local people and local churches to do the frontline work of releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name.
My friend Jey, a Compassion alumnus and speaker originally from Kenya, helped me see how significant this is through some profound words. They are words that I encourage us all to listen to, reflect on and learn from:
“Growing up, I don’t remember seeing a black missionary in my community. So, in some ways, we could have easily thought that salvation is for whites only. But we say that we are all made in God’s image and God loves all of us equally. As a child, 99% of the people helping [in my community] were white. There is nothing wrong with that, but if we are all made in God’s image and he loves us all, it is powerful for black kids when missionaries and sponsors have some black people amongst them.
That is important for many reasons, but one is that when these kids see someone who looks like them, it registers in their mind that God loves all of us and can use anyone—black, white, Hispanic, Asian or any other race. [It helps] kids see God not as white or black but as the God of all. And when they grow up, they will know they can also go back and give back.”
It is not that others’ help isn’t valuable—in fact, we need everyone to be part of this mission if we are going to release every child from poverty in Jesus’ name. That is exactly why Jey—and I—are so passionate about seeing more people of colour come on board to sponsor, too.
Jey’s words inspired me to sponsor a girl of Chinese heritage in Thailand, and that led me to reclaim a whole other part of my roots.
Is a journey home waiting for you?
Let me be clear: My goal in sharing these reflections is not to count cross-cultural sponsorship as less valuable. I truly believe that when we reach across borders and differences to serve and learn from others, it is as clear a picture of the Kingdom that we get on this side of heaven. That’s why I sponsor girls in Nicaragua and Tanzania as well.
But my challenge to my fellow people of colour is this: What kind of impact could you make in the life of a child who shares your cultural, ethnic or racial identity?