Written by Alyssa Esparaz
I grew up fairly disconnected from my ethnic 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, then again when I was 17. 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 began to see 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 deep community that made me question the individualism I was so used to in Canada. I saw the local church in the Philippines serve their neighbours in ways I’d never seen in Canada. I also saw injustice at work in the Philippines unlike what I’d seen in Canada. I saw, experienced, and learned the basics of this new-to-me place, too—cuisine, language, the best mangoes in the world.
If it wasn’t for sponsoring Florianlyn, I wouldn’t have gone home and embraced this part of myself that I’d been largely missing for the first 14 years of my life.
I eventually came to realize something else through our sponsorship of Florianlyn. As I sponsored her, I became a role model who actually looks like her—something I never had as a child.
I also enable her to be part of regular programming at her local church where she has mentors who show her God created her with intentionality and purpose. Instead of people coming from outside of her community to help, Compassion equips local people and local churches to do the frontline work of reaching children living in poverty.
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 I encourage us all to hear, 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 per cent 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.
When 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 reach every child. That is exactly why Jey—and I—are so passionate about seeing more people of colour come on board to sponsor, too.
I want to be clear: This is not to say that reaching out cross-culturally is less valuable. I truly believe that when we reach across borders, boundaries, and differences to help and learn from others, it is a clear picture of the Kingdom on this side of heaven. That’s why I sponsor girls in Nicaragua and Tanzania.
But I also sponsor kids in Thailand and the Philippines. Doing so not only helped me more fully embrace my ethnic identity, but it also enabled me to be a role model to a child of colour who looks like me—the role model I once needed myself.
A version of this article was originally published on Compassion Canada’s blog. Learn more about becoming a Compassion sponsor at www.compassion.ca.