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Revealed: George H.W. Bush quietly sponsored a child through Compassion International

Sponsorship can change a child's life forever

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It was revealed after George H.W. Bush died that he sponsored a Filipino boy through Compassion International, a nonprofit organization that aids millions of babies, children, and young adults in dozens of countries through a sponsorship of a little more than $1 per day. Sponsors often communicate with their child through letters and pictures.

What are the details?

It's not exactly clear if the boy, named Timothy, was aware he had been communicating with the 41st president of the United States. That's because Bush communicated with Timothy under the pseudonym "George Walker."

According to Wess Stafford, who was president of Compassion International when Bush began his sponsorship, the pseudonym was necessary because Timothy could have faced danger had his community learned he was regularly communicating with a former U.S. president. But Bush had a difficult time keeping his identity under wraps.

"The first time he started breaking our little security rules was when he sent a picture of his dog, Millie, and he added, 'This is Millie. She's met lots of famous people," Stafford told the Colorado Springs Gazette.

"And then years later, he wrote, 'We're going to have Christmas this year with my son at his house.' And then he adds, 'Oh, and he lives in a big, white house.' And I'm like, 'Come on, Mr. President. You are really pushing the envelope here,'" he explained.

Stafford said Bush began his sponsorship during the Christmas season in 2000. While attending a Christian concert, attendees were asked during intermission if they wanted to begin sponsoring a child — and Bush emphatically raised his hand.

"To everybody's surprise, all of a sudden George Sr. raises his hand in the middle of his security entourage and says, 'I want one!'" Stafford said. The packet was passed down to him, "and all of these security people were like, 'Has anybody screened this? Does anybody know if this is OK or not?'" Stafford explained.

Bush regularly engaged with Timothy for years, always trying to find common ground and to ensure Timothy that he was loved. He even had Compassion International hand-deliver a package with art supplies upon learning that Timothy loved art.

As Bush's health began to decline, Stafford's executive assistant, Angie Lathrop, took over Bush's sponsorship.

Did Timothy ever learn who sponsored him?

According to the Gazette, Lathrop and her husband flew to the Philippines in 2010, where they told Timothy personally that it was a former U.S. president who had sponsored him.

According to the Lathrops, Timothy was astonished to learn the true identity of his sponsor.

Angie is the one who told him, "Your former sponsor is someone that I know pretty well, and he was the president of the United States." And Timothy, he was so dumbfounded, he was speechless. And he says, "Well, I knew that he was a kind and encouraging, wonderful man, but I had no idea." And I thought, you know, to a child in poverty, it's amazing enough that anyone would care about them but it was beyond his wildest imagination and even his ability to comprehend that the president of the United States knew his name.

Why you should sponsor a child

It's clear: Sponsoring a child, who had the unfortunate circumstances of being born into poverty, will change their life forever. For privileged Americans — and even most impoverished Americans are more wealthy than those in developing countries — sponsoring a child is a direct and tangible way you can make a difference in the lives of an entire community.

Indeed, empirical data show sponsorships place impoverished children in a position to succeed in life, which likely wouldn't happen without a willing sponsor.

From Christianity Today:

The results in our other five countries confirm the positive impact of Compassion's child-sponsorship program in Uganda. In all six countries, we find that sponsorship results in better educational outcomes for children. Overall, sponsorship makes children 27 to 40 percent more likely to complete secondary school, and 50 to 80 percent more likely to complete a university education. Child sponsorship also appears to be the great equalizer in education: In areas where outcomes are worse, such as sub-Saharan Africa, impacts are bigger. In countries where existing outcomes aren't as bad, like in India and the Philippines, impacts are significant but smaller. In countries where existing outcomes are higher among boys, the impact on girls is larger; in countries where the existing educational outcomes are higher for girls, the impact on boys is larger. We even find some evidence for spillover effects on the unsponsored younger siblings of sponsored children.

To put it simply, these educational impacts of sponsorship are large—roughly equal to the substantial effects of the Rosenwald Schools program that from 1913–31 educated blacks in the Jim Crow South. They are roughly double those of Oportunidades, the celebrated conditional-cash-transfer program that gives cash to mothers in Mexico for keeping their children in school. It's so successful, it has been replicated in dozens of developing countries around the world with financial incentives from the World Bank.

Compassion's results extend beyond school attendance. We found that child sponsorship means that when the child grows up, he is 14–18 percent more likely to obtain a salaried job, and 35 percent more likely to obtain a white-collar job. Many of the Compassion-sponsored children become teachers as adults instead of remaining jobless or working in menial agricultural labor. We found some evidence that they are more likely to grow up to be both community leaders and church leaders.I sponsor a 13-year-old Guatemalan girl, Beverly. She is an amazing young woman who loves Jesus and is growing into an a world-changer despite her difficult circumstances. Exchanging letters and parts of our lives is a richly rewarding experience — worth every penny of the $38 I pay each month to sponsor her.

So take the leap and sponsor a child today — it will literally change the world.

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