Shirley Gilman, 77, always wondered if sponsorship was real. Did the kids really receive vital help?
Were lives truly changed?
On a Sunday morning in August 2007, her questions were answered.
At an event led by Pastor Debbie Lindell of James River Church in Springfield, Missouri, Shirley heard a speaker describe the struggles he faced growing up in an orphanage in India. But through OneChild’s program, he overcame poverty, obtained a doctorate degree, and became a Child Champion. “He gave a clear talk about sponsorship and explained how OneChild changed his life,” says Shirley. “I realized the program is real!”
Shirley sponsored one child that day — and never looked back.
Today, Shirley sponsors 13 children from India, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. “My family teases me, saying I can’t stop!” she says. “I can’t resist their smiles. I always say, ‘Just one more — this is the last one.’ But then God puts one more child on my heart.” Because of her incredible faithfulness to children in need, Shirley was honored at OneChild’s 2019 Global Summit, where she received the ministry’s first Child Champion Award.
“I can’t resist their smiles. I always say, ‘Just one more — this is the last one.’ But then God puts one more child on my heart.”
The reason Shirley keeps opening her heart — time after time — is because she believes sponsorship is the best way to transform lives. “I can’t imagine what these children go through,” she says. “But as sponsors, we’re giving them hope for the future!”
Shirley believes education is one of the most significant benefits of OneChild’s program. Her father, who was an orphan, grew up during the Great Depression and never had the opportunity to attend high school. She sees her dad in each child she sponsors. “These children want to study so badly,” she says. “But many of them can’t attend school without the program. This is the only way they can learn to read. If we educate them, they can change their lives. And as they become leaders, they’ll go on to transform their communities and the world.”
If we educate them, they can change their lives. And as they become leaders, they’ll go on to transform their communities and the world.
It’s also important to Shirley that sponsorship makes an eternal impact. “I can’t express how wonderful it is when a child writes to me about coming to the Lord,” says Shirley.
“And in their letters, they share Bible verses. It’s beautiful.”
The letters Shirley receives from her sponsored children never cease to amaze her. “They write about how grateful they are for food, clothes and every little thing,” says Shirley. “Their appreciation is overwhelming. I treasure their letters.”
One child’s letter even helped Shirley find resilience during a challenging time. After suffering from serious health issues, Shirley found herself feeling hopeless. “I had a lot of eye issues and shingles, which affected nerves in my arm,” says Shirley. “I couldn’t see or move my arm. I explained the situation to one of my sponsored boys. He wrote me the sweetest letter, filled with Scripture, reminding me that God was with me. It gave me hope to go on.”
Shirley’s perspective has also changed since she started sponsoring children. “They truly have the joy of the Lord!” she exclaims. “I always imagine how fun it would be to go
to church with them. They don’t have the distractions we do. They trust God for everything. And even though their struggles are immense, they pray for us. Some days I’ll be discouraged. Then I get a packet of letters. The kids are so joyful — it’s contagious!”
But sponsoring hasn’t always been easy. As a widow, Shirley has often struggled financially. After receiving a high electrical bill, Shirley started to work at McDonald’s, which helped her pay her bills and allowed her to continue sponsoring. “By working there I was able to sponsor one more child, Daniel,” says Shirley. “Sponsoring another child is well worth any sacrifices I had to make.”
Even during difficult economic times, Shirley has witnessed God’s faithfulness. Today, she’s even covering the costs of sponsorship for family and friends who have gotten sick or lost jobs.
“If you can hang in there during hard times, it’s very rewarding,” she says. “Ask God to make a way. He does provide. The blessing you get from trusting God is insurmountable. It’s exciting when you see God work and wonder, ‘How did He do that?’ He can do anything!”
Shirley also understands the importance of sponsorship during difficult seasons, like the pandemic. “One of my girls in India, who’s on lockdown, wrote that Child Champions are bringing her family food so they won’t go hungry,” explains Shirley.
Over time, Shirley has witnessed how sponsorship changes children’s lives — and sponsors’ lives, too. “My sponsored kids bring me incredible joy,” she says. “I love them all so much. I’m very proud of them. They are so resilient and inspiring. Each child has great potential. It’s such a gift to be part of their stories!”