8 Year Old Supporter Donates Birthday to Persecuted Christians

October 26, 2017 by Sarah Cunningham in

A surprising wish list

John’s parents were shocked when he, a typical 8 year old, declared he didn’t want any presents for his birthday.

It made no sense. Like any other child, he loved unwrapping toys on special occasions.

“What do you mean, John?” They asked him. And they were no more prepared for his answer than we at Open Doors were.

“I want people to give to Open Doors for my birthday,” John explained. “I want to stand before Jesus and say I helped persecuted Christians.”

The more John’s parents talked to him, the more they realized how much thought John had put into his proposal. And so they agreed. To carry out their plan, they made a list of friends and family and then they sent each of them a letter that read:

Hello there,

My two year old Titus was mistakenly – but oh so cutely – declaring his birthday’s today.  In our conversation about birthdays and time, I said, “Actually John’s birthday is coming up.”  Turning to John I asked, “What are you hoping for this year, Bud?”

He paused and slowly replied that he didn’t want wrapped gifts this year.  I was shocked, because he loves presents.  Then he went on to say that he was hoping people would give to Open Doors for his birthday.  He said he wanted to stand before Jesus and say that he didn’t get any presents for his 8th birthday, but that people gave to Open Doors instead.  Clearly, he’d thought this through.  I couldn’t argue with him.  I wish you could see his smile as he talked about it.  My mommy heart was wanting to shower him with gifts but the truth is that he has everything he needs.  What he wants to do is help the persecuted church, so I’m aiming to honor that.

Brother Andrew started Open Doors years ago serving Christians in persecution.  John’s read his biography a few times.  They continue to courageously care for Christians in desperate situations today.  As you can imagine, there are many such Christians.  You can find out more about the organization from

If you want to send them a financial gift, you can mail a check to:

Open Doors
Mail Processing Center
P.O. Box 1595
Merrifield, VA 22116-1595

Including a note saying “In honor of John’s birthday” will ensure that gifts given in honor of his birthday get added up.  We’ve included these for your convienence.  They will call him with the total.  Thank you so much for considering this request.

8 year old John also wrote a personal note to be included in the letter.


I hope that you are doing well.  For my 8th birthday I decided to give to Open Doors instead of having presents.  I hope that you will consider this.


After hearing about John’s powerful birthday celebration, we at Open Doors had to know more about his story. I reached out to this mother to tell her how thankful the staff were to learn about another supporter who was committed to serving the persecuted church at only 8 years old! And I asked her if she’d be willing to tell more of her family’s story with our readers so you, too, can be touched by the way God works in each of our lives. She graciously agreed. Below, you can read her words about how she and her husband raised their children to be generous toward those in need.

As you read more of John’s story, I want to encourage you to share your stories with us as well. We know every person and every family is different and each of us find different ways to care for and support the persecuted church. We would love to connect with you too, to know how God is stirring in you to care about the persecuted church, and to hear from you. You can drop me a note any time.


A Letter From John’s Mother:

I first learned about persecuted believers as a child. My father and some fellow believers smuggled Bibles past the Iron Curtain when he was a medical student in Vienna. Miraculously the Bibles always went under the radar. Not one of his comrades was ever found out, and I was always proud of him for participating in the work while he was studying medicine.

I also grew up reading Voice of the Martyrs magazine. When I was teaching elementary school, I read Heavenly Man and met Brother Yun. I don’t remember when I first heard about Brother Andrew, but I definitely grew up knowing that there were believers in many countries persecuted for their faith.

Shortly after I became pregnant with our fourth, John turned 5. I had very severe vascular problems in my right side during the pregnancy, therefore had difficulty standing because the blood would pool so quickly in my right leg and ankle. So I spent much of the pregnancy reading books to the children. We don’t have TV or internet, so they have lengthy attention spans and a great love of reading.

John loved to snuggle and read books. Since he was the only one who no longer napped during the day, we spent the first hour of the little ones’ nap time reading the Bible and missionary biographies. So, he was five when we first read Brother Andrew’s biography together. He loved it so much that he wanted to read it with his dad too, to share the story with his dad. He’s given it as birthday gifts to friends. We don’t have a copy on the shelf right now because it is his favorite story to give away.

We read 19 missionary biographies when he was 5. I figured that was the silver lining of the vascular problems. On the down side, I couldn’t cook well or do anything that required much standing. On the up side, we had lots of special time reading about heroes of the faith.

Unbeknownst to me, John learned to read well over my shoulder during this time. When the baby was born and we were running errands one day, he sat in the back seat of the van reading George Washington Carver’s biography. In the third chapter, there was a hanging of an innocent black man. He was so upset at what he’d read, he was physically shaking. I didn’t even know he was in the back seat reading the biography, and I didn’t know he could read at that level.

YWAM has an amazing series of Heroes of Christianity and Heroes of History that we were pulling from. Occasionally, I would edit out some mature content as I read. Most often we discussed the mature content. Because we were reading the Old Testament together at the same time, and it is also full of mature content, we did discuss things like drunkenness. It is hard to know when is a good time for such conversations, and I’m sure it varies with every child.

We started getting newsletters from Open Doors, and our two oldest would dive into them excitedly. One time an urgent request caught John’s attention. It was the first time he asked over and over if we could give. I think that was when he determined in his heart to give his birthday money.

We have also always said that we are rich. My husband and I have both spent time serving in orphanages in Africa, so we have always set the line that if we have food, shelter, clothes AND toys that makes us rich. I think keeping a TV out and internet out, keeping commercials out of our home keeps covetousness at bay somewhat since the kids never see the ads for the latest greatest toys.

We’ve had missionaries from Africa stay with us who said – even before they became overseas missionaries – they lived by “How little can we live on? How much can we give?” We definitely talk about how much Jesus gave and storing up treasure in heaven.

I came back from Africa right before Christmas. The contrast was intense for me. It really made me rethink Christmas. I went from holding orphans, walking by severely maimed beggars to shopping malls, decorations, trees, lights.  As a result, we’ve tried to ponder how to best give to Jesus at Christmas.

At Christmas time, the kids have repeatedly picked out an orphan to sponsor or we ask ourselves how many shoe boxes can we fill this year? Last year, John wanted to sponsor a boy from Uganda. We called Rafiki and asked for a boy in Uganda. They had just one boy and his name was Emmanuel. The kids were so elated because what they wanted was to give to Jesus for his birthday and they got a boy who was named God with us. They couldn’t have been happier. 10 boxes stuffed with toys couldn’t have made them happier than sponsoring that boy in Uganda. They even keep pictures of the children they’ve chosen to sponsor for Christmas in their closet.

Jesus has definitely encouraged the kids in their giving. I remember the first time John tithed. He had been separating his tithe for a long time, but when he first brought his load of coins to church, the guy next to him turned and gave him a whole packet of Starburst candy. I thought, “Who goes around with a whole packet of candy in their pocket?” After he gave it to John, then he asked me if it was OK for John to have. So it was really an after thought to ask me anyways. I probably would have said one was fine, but I never would have given him a whole packet. I totally felt like it was Jesus giving John a pat on the back for bringing his tithe into the storehouse.

We always want to encourage giving and storing up treasure in heaven. We try to give away as many toys and clothes as we can. We’ve always let him give toys to friends or relatives and wanted to encourage generosity. We don’t do a lot of presents period. Still, I was really shocked but inspired that John wanted to give his birthday to Open Doors.

We’ve always been blessed in our giving. I remember when John was two I’d let two friends go through all his baby clothes and take whatever they wanted. When I became pregnant with our second boy I had almost nothing leftover from when John was a baby. But, a relative who wasn’t having more children gave us her boy clothes and our third was better dressed than our first.

I’ve especially seen it with the kids. I remember my daughter gave her favorite baby doll because she wanted to be like Abel and give her best. Then her Grandma bought her a dream kitchen. I remember John gave his bank away, then his Grandma bought him an 8 person tent! What 5 year old gets an amazing 8 person tent! Our second boy gave all his money to Jesus (brought his whole bank to church and emptied it) then got a present in the mail from a relative…Its happened over and over again. There is great freedom and joy in giving, and we’ve seen over and over how we can’t out-give God.

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