Ninth grade students at The Woodlands Christian Academy near Houston, Texas embarked on an exciting adventure in the 2020–2021 school year.
Their school has begun a partnership with World Vision Ignite, which provides students with an experiential learning opportunity designed to help them grow into global leaders with a biblical worldview. The school is pairing the deep dive into issues surrounding global poverty with the chance for each student to be chosen as a sponsor by a child in Zambia.
Julie Ambler, head of school, says of the academy’s vision for the students: “Socially we want them to foster relationships for God’s kingdom. A large part of that is understanding and appreciating the dignity of other people and having a heart for service. That’s where the Ignite program fits in so well with our mission.”
At a reveal event on October 1, 2020, students learned which child chose them.
Kai: Embracing growth opportunities
Kai makes so many decisions each day — what to eat for lunch, what clothes to wear, how much water to drink. These are choices that many children around the world don’t get to make. And yet, on a September day in 2020, 10-year-old Titus in Zambia got to make a big choice. From a selection of photos, he chose Kai to be his sponsor. He liked Kai’s smile.
That’s something that only Kai’s family has remarked on before.
“It was very cool just to see somebody who doesn’t really have much and they don’t get many things to choose from in life. They get to choose somebody that can change their life and is hoping to change their [own] life,” Kai says.
Open to change
Diana Dew, who teaches the ninth-grade Christian development class, says that the lessons elicit in her students “a really sensitive, surprised awareness of the needs.”
Kai says, “It definitely opened my eyes to a lot — just seeing what they go through every day to get water when we take it for granted. To walk two miles just to get water [and] with no shoes.”
He expects that his relationship with Titus and learning from the Ignite curriculum will continue to change him. He’s already noticing the intense faith of many people in need. Without access to as many resources, they wholeheartedly put their faith in God
“I feel like it will make me notice the smaller things that I have, that [other] people may not have — just like the water, the clothes, … the decisions I get to make each day that some people don’t get to make,” Kai says.
He gets to choose to examine and embrace these learning and growth opportunities. And hopefully someday children like Titus will also have more opportunities to choose.
Mercer: Journey of discovery
“This opportunity is going to change my life forever,” says ninth grader Mercer.
Mercer got to watch a video of 4-year-old Melody choosing her photo: “They didn’t have to take one look and pick, but they could take multiple looks and they could choose and actually have options.”
Having choices feels normal for Mercer. “I get to do it all the time. I am definitely privileged,” she says. With choice, she knows that she has many potential paths for her future.
As she begins this journey of discovery, she reflects that now she’s thinking about children who she hadn’t known about before. She’s learning that they don’t have the choices that she does. They don’t have access to as many basic essentials. That’s something that she wants to remember and ponder on daily.
“We are in a very affluent area. And I think unless our students have been on a mission trip or stepped downtown to do some community service, I don’t know that they think about what’s happening in other places where there’s poverty or where there’s other needs,” says Diana.
She says of the lessons with her students, including Mercer: “I think it’s really opened their eyes to look beyond the luxury of what they’re accustomed to.”
A new definition of neighbor
One of the lessons tackles the question of who our neighbors are by looking at the story of the Good Samaritan. Mercer’s definition of that word has expanded. “I think about loving my neighbor but loving a neighbor across the world,” she says. “Even though you can’t be with them, you can still show them all the love you have and put their needs above your own. And just change from it.”
She’s started learning from the attitudes of children she’s seen in World Vision videos. “They take their opportunities that they get even though they may be sparse. They are thankful for them,” she says. “[I] can learn to be more content with what [I] have from day to day. I may complain sometimes but it shouldn’t be what [I] go to immediately.”
Mercer sees God’s hand guiding her relationship with Melody and in the Ignite lessons. “I know that God has placed me in this specific spot, this specific time to change their lives forever and to change mine,” she says. “I just want them to know that none of this is a mistake.”
As she moves forward, she’s guided by the idea that God has a plan for each and every one of us. That helps her to seize the opportunities she’s given, but also to find a way to offer opportunities to her neighbors — who include a 4-year-old girl from Zambia.
Michael: Opening the door to new opportunities
Junior high and high school can feel very much like a popularity contest. But Michael, a ninth grader, doesn’t seek that out. Instead he chooses to focus on integrity, honesty, and other biblical principles.
He wants to spread joy in the world, and one of the ways he does that is through his smile.
“People compliment me on my smile sometimes because I love to show genuine expression when I’m happy,” Michael says.
That smile led Danny to choose Michael as his sponsor.
Michael seems ready to embrace those chances and lessons. “God always wants us to help change lives for the betterment of the world,” he says. “When I know my purpose is to help other people, it really helps to know that God is with me and I can understand how to help Him and the world [and] to be a better person in general.”
Helping others is very much in line with the biblical principles by which Michael seeks to live his life.
A conversation with lasting effects
The school’s director of marketing and communications, Blair Moon, says, “To be in a position of wanting someone to choose you, you’re less of a superhero that comes in to save the day and you’re more vulnerable. That vulnerability and anticipation and that longing to be accepted is probably my favorite part of the program.”
The class also has begun to work through World Vision’s Ignite curriculum, which offers students an experiential learning opportunity where they can discover more about being the hands and feet of Jesus in the fight against poverty worldwide.
“The most exciting thing for me is probably the opportunity that the kids have to be part of a conversation that’s really important and is really relevant right now,” says Blair. “I feel like this is really a life-changing experience; [it] could be for them. Introducing them to things they might be wrestling with in their own life as they try to make sense of all the conversation happening in the world.”
She hopes these studies allow the kids to begin even more to see others as God sees them and that it will open opportunities for serving. “If anyone is called to open the door and allow for more opportunities to step outside of ourselves, it’s Christians,” she says.
Sarah: Expanding her perspective
Ninth grader Sarah watches as the video plays on the screen in a classroom. In the video, Sarah sees a Zambian girl approach a small wheel hanging from a tree. Pictures of Sarah and some of her classmates hang by clothespins. Wind whips the pictures around. Then the girl stops the wheel from spinning and pulls down Sarah’s picture.
Sarah’s hand covers her mouth as the video concludes. “That was incredible,” she says. “I’m speechless right now. I didn’t expect to be so emotional … getting to see who chose me.”
Twelve-year-old Faith chose Sarah and sent a video message. “Hello sponsor. My name is Faith. I chose you because you are so beautiful.”
“I’m excited to get to know her,” says Sarah. “God probably put me on her heart. … It’s a new friendship that’s coming. I’m sure it’s not just a coincidence.”
Sarah sees that this relationship will help her gain a new perspective and broaden her view of the world. Already, through some of the videos she’s seen in the Ignite curriculum, She knows that some children in Zambia must walk miles to get water. “I could never imagine that,” says Sarah. She’ll be able to ask Faith questions about her access to water, her school, her family, and what she most enjoys in life.
Sarah already sees the strength of community bonds in some of the African villages in the videos she’s seen. They care for one another. When someone lacks, the rest of the village helps out. Sarah experienced that herself when Hurricane Harvey struck, leaving her neighborhood blocked in by flooding. People had to borrow from one another until the roads opened up. “Through catastrophe, I was able to learn about community,” she says.
Living out biblical teachings
Diana says, “I really think these students would like to do something if they can and they can do something no matter how small. It’s just a good opportunity while their hearts are still tender and very teachable.”
This curriculum focuses on how students can put their faith into action. “We are the hands and feet of Jesus and God uses us to reach others and to show His love. I talk a lot about it [with] my students. It’s not just knowing the Bible, but it’s living it out in day-to-day life and being a light to those around them,” Diana says.
Sarah keeps looking at the picture of Faith holding Sarah’s photo. It touched her to realize that, in her words, a child “chose you out of the rest of the people. She wanted to have a relationship with you. She was led to have a relationship with you. She wants to know you. Especially as a teenage girl, it definitely feels good to be called beautiful. And so is she too — she’s just beautiful.”
And that’s a beauty that will grow as the girls get to know one another and understand both the differences and similarities that two teenaged girls from different cultures can share.
Whitney: Ready to be used by God
“It means a lot to be chosen and to be picked,” says ninth-grader, Whitney.
She’s just watched a video of Moses choosing her to be his sponsor. She’s opened the envelope containing his introductory letter to her.
Now it’s time for Whitney and her classmates to write back and begin this friendship. “I’m hoping to find out about their life. About what hardships they’ve been through. What gets them through the day? What they do for fun?” Whitney says.
Being used by God
In the ninth-grade Christian development class, one of the first Ignite lessons focused on a community in Africa getting clean water. The children and whole community elatedly danced around. That really stood out to Whitney. “Just the joy of them having something that we take for granted every single day. Seeing them so happy when they just get a little bit of water,” she says.
Whitney sees how God chooses us and what that means in the lives of Christians. She’s ready to dive into her relationship with Moses. She’s ready to serve in a way that fulfills God’s plan for the world.
She smiles and says, “I do hope He uses me for something big.”
Zoe: Building a new friendship
“Sadly, all of my life, I’ve moved around a lot, and I was always afraid of making connections with people because I was afraid that I would just move again,” says 13-year-old Zoe. She hopes that things might soon change as she’s just learned who chose her as sponsor.
“Now I feel like it’s just like a new friend for me, and we can both benefit from the relationship, which I think is really important,” she says.
These relationships are an important part of the partnership between The Woodlands Christian Academy and World Vision. Head of School Julie Ambler says that having students meet people from other cultures and getting to experience the challenges they face will play a key part in helping the teens develop into well-rounded leaders.
Faith into action
Zoe participated in World Vision’s Ignite lesson about justice. She says, “I’m glad that I was able to give insight to another topic that is actually really important and needs to be discussed more.”
Through the lesson she sees how justice extends beyond our country’s borders and around the world. As students discuss the topics, they’ll also continue writing to their sponsored children, deepening that relationship, and learning firsthand from children in Zambia about their lives.
And they’ll find opportunities to put their lessons into action.
“Sadly, there are people all over the world who have not had the same chances as a lot of people in this world,” Zoe says. “And I think it’s important to realize that they are trying really hard to survive, and we have to realize, what could those children do if they did get a chance?”
A generation of change makers
A chance to make a difference is something that Zoe also wants for herself.
She says, “It’s a common misconception that people my age just want to sit down [and] watch television all day. But I think a lot of us actually have some really good ideas, but we just need guidance and … the chance to make a difference.”
This partnership between schools and World Vision helps to build up leaders who want to facilitate change. And those leaders could be here or in a village in Zambia.