This is Isaac. Though he’s not a student at WSCS, he’s an important member of my 4th grade class.
That’s because our classroom is sponsoring Isaac, a 13 year-old boy from Uganda.
Last fall we welcomed Ruudy & Beckie Olupot of LOCODI – which stands for Loveworld Community Development Initiative -- into our classroom. Ruudy and Beckie are missionaries in Uganda supported by Remembrance Reformed Church, and who readily agreed to come talk about their work and ministry.
“They help the children in Uganda,” explained the 4th graders.
In a nutshell, that’s indeed what they do. They work in several schools, with orphans, leading purity clubs, HIV/AIDs prevention, and helping children gain access to school through sponsorships, and whatever else God puts in their path.
Ruudy himself has a powerful story that he shared with us. Orphaned as a child, “one time he felt like he wanted to die because his life was so hard. He ended up living with his uncle,” said the 4th graders. “But his uncle would whip him until he bled.” He would work until the wee hours of the morning, yet still couldn’t scrape together the remaining $8 he needed in order to go to college and get a better life.
Ruudy finally made it to college (graduating top in his class!), where he studied to become a pastor so that he could in turn help the children of Uganda.
He met his wife Beckie “when she went there as a missionary.” She grew up here in the United States and went to Uganda and fell in love with Ruudy. “She’s teaching the children about Jesus.” They don’t have running water and they have to go a long ways just to get water. It’s not an easy life where they live near equator and it’s very hot there. They’re working as missionaries in the school and have “200 kids in a classroom sometimes.”
Ruudy and Becky’s powerful story really touched my whole class. After hearing their story, we talked about our role as Christians here in Michigan. We asked, “What can we do to help?”
“Many of the children are poor and if they don’t go to school and get an education they can’t take care of themselves very well,” explained the 4th graders. “Education is the one way they can sometimes get out of poverty.”
And when we learned it would cost us only $20 per month to sponsor a child, we knew the Lord was calling us to put our faith into action. That works out to about $1/student each month.
We decided to sponsor Isaac because he was homeless. We hoped that sponsoring Isaac would allow him to go to school and get off of the streets, and also introduce him to Jesus.
And we committed, as a class, to this faith-in-action journey together. We talked about sacrificial giving, about relying on God’s providence, and about creatively using our gifts and talents and resources to fund Isaac’s sponsorship. We talked about how our money is actually God’s money. When God gives us money, He is entrusting us to use it wisely and use it to help build His kingdom.
“God first, then others, then ourselves,” noted one fourth-grader.
Our focus isn’t just on bringing in the money. I encouraged them to raise their donations intentionally each month (not just asking Mom and Dad for $1!). We need the money each month, of course, but in God’s economy we learn and we grow when we give.
And I’ve watched my students discover that firsthand. They have given and grown and learned in such profound ways.
Several students ran a lemonade stand to raise money. “I told people that I was raising money for a child in Uganda. I charged $.25/cup and someone gave me $10! I raised $19.10. I felt good that I could help.”
Someone received a $20 bill from her grandma. She dropped that bill in our class jar. With joy and excitement that she could contribute.
Another student reached into the magazine fundraiser cashbox, and put that money into the class jar.
“Birthday money.” “Chore money.” “Selling cookies.” They’ve taken ownership of this and celebrate the opportunities God has provided to serve, and give.
We do more than just give money too. We pray for him every day at school. We’re learning that the Church is all around the world because we are the body of Christ. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Isaac is our brother in Christ. That’s why we want to help him have a better life.
We also arranged to support him with words and messages of encouragement by sending cards and letters to him.
As they wrote their cards, I heard a student comment, “I wonder what Isaac is doing today.” Another student said, “Can we play 'Big Daddy Weave’s ‘Overwhelmed’. It’s about kids in Africa and it’s inspiring.”
It’s not just a tagline; it’s what we do here at West Side Christian School. We teach Bible stories, and we worship, and we memorize Scripture as part of our mission to educate our students from a biblical perspective. That is all good and necessary! What a privilege to learn and worship together.
But we do more than that, because God calls us to do more than that. He calls us to love, serve and give. God so clearly called my class to support Isaac. Isaac needed a sponsor, and we needed him.