Rachel Watson and her students show off their letters they wrote to children in African orphanages. (Photo: provided)

>> by Megan Denney, freelance writer

NEWCASTLE – There are more than 9,000 miles separating Newcastle, Okla., from Kodoma, Zimbabwe, but one Newcastle teacher hopes to decrease that distance for her students.

Fourth grade technology teacher Rachel Watson, a member of Newcastle, First, wanted to teach her students how to type a letter using the keyboarding skills and writing traits that they have learned this year.

What made this assignment special is Watson wanted her students to write letters to children in Zimbabwe to encourage them to follow their dreams.

“My students have been doing projects throughout the year to practice the typing skills they have learned. I wanted my students to use their typing and writing skills to create a letter to someone,” Watson said. “I researched what might be a great way for students to send letters. I had the thought that sending letters to troops would be encouraging, then the ‘light bulb’ came on, and I thought it would be a great idea for my students to write other children encouragement letters.”

Watson hopes her students will get more out of this assignment than a grade. She wants them to understand that words have power, and words of encouragement and support can have a positive impact on someone’s life.

“My hope for this project is for my students to be encouraged and changed,” she said. “I want my students to see and understand that there are children all over this world that need hope and encouragement. These letters will be a great opportunity for them to do something positive for someone else.”

Essentially Watson will take a piece of her class to Africa as she delivers the letters to children she meets as part of a mission trip in June with Reaching Souls International, a non-profit ministry founded by a Southern Baptist evangelist.

“This ministry was born out of the heart of Jimmy Hodges, who was saved and called to ministry at Falls Creek,” said Reaching Souls Executive Director Dustin Manis, a member of Newcastle, First. “We partner with Southern Baptist nationals in seven countries in Africa. While we our transdenominational, our roots and beliefs are decidedly Southern Baptist. In fact, we have five ministers on staff who all ordained Southern Baptist ministers.”

The two main methods used by Reaching Souls is training pastors and supporting national missionaries.

Watson said, “Over the summer I will be taking a trip to Kadoma, Zimbabwe to serve. I thought that having my students write to children in Zimbabwe would be an amazing idea. I will be taking the letters with me to pass out to the children. I will bring back pictures of the children with their letters, along with a follow-up story for the students to read.”

Not many assignments have the potential to be powerful and impact lives outside of the classroom, let alone halfway around the world. Watson has taken what could have been a simple assignment and made it into something dynamic to teach her students what an encouraging word can do for someone regardless of their distance.

“Many of my fourth-grade students haven’t been out of Oklahoma, much less the country. I think this will be an eye opener for our students to see the world around us and reach across the globe to children their own age,” Watson said. “Our students need to see and set a positive example of encouragement in the world around us. This project will give my students the chance to do just that.”