A little girl in Nepal has a letter, and Emily Goette, sophomore elementary education major, got to see her face light up when she handed it to her. The 7-year-old kept looking back and smiling at Goette as the translator read her the letter in Nepali.
While millions of Americans throw away their “junk mail” six days a week, the children in Nepali orphanages wouldn’t put their hand-written letters down. They hugged them, ran around with them and shoved them in each other’s faces as they shared them.
The little girl’s letter, written by Goette’s friend Quinlan Draper, included the song “This is the Day,” and as the translator sang it, the other children recognized the tune and sang it in Nepali.
After writing the letter in Brewer Dining Hall last semester at a letter writing event, Draper asked Goette to give her letter to “a special little girl.” Goette lost it in a letter pile but later claimed it after one of her group members found it during the letter screening process. Goette found her special little girl following her group around at an orphanage they visited.
As Goette picked up the little girl to pose for a photograph before leaving, the girl’s arms draped around her. She hugged her and kissed her on the cheek and wouldn’t let go. The translator told Goette the girl wanted her to come back to see her.
This is Goette’s favorite story from her two-and-a-half-week-long trip to Nepal in June with Letters in Motion, a ministry that involves college students in writing encouraging letters to orphans in Nepal, Kenya and eventually around the world. Goette and Larissa Ziolo from Union distributed these letters and helped build temporary structures with six University of Tennessee at Martin students, one Bethel University student and Letters in Motion Founder and President John Sellers.
Goette’s story started one night in mid-March when her friend asked her to sit in on Senate for Mu Kappa, Union’s missionary kids organization. That night, Sellers, now a senior at UT Martin, showed a video of Nepalese children and asked students to write them letters and join him that summer to help deliver them.
Goette wanted to go to Nepal when she saw the Nepalese children, who reminded her of the Nepalese refugee children she babysat at her church in Chicago in the seventh grade.
After Senate, she asked Sellers if she could join him next summer, but he encouraged her to go in June, only three months later. At first, her mother didn’t want her to go overseas with someone she had known for five minutes, but after talking with Sellers over the phone, she consented. Even the devastating Nepali earthquake in April did not keep any of the group from going.
The experience changed her life’s plans, and Goette believes God is calling her to move overseas after graduation and hopefully start a children’s home.
Many of the children she saw had one parent or parents who couldn’t support them, she said. When Goette was 13, her father, a church planter in Chicago, was diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. He passed away this August, shortly after Goette’s trip.
“The only difference between their situation and mine is that I live in America,” she realized as she visited the orphans.
She also understands the value of someone from another country supporting her. Her grandfather was a chemistry teacher and missionary to Korea, and the students he impacted are paying for Goette’s education.
Since school began, Goette has been filling out stacks of papers and spreading the word to create a Union chapter of Letters in Motion.
It may take one or two months before Union recognizes the organization, she said, but they hold meetings open to anyone interested every Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Bowld Student Commons. Several people have shown interest already, and a few have committed to going on next year’s trip to Nepal and Kenya in June and July.
Anyone can write a letter any time and give it to her or another Letters in Motion member, said Goette. Membership is $20, including a Motion Outfitters shirt and a decal. Any time commitment is welcome.
“Five or 10 minutes for us can change some kids’ lives,” she said.
Each university chapter of Letters in Motion chooses a semester-long project, usually to benefit the community, said Sellers, and funds it selling shirts from Motion Outfitters, a company founded to fund Letters in Motion.
“It all comes down to providing students with the easiest way possible to get involved,” he said. Each chapter of the organization is student led, but must follow the Letters in Motion guidelines.
But Letters in Motion itself is quite young—about 11 months old, he said. The past year was their first letter writing campaign.
Sellers lived in Nepal for a year and a half with his missionary parents before attending UT Martin. He wanted to get involved in missions, but didn’t know where to start. He discovered no matter how many photos or videos from Nepal he showed, he couldn’t make the impact he desired.
But when he got the idea of letter writing, he got some friends together, and his friends called all their friends.
In the end, they involved 12 universities and five countries, including France, the Philippines and Spain, and amassed over 3,000 letters. They hope to travel through 25 to 50 countries and add 100 more student organizations in the next five years, Sellers said. Currently they are working on adding the Ukraine.
For more information on Letters in Motion, its Union chapter or how to write an encouraging letter, visit golettersinmotion.com or visit Letters in Motion at Union University on Facebook.