A class novel prompts desire to give back among students in Ms. Sartin’s Middle School Language Arts class
By Amanda Compton
A class novel has touched the hearts of the Middle School Language Arts class, igniting a fervent desire to help others and prompting a swift call to action.
Based on a true story and published in 2010, A Long Walk to Water is told through intersecting life stories of two children in South Sudan – a girl named Nya in 2008 and a boy, Salva, in 1985 – both of whom suffered the ramifications of civil war and poverty, particularly the the lack of clean drinking water.
Upon finishing the book, Twin Oaks Language Arts Teacher Ms. Heather Sartin instructed her students to divide into discussion groups where they examined a series of seven questions including one on how they could respond to the water crisis right now. “They came up with all kinds of ideas such as shutting the water off while brushing your teeth, not taking long showers and doing full loads of laundry as opposed to more frequent small loads,” noted Sartin.
Salva caught the students’ attention due to his affiliation with the infamous “Lost Boys,” who covered the African continent on foot in search of their families, clean drinking water and for a safe place to stay after being separated during a civil war. Salva lived in refugee camps for 10 years before making his way to America to live with a family in Rochester, N.Y.
Impacted by the novel and class discussions, especially when contrasted with the access to clean water here in America, eighth grader Ben Kern went home and did a little research of his own. “The book was so good that I thought it would be cool if we could help out in some way,” said Kern. “So I decided to do a Google search to see if that was possible.”
Kern found that Salva had launched a nonprofit called “Water for South Sudan” after learning that his father was still alive in Southern Sudan, but suffering from water-borne parasites and disease. After hearing this, Kern’s classmates responded immediately and came up with the idea to raise money for “Water for South Sudan” – each student agreeing to bring in at least $5.00 to donate to Salva’s organization.
“We ended up donating $117 on behalf of Twin Oaks Christian School to ‘Water for South Sudan!'” added Sartin. “I am blown away by the interest in this book and the impact it had on my seventh and eighth graders. I think this book awakened them to just how fortunate we are to have running water – something Americans often take for granted.”
The Middle School Language Arts class also tuned in to a live online feed hosted by Salva during which he took questions from selected students in the audience about his story and the current work with “Water for South Sudan.” You may read more of Salva’s story here.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (ESV)
Part 1: Fifth Grade Teacher Mrs. Hillary Donnelley recounts her journey back to Twin Oaks Christian School after a year in New York City
Mrs. Hillary Donnelley was gearing up to prepare for her second year of teaching at Twin Oaks Christian School when her husband, Lucas, was offered an investment job in New York City.
While Hillary and Lucas had envisioned that they would one day leave St. Louis to experience a new city, new people and a new way of life, they had not expected the opportunity to present itself sooner rather than later. The two also did not expect that their time in NYC would be so short-lived.
“We love New York City and we were both very excited to move there,” said Donnelley, who taught second grade at Twin Oaks before relocating to the Big Apple in the fall of 2017. “There are so many things to do and see. We considered ourselves lucky to live in a city like that. I had expected to find a teaching job that I loved as much as Twin Oaks. I expected our marriage to grow stronger, mostly due to how different the lifestyle is there from our life in St. Louis.”
Upon settling in, Donnelley accepted a teaching assistant job at a Bronx charter school where she helped teach fourth grade. But between the militant vibe and being forced to teach to a test, she felt confined to a one-method approach to teaching and quickly realized that this school was not the place for her.
“What I love about teaching is being creative and bringing my personality into my teaching style,” explained Donnelley. “I saw very quickly that this was not ever going to be the case at this school. They were training me to teach and act exactly like everyone else at the school. It was just so cold. I knew I would never be able to comply to their way of teaching so I resigned three months later around Christmas time.”
Hillary and her doggie, Bruno, at Central ParkAt first, Donnelley said, living in New York City was fun and exciting as she and Lucas explored their new city, ate at culturally diverse restaurants and took their dog, Bruno, for regular walks in Central Park. However, after nearly seven months of living in Manhattan, the city began to wear on her, prompting a phase of self-reflection and prayer.
“I thought I would go out and make friends really easily,” said Donnelley. “This was still true in many ways, but with not having my husband around, I began to feel a loneliness that I had never felt before.”
Hillary had been working two jobs, one as a nanny for a family on the Upper East Side and the other at a workout studio; Lucas worked 85-hour weeks and was rarely home; and the small, Bible-believing Baptist church they had been attending closed up shop due to lack of finances.
“The true Gospel is not welcome in New York,” noted Donnelley. “We had just started forming relationships and that was brought to an end when that church closed.”
In fact, Hillary said, finding a church in New York City where the Gospel is preached in its entirety and untainted by liberal theology was next to impossible. She said she and Lucas finally settled on a mega church known as Hillsong. “It feels like a concert every time you go,” she explained. “The sermons were good but they were feel-good life messages, rather than the study of the Bible. This wasn’t a church that would challenge me or make me thing deeply by any means, but it was good enough.”
Adding, “This was really hard for me. It felt impossible at times to be a light because there is so much spiritual darkness. It is like a heavy blanket of oppression and sin that I couldn’t get out from under. All of that said, living in New York City was hard for reasons that we had never really expected.”
Donnelly went on to say that she began to experience a deep yearning to be back at Twin Oaks Christian School. “I missed Twin Oaks so much that it did not even make sense,” she said. “Looking back, I think God put this overwhelming desire on my heart to bring me back to St. Louis.”
Not wanting to worry her family and without Lucas around to walk her through these emotions, Hillary wrestled with these feelings alone for four to five months before confronting her despondent situation. In the meantime, Lucas, very much aware of his wife’s unhappiness, was working diligently to get a job in St. Louis.
One day while mopping floors at the gym where she worked, Hillary reached a point so low that she knew she had to take action. Without blinking an eye, she texted TOCS Director of Admissions and Advancement Rachel Stain to inquire about the fifth grade teaching position.
In part 2, you will read about what prompted that phone call to Rachel Stain, how God worked through this experience to get Lucas his dream job in St. Louis and everything that had to fall into place in order to get Hillary back to St. Louis – proving God’s hand was at work not only in Hillary’s life, but also in the life of Twin Oaks Christian School. So stay tuned!