Sophia Russell recently chatted with three women from the same family, including Kelsea Clingeleffer, International Programs Coordinator at Baptist World Aid, on how giving has shaped their lives.
Shirley Wilson remembers the day she first decided to become a Child Sponsor with Baptist World Aid Australia.
It was 1977 and she was raising four children, working part time as a nurse, and helping her husband Graeme run a small poultry farm in the northwest of Tasmania.
A guest speaker from Baptist World Aid Australia visited her church, Wynyard Baptist, and spoke about a Child Sponsorship program. He explained that Australians could provide a monthly gift to support the work of Christian Partners working in places like Bangladesh and India. The funding would support children in those countries, helping them build a future free from poverty.
‘I decided it would be a good thing,’ Shirley said. ‘I’ve always loved Jesus words in Matthew 25:40, “as much as you did to one of the least of these my brethren, you did to me,” and I wanted to put it into practice’.
Connecting Across The Globe
After that Sunday, Shirley decided to support Anika*, a Child Partner living in India. Anika was nine years old, which made it easy for Shirley’s similarly aged daughter, Cindy, to connect with her. Cindy was thrilled to discover Anika enjoyed the same things she did—skipping rope, running games, playing outside with friends. But Cindy also learnt that their lives were vastly different.
‘It was an interesting education to have insight into somebody else’s world,’ Cindy said. ‘That’s when I started to think outside my own community.’
Cindy loved exchanging letters with Anika so much that when she got her first job as a teenager, she used her pocket money to become a Sponsor.
‘Mum’s example had a big impact on me,’ she said. ‘We can’t all go overseas, but this is how we can contribute’.
Cindy didn’t stop contributing—even when she married her husband David and they had children of their own. And even when it wasn’t easy. ‘David lost his job about 20 years ago,’ Cindy said. ‘We clung on to our Child Partner for as long as we could, so it was heartbreaking when we couldn’t support him anymore’.
When David started working again, the first thing they did was ask if their Child Partner was still available to support. ‘I was so happy that he was,’ Cindy said. ‘That made me realise what a big impact our Child Partners had on us.’
Generosity Part Of Family Life
Sponsorship also had a big impact on Cindy’s kids. Her eldest children, Kelsea and Braden, took over a newspaper delivery business as teenagers, and used their earnings to support a Child Partner themselves.
‘My mother’s heart sang!’ Cindy recalls. But for Kelsea, raised by big-hearted parents, and grandparents who travelled with overseas mission organisations, generosity wasn’t something extraordinary. It was just part of the Christian life.
‘I always knew that there were communities that were in different circumstances to mine,’ Kelsea said. ‘In my family, it was normal to see the world as a bigger place, not just to focus on us.’
This perspective eventually led Kelsea to pursue a career in international community development, spending 22 months in Cambodia with the United Nations Development Program. At the beginning of 2022, she started serving as an International Programs Coordinator at Baptist World Aid. Her role, which focuses on building community resilience and responding to disasters, is a far cry from her paper delivery days. But her heart is the same.
‘While it’s easy just to focus on ourselves, God calls us to love our neighbour,’ Kelsea said. ‘That might be the person next door, or it might be someone overseas.’
The Legacy Continues
Today, Shirley, Cindy and Kelsea still call the northwest coast of Tasmania home. And they continue their legacy of generosity. Shirley’s home is full of gifts she’s crafted for children in need overseas—girl’s skirts, doll clothes, toy hedgehogs made from old scarves. She’s still supporting children, now with friends from Wynyard Baptist Church. And she couldn’t be prouder of her granddaughter Kelsea.
‘You always hope that having a heart for others rubs off on your kids and their kids,’ Shirley said. ‘It’s pleasing to know that we can make a difference to someone else’s life.”
Cindy, who is still part of Baptist World Aid’s Child sponsorship program, agrees. ‘We’re not meant to live as islands,’ she said. ‘As Christians, we’re called to live in community and support each other, even across the globe’.
When you become a Child Sponsor with Baptist World Aid, you’re helping raise a whole village out of poverty. Find out how you can support a child as they transform their community.
*Child name changed for safety reasons