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A ‘leader and a changer’
VSE 3rd grader initiates weekly bible study for kids
By By Jill Meier
Challenger editor

March 13. 2014 8:58AM
When 10-year-old Sawyer Van Horn gets an idea in his head, you can bet he’s going to turn that idea into reality.

And that’s just what the Valley Springs Elementary third-grader has done.

With a passion to start a weekly morning bible study at VSE, Sawyer began writing letters, first to his principal, Tanya Palmer, then to Superintendent Dave Pappone, which he typed and hand-delivered himself.

Jeff and Lila Van Horn’s son got the idea while attending a Wednesday night church group. “We were watching a video, and it was just inspiration to me, and my sister (Sophie) goes to a bible study,” Sawyer tells. “So I thought, why not start bible study at my school.”

Principal Palmer was OK with the idea, but she said adult supervision was required.
So Sawyer called on the school’s PTA president, Amanda Barton, to fill that role. She, too, was OK with the idea. But Sawyer had one last hurdle to get over: An OK from Supt. Pappone, which he received as well.

Pappone said Sawyer’s request to start a student-led bible study fit the district’s policy.

“Student-led clubs are governed by the district’s limited open forum rules,” he said.
“Lots of clubs fall into that, and we treat all requests the same.”

But Pappone said he was even more impressed by Sawyer’s initiative.

“I was at a basketball game a few weeks ago and learned (from him) that it’s been a successful endeavor,” he said. “I’m proud that the Brandon Valley School District is raising kids that have that initiative for something they are passionate about.”

And passion is indeed something Sawyer has plenty of.

“Persistent would be a good word to use,” said his mom, Lila. “He had this idea … and kept saying he wanted to do this, and was very persistent.”

While Sawyer is persistent, he’s not overly patient.

“Everybody doesn’t play by Sawyer’s rules,” his dad, Jeff, says, after Sawyer didn’t receive the instant “OK” he was waiting on.

In preparation for the bible study, Sawyer also enlisted the help of Pastor Rebecca Trefz at Celebration United Methodist Church in Brandon, where the Van Horn family attends.

“He talked to our pastor and asked her for ideas,” Lila says.

“She took five minutes out of her time and said a whole bunch of great ideas of how to do a bible study,” Sawyer recalls.

After pursuing the bible study since October, Sawyer held his first meeting in January following the winter break. It was a moment that simply left him with a good feeling.

“I just thought it felt so good to spread God’s word, and I just wanted to share it with people so they would be Christians, and then more people will go to Heaven,” he says.

Each week, prior to the Tuesday morning “Dig In!” bible study, Sawyer prepares the day’s lesson from materials that Barton provided him. In addition to the lesson, he challenges the eight to 13 kids who show up with weekly verses to memorize, and rewards them with a small treat. The morning bible study also includes a prayer, and even prayer requests.

When Sawyer asked Barton to be the adult supervisor, she said there was no other answer but yes.

“Sawyer’s a pretty cool kid,” she said. “And when somebody has a dream, a passion or a fire and you’re able to encourage it, it moves you to do what you can.”

While Barton and the Van Horns thought the bible study may “fizzle out” in a few weeks, eight to 13 kids have continued to show up on a weekly basis.

“It seems to be the same core kids each week that attend,” adds his mom. “Some are disappointed that they take the bus, because it doesn’t get there early enough.”

Sawyer’s bible study is held Tuesday mornings from 7:45 to 8.

Classmate and friend Isaiah Barton, 9, said he looks forward to the weekly morning bible study.
“It goes fast and it’s fun,” he said.

The Van Horns, proud of each of their children, say they want all kids to follow their dreams.

“If anything comes out of this, it’s to teach other kids to follow their passion, and I think that’s what Sawyer’s done,” she said.

Barton agrees. “To see his energy and his love for his classmates and for God is motivating, and to see this gift in him, when he puts his mind to it, he’s a leader, and he’s a changer.”





Sawyer Van Horn (in the blue 9.5 t-shirt) is a third grader at Valley Springs Elementary. Last fall, Sawyer told his parents that he wanted to start a Bible study at his school.  Supportive of the idea, Sawyer's parents told him that he would first need to ask his principal for approval.  After a period of tie, and a hand-delivered letter to Superintendent ave Pappone, he was given the
OK.  Sawyer leads his Bible Study every Tuesday before school from 7:45 to 8 a.m. with the assistance of Amanda Barton. He calls them "his customers," and there are typically 10 to 15 attendees at each study.  Submitted photo



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