Making a difference one letter at a time
John Sellers has seen the world, and he wants to change it.
Early on, his world was mostly confined to West Tennessee— Henderson, Lexington, Jackson and Brownsville—within which his parents, Chad and Sandy Sellers, periodically relocated in their work with the Baptist Church. Then, at the age of 19, Sellers joined his parents after the family moved to Nepal to work as Christian missionaries.
After spending a year getting to know Nepal, Sellers, now 24, returned to West Tennessee and enrolled at Jackson State Community College. Having been home schooled up to that point, college classes brought him into a classroom for the first time, but his heart was still in Nepal. By the time he arrived at the University of Tennessee at Martin, Sellers had a dream and a plan to engage his fellow students in fulfilling it.
“I grew up always thinking about making a difference in Nepal,” Sellers says. “When I lived there, I fell in love with the people and (my heart) became very burdened for them. When I moved back to the States for college, I wanted to open the eyes of the students around me. I wanted to communicate my great burden for the orphans in Nepal with my peers.”
Nepal—an impoverished country and home to the Himalayan Mountains, including the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest—wasn’t a random choice.
Sellers’ family has a long and deep connection to Nepal that began with his uncle and aunt, Joe and Tanna Collins. As missionaries with Baptist International Mission Inc. in July 1990, the Collinses established an orphanage in a small, Christian church in Boudha, Nepal, a town of 50,000 not far from the capital, Kathmandu. Two years later, Tanna Collins was diagnosed with typhoid fever. She, her husband and their five children traveled by plane to Thailand for her treatment. On the return trip to Nepal, their Thai Airways plane crashed into the Himalayas, killing all 113 on board.
To make sure the family’s work continued, Sellers’ grandparents moved to Nepal and took up the cause. They spent the rest of their lives there—more than 20 years—expanding the orphanage, growing a Christian church into a congregation of more than 500 people, and planting and nurturing several other congregations. In 2002, Sellers’ parents moved to Nepal and joined the mission.
Back in the U.S. and on the UT Martin campus, John Sellers says he wanted to open the eyes of fellow students to the plight of the world’s orphans and help the work his parents were doing. That’s when he started Letters in Motion—yes, a college senior founded a nonprofit organization—with a goal of connecting students across the country in a common purpose.
“I wanted someone to understand,” Sellers says. “That’s when Letters in Motion began to first take shape. The key is to instill a passion in students. Once a college student sees the needs of the world, they will tell their friends, family, roommates and organizations. They will do everything in their power to help meet the need and make a difference. This has been proven again and again.”
He founded the group specifically to encourage outreach to orphaned children through letter writing: To encourage them and show them “what love looks like,” Sellers says.
Sellers began with his fellow students at UT Martin. He made his pitch to the Student Government Association, and SGA members asked him to pitch to their clubs or social organizations. He wanted to deliver 3,000 handwritten letters in person to orphans. As a handful of other students took on roles as organizers, they helped spread the word and planned to travel to Nepal as a group to deliver the letters. Eventually, the campaign involved students from 12 universities and five countries.
“Once our Letters in Motion supporters realized our goal of collecting 3,000 letters before our trip, people from all over helped any way they could to spread the news and get events going all over the country,” Sellers says.
“We wanted to make it easy for students to make a difference, and once they took that first step of writing a letter, we found they wanted to get more involved. That’s when we set up a shirt company called Motion Outfitters, where we were able to sell T-shirts online to raise money for special projects to help improve life for orphans in Nepal.”
Letters were being written. T-shirts were selling. More than $15,000 was being raised.
Then, just as Sellers was organizing the June trip to Nepal, there was an earthquake. Perched atop two shifting geologic plates, Nepal has long been vulnerable to earthquakes, and the one that struck on April 25 was massive. With a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale, the quake was felt for 500 miles from its epicenter. It triggered an avalanche 140 miles away on Mount Everest, produced aftershocks well into May and eventually killed more than 9,000 people.
It was the worst earthquake in Nepal in 80 years, and it made news around the world. Sellers used that awareness to help Letters In Motion do more. The Sellers family in Nepal wasn’t hurt, but when they were able to communicate via email, they reported the need was great for clean water and structures to provide housing.
In June 2015, Sellers and the group—five from UT Martin, two from Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and one from Bethel University in McKenzie, Tenn., —traveled to Nepal for three weeks. They worked wherever they could and helped build six temporary structures. And they visited eight orphanages, where they handed out letters and hugs to Nepali children.
“We wanted each letter to be hand delivered by students to the orphans. Some students were able to hand out letters written by people they knew,” Sellers says. “We were just spending time with the kids, encouraging them and showing them that people love them.”
Letters are short, and the writer usually offers a thought from his or her day and some encouragement to the child. Most Nepali children are taught English, so they were able to read the letters. If they couldn’t, a translator helped.
Funds raised by Motion Outfitters helped with basic needs at several orphanages and to build a well to provide clean water. Sellers also knows his way around a camera and has made use of that knowledge to tell the story of Letters in Motion in photos and video.
By fall 2015, Letters in Motion was an official campus club at UT Martin. The nonprofit organization has set goals of improving living conditions for orphans by supplying clean water and funding to build wells, improving education by supplying textbooks and building schools, and ending hopelessness and despair by hand delivering 3,000 letters of encouragement every year.
Sellers plans to add one country a year to the letter-writing campaign. He wants to add African countries and is traveling to Kenya in January 2016 to research that possibility. Meanwhile, he’s also founded Venture for Change, a nonprofit he says is to inspire students “to make a global impact by connecting them to a cause through international travel.”
Sellers expects to graduate from UT Martin in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and relationships to facilitate his humanitarian dreams.
“UT Martin is preparing me to succeed and giving me the network I need to advance my nonprofit. It’s given me a model where I can run my pilot campus organization, and without the students, we would be nothing but an idea without action,” he says. “I truly believe my purpose in life is not only to provide hope to orphans but to connect people to making a difference in a global way.
“I’ve been blessed with all the opportunities that come with living in America, so the least I can do is give of myself to providing others some of the same opportunities I have.”
Upon graduating, Sellers plans to work full time with his nonprofit. And make an impact.
Letters in Motion delivers messages to orphans in Nepal
In June, a team of college students will deliver thousands of hand-written letters to orphans in Nepal.
The letters have been written by people across the country as part of a project called Letters in Motion. John Sellers, founder of Letters in Motion, will travel with a team to deliver them by hand. Sellers lived in Nepal for a year and a half, and he said he has a passion for the people of the country.
"I traveled all over the country, and it was in that time that I became very burdened for the state of children, the state of orphans over there," Sellers said.
Sellers is in his junior year studying psychology at the University of Tennessee at Martin. He said there are more than a million orphans in Nepal, and many live in very poor conditions.
He said when he first came to UT Martin, he tried to share his burden with his friends, but they did not connect to it in the same way he did. It was then that he came up with the idea to have them write letters that he could send to the children in Nepal. He said the idea exploded.
"I told my friends, they told their friends," he said. "Sports teams got involved. SGA got involved....Now we've expanded to 10 universities." (Keep reading by clicking the link)
John Sellers has been planning a trip to Nepal for months, but he has even more reason to since an earthquake struck the country last week.
Sellers, a student at the University of Tennessee at Martin, will travel to Nepal on June 8 to deliver handwritten letters to orphans as part of his Letters in Motion project. He said he and his team have seen renewed interest in the project because of recent events.
"Everyone has been asking me what we are going to do and what they can do," Sellers said.
He said his team is working on the itinerary for their trip now, and they will definitely be doing humanitarian work, but he said it is hard to determine what is needed. Sellers said aid sent to Nepal is getting backed up in airports and is not going where it is needed.
"The Nepali government is a hard thing to deal with," Sellers said. "They want to make sure everything that comes in goes through them." (Keep reading by clicking the link)
Reaching out to local communities is one thing, but putting local faces on a global scale for humanitarian work is an endeavor all its own. One UTM student is making this mission possible.
Junior psychology major John Sellers, with the help of the University of Tennessee at Martin, is launching a humanitarian program known as Letters in Motion. The program sends letters of hope to orphans in Nepal and builds orphanages there with the help of three missionary families. The will then help rescue at-risk children between the ages of three and eight before they are thrust into poverty or subject to human trafficking.
The program is scheduled to begin in June 2015. Funding the trip will require raising $3,000 per student along with $15,000 for technical equipment. Sellers has already raised $10,000, and five of his missionaries have also raised a significant amount thus far on an individual basis.
Sellers and his team will release two promotional videos to raise awareness for the foreign aid. One video will be of the students who write the letters and will showcase the entire sequence of mailing a single letter, then handing it to a child in Nepal. The second video is still in the concept stage, although it will also promote the project. (Keep reading by clicking the link)
UTM’s Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity hosted Letters in Motion Friday, Nov. 14. at their house on Hannings Lane.
The event, designed to raise awareness about the state of orphans in Nepal, had a significant turnout despite the cold weather.
Sophomore Biology major Marena Locke said the awareness event was highly influential.
“I’d never even heard of something like this, honestly,” said Locke. “I think it’s amazing John put the effort into doing this.”
Letters in Motion is a movement created by UTM junior John Sellers intended to help provide aid to underprivileged children in Nepal. Sellers was inspired by his family to create the organization, which sends hopeful, heartfelt letters to orphans in Nepal.
Sellers’ family has been an influence in Nepal for the past 23 years, using churches in the United States to help fund their cause. The family owns and operates an orphanage in Nepal. While some “orphanages” in Nepal use aid money from the United States to facilitate their human trafficking operations, and others mutilate orphans to make them seem more pathetic in an attempt to receive more funding, the orphanage owned by the Sellers family provides a safe haven for orphans. (Keep reading by clicking the link)
Most college students aspire to begin actively pursuing their dream careers after graduation, but John Sellers is not your average college student. With his family deeply connected in Nepal and with his passion for reaching out to those in need, Sellers is already in the process of putting his dream into action.
Sellers says, “I want to start a nonprofit organization that starts children’s homes in Nepal and hopefully all throughout Asia.” And this year, Sellers began to develop his plan to start Letters in Motion, a mission project to inform others of the need for children’s homes in other countries.
“In June 2015, I’m taking a group of ten UT Martin students to Nepal for a three-week trip,” Sellers explains. “We’re going to spend our time helping missionaries that are there in whatever way we can. We’re also going to spend our time in orphanages just teaching the kids, spending time with them, encouraging them and showing them that people love them.” (Keep reading by clicking the link)
Before the earthquakes, before the news coverage, before the humanitarian relief... John Sellers was bringing hope to Nepal and the thousands of orphans who call it home. Sellers, a Henderson native and UT Martin psychology major, founded Letters in Motion in September 2014 as
a way to encourage college students to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate. What started as a letter-writing campaign quickly grew into a philanthropic organization, complete with international travel, thousands in monetary donations and several lines of merchandise.
“We started off selling T-shirts as a way of raising money for our rst trip; however, that quickly developed into an export busi- ness where we can now offer hand-made Nepali bracelets and scarves, now avail-able in two boutiques,” said Sellers. (Keep reading by clicking the link)
A now six-month old organization, Letters in Motion was founded to support impoverished children, specifically orphans, living in Nepal.
John Sellers, junior psychology major at the University of Tennessee at Martin and founder of Letters in Motion, said his desire to serve the impoverished orphans in Nepal came from the multi-generational influence of his family’s effort to start and maintain multiple orphanages in Nepal, where he lived for a one and a half years as a teenager.
“While I was living there, I became very burdened about poverty and about specifically how kids were affected by that and how many orphans there were,” Sellers said. “I came back to the university with this burden of trying to get people involved.”
Sellers struggled with getting people involved during his early efforts to support Nepali orphans, but he soon came up with the idea to have supporters write personal letters to children in Nepal. (Keep reading by clicking the link)
This summer, Sellers and a team of seven others from three universities will hand deliver the letters during a three week trip to Nepal in June. During their trip, they will also deliver funds to his parents’ orphanage and film the letters being delivered so students can see the impact they make.
“Hand writing a letter is a very intimate thing,” Sellers said. “When you’re writing to someone who has no hope, that’s a powerful thing.”
So far, students from ten universities have contributed over 1600 letters, and Sellers said he hopes Union University students can add to that list. He presented his story in Student Senate Feb. 11 and asked every organization to set aside a few minutes at their next meeting for letter writing.
“I feel that if we could get every Union organization connected with orphans in Nepal, then that would be a huge success,” he said. (Keep reading by clicking the link)
Since the recent earthquakes in Nepal, Sellers’ goal to visit the country June 8-24 this year has been altered so that members of the team will use the short-term emergency fund they are raising to meet the physical needs of victims. Proceeds of the Blitz race will contribute to this fund.
With that money, over the next five years the organization plans to distribute letters to orphans, hand out disaster relief supplies to earthquake victims and create a plan for rebuilding orphanages.
“It means a lot for me to have an outlet to help people who desperately need help,” said Elizabeth Hellmer, Jackson State alumnae and videographer of Letters in Motion. (Keep reading by clicking the link)
A West Tennessee college student is organizing aid to help the victims of Nepal’s devastating earthquake whose death toll has now surpassed 4,000 people. John Sellers, a UT Martin student, said his family has been helping orphans in Nepal his entire life, and he has a trip planned to the country this summer. His own organization, “Letters in Motion,” is ready to help the small country. Now with thousands of residents in Nepal dead after this weekend’s earthquake, he said their help is needed even more. “The death toll from reports that we have in Nepal are reaching over 4,000, an estimate after all of the aftershocks come in, we’ll reach over 10,000 people,” (Keep reading by clicking the link)
Age doesn’t always determine ability to make a difference in peoples’ lives. For a group of students at UT Martin, they’re taking advantage of their youth and skills to make a difference in the community and across the world. This summer, John Sellers, a local photographer and student at UT Martin, launched a humanitarianorganization titled Letters in Motion. The organization is a non-pro t which has one goal: to make a difference on the lives of orphans in Nepal. Letters In Motion aims to take 10 college students to Nepal by 2015. In the time there, they will build an orphanage, create informative movies to boost the population’s understanding of the issue of children needing help, write letters to orphans and raise money for future efforts. (Keep reading by clicking the link)
Last fall, she got involved in one more thing — and that's how she found herself in Nepal helping with earthquake relief. Ralston went to a tag sale and fundraiser on campus for Letters in Motion, a faith-based non-profit organization that helps with the care and construction of orphanages. The parents of John Sellers, the founder of Letters in Motion and a UT-Martin student, are missionaries in Nepal.
The program's goals are to improve the living conditions of orphans by supplying clean water and funding to construct wells, to better education by supplying textbooks, to build schools and to end hopelessness and despair by hand delivering 3,000 letters of encouragement and hope every year.
Ralston was interested. She became the letter-writing coordinator and this past week started delivering letters — written by schoolchildren, church groups, friends from other collegiate equestrian teams around the country — to Nepalese orphans. (Keep reading by clicking the link)