Experiencing Faith through Literacy
by Trapper s. Kinchen photos courtesy of Chance Wilson
Chance Wilson is a 17-year-old humanitarian whose young life is dedicated to teaching people how to read. He is the CEO of Wilson Global initiative (WGi), a charity he helped found when he was 14. The organization concentrates on spreading English literacy in parts of the world where educational opportunities are limited.
Wilson is from Baton Rouge and on the surface, he looks like a typical teenager. But when he speaks, he expresses himself so clearly and with such purpose that it hardly seems possible he is still a high school student. Despite his youth, he is a deeply compassionate and focused man of God. He was raised in the Baptist church, but considers himself non-denominational. He relies heavily on his relationship with Jesus and spends a great deal of time studying the Word. “Whenever I have personal struggles, my faith is the rock I lean on,” he said.
Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out where Christ fits into our chaotic tech-obsessed world. Wilson understands the complex struggle involved in embracing faith in an age of constant digital streaming. “It’s not always cool to believe in God, but that has made me really outspoken about my faith,” he said.
He constantly strives to be a Christ-like encourager. “I want to be a counterforce to negativity,” Wilson says. So he speaks out when he witnesses injustice and rushes to action whenever he sees someone in need.
Wilson’s determination and bravado are modeled after his hero, John F. Kennedy. He considers the late president one of the most socially innovative men of the 20th century. “JFK was filled with optimism and hope for America and the world,” he said.
“He wanted us to go to the moon, which was literally beyond most people’s understanding at the time. He understood that the world’s problems couldn’t be solved by skeptics and cynics.”
Even though he seems completely grounded in his faith, Wilson fights the same feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy that many others do. Like all teenagers, he is in the middle of the difficult transition from adolescence to adulthood, and he sometimes struggles with asserting his individuality. “My biggest battle has been with self-identity,” he said. “For a long time, I didn’t know what my purpose was and I felt alone. But faith has helped me get through a lot of that.”
When he looks beyond his uncertainty, Wilson is confident that God has called him to be an advocate for international English education. He first recognized the need for literacy support when he was a child. “I was in public school for a while, and I noticed a lot of kids couldn’t really read or write,” he said. “That inspired me to do something.”
WGI operates in North America, Asia and Africa with main offices located in Baton Rouge and Hong Kong. Its principle goal is to enhance people’s quality of life through education and its services have the potential to change the world’s geopolitical landscape.
According to statistics compiled by UNICEF, at least 750 million men, women and children worldwide are unable to read or write. Most of us in the U.S. take literacy for granted, but educational opportunities are limited in most other parts of the world. In fact, a great deal of the world’s problems stem from the fact that nearly 17 percent of the human race can’t understand written language.
WGI concentrates its efforts on the fastest growing parts of the world — Asia and Africa. It devotes the bulk of its resources to educating people in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Tanzania and the Philippines. “In Asia, we provide free English classes to people who want to learn to read,” Wilson said. “And we provide food for people who show up for classes.”
After spending nearly four years on the frontlines of education advocacy, Wilson believes literacy should be made a top international priority. “There are plenty of charitable causes out there, but I think literacy is the one issue that can help solve the globe’s other big issues,” he said.
As a 17-year-old CEO, Wilson says leadership has to start with self-confidence. Anyone can alter the course of history if they believe they are capable of doing so. “A leader has to have a vision and understand what his ultimate goal is,” he said.
Wilson is an accomplished and opinionated young man, but he’s also a realist. He understands that life is about taking the good with the bad. “Sometimes I wish I was just a normal kid,” he said. “I’m not able to hang out with my friends on the weekends or go to prom because I’m so busy. I’ve had to give up a lot, but I know I’m following God’s purpose.”
Even though his life isn’t typical, the time and energy Wilson invests in WGI yields incredibly far-reaching results. At 17, he is uncovering the sort of business skills and life experiences most people never get the chance to discover. “We have a lot of people on the ground who help coordinate projects and do the actual teaching,” he said. “I’m an organizer. I recruit people and give them assignments. I kind of think of myself as the glue that holds the organization together.”
Wilson thinks faith and literacy are deeply interwoven. The foundation of Christianity rests on the Word of God, he says, and we are able to strengthen our faith through studying the Bible. But in order to do that, a person has to be able to read. “More kids across the world need to be able to read the Bible, so they can have a better relationship with Jesus,” he said.
As global citizens, each of us is responsible for contributing to the betterment of mankind. “On a basic level, we all have to help make the world a nicer place,” he said. He is a wonderful example of how much good a person is capable of doing, regardless of their age, if they decide to follow God’s calling on their life.
In the near future, Wilson plans to dedicate some time between high school and college to self-discovery. He also hopes to travel to Asia and see firsthand some of the work WGI is doing overseas. His long-term ambition is to keep sharing the Gospel through literacy advocacy, and he prays for WGI’s continued growth. “We want to keep expanding and go into other parts of the world and teach.”
In order to do great things in the name of Christ, one must be willing to make personal sacrifices. Wilson has given up an enormous chunk of his childhood for charity, and God has blessed his dedication. If you’re interested in contributing to WGI’s global literacy campaign, please visit www.wgihq.org. Click on the “take action” button for more information about how to chip in.
Trapper was born on the lip of Lake Pontchartrain. He was raised there, reading in the salt-flecked breeze on a splintered wharf that jutted into South Pass. Never bored, he divides his time between trying to raise organic chickens in the Livingston Parish piney woods, traveling to different time zones, and exercising his mind by steadily learning as much as he can. He graduated from LSU in 2013 and Wayne State University in 2015. He is a busy fiction writer and contemplative naturalist. He has a great time living life.