Learning to put down our phones and live on purpose

Shaoey Chapman and the Pause Campaign

November 19, 2019

Emily Chapman Richards is the executive director of Show Hope, an orphan care organization founded by her parents, Mary Beth and Steven Curtis Chapman. But it’s Shaohannah Hope Chapman, or Shaoey (pronounced “Show-ee”), Richards’s 20-year-old sister, who had the idea for one of the organization’s initiatives.

"It was a very elementary idea at first,” Chapman said, describing what is now known as the Pause Campaign, Show Hope’s Student Initiative. But the Pause Campaign isn’t just Chapman’s brainchild; it’s also part of her own story of hope and healing.

A dream begins in Haiti

The summer before her junior year in high school, Chapman traveled to Haiti with her youth group and her dad. They spent the week at Hands and Feet Project’s Children’s Village serving children who had lost one or both parents or whose parents were unable to care for them. This trip made an impact on Chapman, not just because of the work they were doing and the children they served, but also because she experienced it undistracted by social media.

"The fact that I didn't have my phone allowed me to see this whole experience without the lens of social media," Chapman tells me. "You don't really connect through it. It's not a mutual connection; it's very one-sided. Social media is a great tool to use to get the word out, but there's also so much good in putting it down and actually going out and doing that thing that you said you wanted to do."

When she returned to her home in Franklin, Tennessee, she talked with her parents about the frustrations she had with her generation’s relationship to social media and lack of awareness about the needs of the world around them. Her parents encouraged her not to just talk about the problem, but to do something about it. 

So, 16-year-old Chapman got together with Emily Deemers, who was then in charge of Student Initiatives at Show Hope, and the two began developing a plan. Along with two high school friends, Chapman worked to create the Pause Campaign. 

Over the past few years, the campaign has been refined into its current structure, but the basic idea that came from Chapman’s heart after her trip to Haiti is still the vision behind it. Chapman explains the idea of Pause like this: "A student encourages all their friends to put down social media for a while—take a pause from it—and use that time that they would be on their phone to go advocate for something they care about."

Chapman credits Chris Wheeler, an early partner in Show Hope’s Student Initiatives, with frequently saying, “Nothing speaks to a student like a student.” 

“Honestly,” Chapman added, “nothing speaks to adults like students, because when a student actually cares about something, adults take notice."

"It's incredible how God weaves this story of brokenness, but without brokenness we wouldn't need hope."

Much of the Pre + Post Adoption Support Show Hope provides training for is built around the ideas of enabling and empowering children through attachment care. Chapman says this is needed not just by young children, but by students as well. “Students will lose their passion if they’re not nurtured.”

She has seen the positive side of this firsthand in her own family. 

"There was a big interruption in my childhood, obviously, with Maria passing away.” Maria, the youngest Chapman sibling, died in a tragic accident in 2008 when Chapman was eight. “Brokenness is felt collectively and individually. . . . We all had different guilt and different levels of grieving." 

But even in the aftermath of tragedy, she credits her parents with empowering her in her frequently changing interests. 

"My parents were never like, 'Shaoey, you just got off this other thing. Why are you doing this?' It was always, 'Okay, you're into bird-watching. Let's buy you some bird feeders. Let's buy you some bird-watching books and binoculars.’ Then it was cooking, then Greek mythology. They were like, 'We don't understand this, we don't even get why you like this, but we're going to enable this.' That was something I felt like I had the freedom to do my whole life, and so when the Pause Campaign came about, it wasn't like, 'Shaoey, no kid is going to fast from social media.' It was like, 'Okay, Shaoey, if you think that kids are going to do this, you're the one in this world, let's help you do that.'”

The first time God used Haiti to spark a dream

This wasn’t the first time the Chapman family enabled one of their children’s passions coming out of a trip to Haiti. Richards, who went on her own trip to Haiti with her mom when she was 11, has a journal that’s one of her most treasured possessions. The entry from the first day of the trip reads: “I hope this experience will change my life. I also hope that I will change someone's life.”

Chapman says, "I wouldn't be here without that."

That trip to Haiti inspired Richards to begin a campaign of her own in which she petitioned her parents to adopt a baby girl. Eventually, they did, and Shaohannah joined the family through adoption from China. That first adoption led to two more baby girls being added to the Chapman family, Stevey Joy and Maria.

"That's where Show Hope started,” Richards says. “Because we went on a trip, and my heart was captured and imagination was captured by what it would look like to help children." She says her parents may have thought she was crazy for suggesting they adopt, but she didn't get that message from them. "I got, 'Keep praying. If God means for it to happen, it will happen.'"

Mary Beth Chapman adds her perspective on both her oldest daughter’s pleas for a sister and the significant place Student Initiatives have in the life of Show Hope: “It was important when I went to Haiti with Emily and I saw that God does use the voices of the young, and when God puts something in their heart, you can write it off as, ‘She's 11.’  But you don't know what you don't know, and at 11 God can use where you are to say, 'I think we should do this. I think there's room at our table.’” 

She says she first thought, "[Emily] doesn't know what she's talking about, but yet it did crack the door for Steven and I to at least make a commitment to pray. . . . For me, there always has to be a place for Student Initiatives. We see what happened in our own family because of a student, and now God is raising up another generation of students."

Living on purpose

Richards echoes this, commending her sister’s idea behind the Pause Campaign and the meaning behind it. Not only does the initiative ask students to take a pause from social media, but it seeks to open their eyes to the relationships they take for granted every day—relationships that aren’t guaranteed and that aren’t experienced by many children around the world. She says there’s value in pausing from social media because it’s a distraction and an addiction, but the Pause Campaign also intends to help students live more intentionally by taking action not just through “clicktivism”—advocacy through social media—but more purposefully through flesh-and-blood relationships and service.

Geared toward high school and college groups, the Pause Campaign materials include a weeklong devotional that takes participants through a process of education about orphan care. Students will learn about the global need and how we got here, a definition of what an orphan is, and will receive devotional content and a call to get involved in practical ways in their communities. This could mean helping a family in their church who may be adopting or fostering, or finding local orphan care organizations to serve.

But, the idea behind local action is not to teach students that it’s their responsibility to save people. “God’s the Savior,” Richards says, “but you can choose to participate in that redemptive work this side of eternity.”

Last year, the Pause Campaign had 358 students participate in 13 groups. Momentum is growing as students are getting more excited about the initiative. One high school boy was so inspired by his experience that he donated his whole tax return to Show Hope and got up and shared what he learned with his church.

On her internships the past two summers at the Care Center that Show Hope partners with in China, Maria’s Big House of Hope (named after her youngest sister), Chapman chose not to have phone service for the weeks she was there. "I thought, ‘I'm not here to be on my phone,’” she explains. “‘I'm here to invest in some kids that need love and need this care, and I’m here to invest in this city that doesn't know the Lord.’"

For Chapman, the first summer in China without the distraction of social media was the beginning of a healing process for her. At the age of eight, when many children of adoption are beginning to process their adoption stories, Chapman was instead dealing with the trauma of her sister’s death. God used that time at Maria’s Big House of Hope to help her process many things from her past. 

"You sit there in a place that is supposed to be healing for the kids being cared for at the Care Center, and you find that more healing comes to you than has for 18 years."

Her eyes light up when she talks about falling in love with a little girl who was under care during her internship. This little girl is now home in an adoptive family, and Chapman video chats with her weekly. Over the recent Show Hope Fellowship Weekend in Franklin, Chapman’s family surprised her by reuniting her with the little girl and giving her the opportunity to meet the adoptive family in person.

"It's incredible how God weaves this story of brokenness, but without brokenness we wouldn't need hope,” Chapman says, with wisdom beyond her years. “It didn't make sense to me until I felt it in my own life . . .”

This hope, born out of adversity, has led Chapman to take an active role in the organization that bears her name (Show Hope was originally “Shaohannah’s Hope”). As she watches her peers be challenged and changed through the Pause Campaign, it represents more than just an idea; it’s a testament to the work of grace and hope in her own life. And she looks forward to seeing it continue in the future.

"It's grown into something that I never expected, and I hope it continues to grow."

Visit showhope.org/pause-campaign or email [email protected] to find out more.

Catherine Parks

Catherine Parks writes and lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, two children, and a cute dog named Ollie. She's the author of Empowered and Strong, collections of biographies for middle-grade readers. You can find more of her writing at cathparks.com Read More