People in Kenya were pouring over pictures of members of a Winnipeg church Thursday, deciding who would be told the exciting news of being chosen in a child sponsorship program.

Winnipeg church Soul Sanctuary and World Vision have partnered to get kids sponsored in an unusual way. Pastor Gerry Michalski says that for the last month the church had been going through a sermon series on Matthew 25. "At the end of [the sermon series], the following Sunday I presented a challenge to our congregation about sponsorship," Michalski says. "I challenged our community to sponsor and there was an overwhelming response."

What happened after that challenge took place is where the steps involved veered from the usual process.

Usually, people who want to sponsor a child through programs like World Vision, go through pictures sorted on a table at an event, or posted online, and choose a kid. The child and their family are then notified by the organization's staff. Instead, on that Sunday, people went into the church's atrium and had their photo taken.

Michalski and World Vision staff member Chris Schroeder of Winnipeg then travelled to Kenya. On Thursday, October 3, 2019, they had groups of children come to an event, and in groups of 10 at a time, the kids were able to look at the pictures of potential sponsors and choose for themselves who their sponsor would be.

It's a reversal of roles in the typical process of child sponsorship programs, and Michalski says it's an important change.

"These kids have grown up with a lack of choice, and now we have put the control and empowerment into their hands to choose."

Michalski says it's been an amazing experience to be there and have an opportunity to tell the kids a bit about the sponsors they are choosing. He was also present as his own family was chosen to be the sponsors of a child.

"I was here to witness it and it was a moving experience." He says the best way to describe the experience is, "Joy. Just joy."

Soul Sanctuary is the first church in Canada to try the new angle on child sponsorship.

Michalski says the response at his church far-exceeded his expectations. He'll unveil the official numbers to his congregation this Sunday during the church's two worship gatherings.