Her eyes were wide as she glanced over at me. “I’m nervous,” she said. “About what?” I asked. “I have to lead the activity tonight,” she replied. I smiled and my heart couldn’t help but overflow with love for this sister of mine. Ezia is the future of this country. She’s one of our 8 university students that we are training to become, creative, innovative, phenomenal teachers. I can’t help but love her.
Jon laughs boisterously in the corner as he strums his guitar. Orphaned at a young age, he has figured out how to survive in this world on his own. He has finally found a home here, and I can’t help but love him.
Priza sits quietly and listens carefully. Her small stature is deceiving, for her heart is big and overflows with love for those around her. Her words are chosen carefully, but when she does speak, wisdom and gentleness reverberate from her heart. I can’t help but love her.
Nathan makes a face each time I enter the room. I know he hopes I will make a face in return, so we can erupt in laughter together. I do, and as we laugh, I can’t help but love him, as his smile spreads wide across his face.
“Soooooo sweeeet,” Rachel says to me. It’s her favorite English phrase. Immediately her laughter fills the air and I find myself reaching over to embrace her. I can’t help but love her.
What a privilege it is for me to live with these 8 teachers-in-training as they have dug their way into my heart. We laugh, cry, share, eat, play soccer, study and live life together. Many of them have been through circumstances beyond my imagination: loss of parents, rejection from family, poverty, and some being told that they are not smart enough or not good enough to make anything of their lives. But when I wake up to their beautiful faces each day, I find that their joy has permeated the grief, and God has truly captured their souls. I just can’t help but love them.
I’ve been living in this dorm for 6 months now. When I first moved in, there were 4 university students participating in the pilot program of our new Teacher Training Center. We have already doubled and now have 8 students in the program. The vision is to train nationals to be innovative teachers that transform the education system in this country and empower the next generation of leaders. Our hope is that the students who graduate from our schools penetrate the various domains of their society: medicine, education, arts, media, technology, church and government, with strong leadership, creative ideas, and transformational values.
Just the other day I heard someone describe Jesus as a “Movement Initiator”. Jesus was socially active in His community. He compassionately healed people. He fervently spoke truth into people’s lives. Jesus couldn’t help but love every single person he encountered, and this love initiated a movement. I am literally shaking with excitement as I think about this next generation of movement initiators God is raising up to be the future leaders of this country. Will you join me in praying for them?
We took 33 ninth graders up to a small village in the mountains on a short term m-trip. Just two weeks earlier we had broken them up into groups and told them, “You will teach 7th or 8th graders for 50 minutes. Create the most creative, imaginative lesson you can think of. See you in two weeks!” My students went to work. Resolved to create the best possible lesson they could conjure, they toiled and poured their hearts and souls into the assignment.
We made it up to the village school and the students prepared to give their lessons. “Are we teaching 7th or 8th grade?” one girl begged to know. But plans had changed, as they often do. “Eleventh grade,” I said to her. Her eyes widened dramatically. “What??” she said. “Yes, plans have changed,” I replied. These ninth graders had already taught me so much, so even though the eleventh graders would be older than them, I had no doubt they would do a great job.
“You can do it,” I said, “I know you can.” “Ok,” she said, “we’ll do it.” I stood back and watched my students excel. Their lessons were creative. The students they taught were captivated. And most of all, they loved. They loved each other, they loved their new friends. I was beaming with pride and humbled to be called their teacher.
I think my eyes frequently widen when God puts a seemingly impossible task in front of me. “What??” I say. But just as I took pleasure in the courage of my students, I think God finds that same pleasure in us when we fearlessly jump into the seemingly impossible tasks He gives us.
I was brought back to memories of my 18th birthday. My best friend and I jumped out of an airplane. It’s counterintuitive. It doesn’t make sense. And it’s pretty scary. But once I jumped out of that plane, all of my fears were released. Peace swept over me. I was exhilarated. Ironically, no one ever dies from jumping out of an airplane. People who die while skydiving do so when they hit the ground, not when they are suspended in mid air. Strange, then, that I felt relieved while I was still in mid air, despite the fact that possible danger was still to come. But I had completed the step of faith that was required of me. I was in the hands of God now.
“How did you feel teaching students who were older than you?” I asked my ninth graders. “It was scary at first,” they said, “but it was really great!” God honors our leaps of faith. He joys in our risk-taking and our courage to try something counterintuitive. And then He carries us. We just have to jump.
These past two months have provided many opportunities for new experiences. Read about recent developments in The Nit-Grit: Smiles and Sweat, check out new photos on the photos page, and be sure to read through the full list of prayer requests on my prayer & praise page. Thank you so much for your prayers and support!
I was 9 years old. It was Good Friday, and part of the day’s required activities included periodical Bible readings from the crucifixion story. I had heard the story dozens of times but it had never truly permeated my soul. I remember tears running down my face as my mom read the narrative of Christ’s gruesome crucifixion. Why did he have to die? Why did they kill him? New life had been brought to this story of old. I felt for the first time as if I were there. The intensity of the moment of Jesus’ death penetrated my heart. Even though I knew the end of the story, I was suddenly able to comprehend the emotion felt on that dreadful day. I sobbed. I grieved. An intense hunger for Sunday stirred within me. Please let it be true. Please, let him come back to life! But I would have to wait. Today is only Friday.
I can imagine how the disciples felt on Saturday. They awoke to life that had been shattered to pieces. Hope for salvation had died. Yesterday they shamelessly left everything to follow a man that was to save their people. Today that man was dead. People had accused them of craziness for their life of complete surrender, and it dawned on them that perhaps people were right. They hid in fear for their lives while grieving the loss of their leader. Life was chaotic and confusing. Questions. Doubts. Darkness. Hopelessness. This was not what they had signed up for. Jesus was supposed to lead them to new life, justice and victory. Now all that remained was loneliness and desolation.
Perhaps you have lived in this darkness. Perhaps you have experienced the pain of loss, the grief of separation, the blur of confusion, the vivid sting of hopelessness. Is today Saturday? Are you wandering in a desert of loneliness and hopelessness? Do you find yourself questioning what you desperately want to believe because circumstances don’t reconcile with the message of hope you have left everything to follow?
I wait with anticipation each year for celebratory Easter Sunday. I have great memories of waking early on Easter morning, dressing into my flowery blue and white dress with my favorite lacy socks and tiptoeing down the kitchen to indulge in my mom’s famous Ukrainian Easter Bread. Oh how I love Easter Sunday. Sunday’s joy is birthed in the wake of Saturday’s grief.
Today is Saturday. Grief and despair. But there is hope, Sunday is coming.
“…weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5
I looked around at the 9 new teachers we have in town for our training this month. Many come from harsh living circumstances. Some had never been on an airplane before today. A few are no longer able to live with their families. Away from their lives and everything known for a month, they crowded into this tiny house together. Is this blessing?
I peered into the eyes of my tired, worn out students. Exhaustion seemed to consume their faces as they confronted the reality of final exams coming next week. With tests, papers and projects looming over their heads, they looked like they were ready to cave. Is this blessing?
I joined the huddle of my tired, sweaty, high school girls basketball team. I dug deep within myself to find one more encouraging speech to give after a series of losses at a tournament in our home gym. With tears running down their faces and exhaustion consuming their bodies I looked at them as I struggled to find the words to say. Is this blessing?
I saw it in slow motion. The precious 3 year old girl stumbled backwards, slamming her head on the concrete. An ocean of tears exploded out of her face as she made a mad dash for her mother. Is this blessing?
I comforted a friend as tears dampen her eyes as she details her broken relationship with her family. They are of the majority religion and have rejected her because of her claim to faith. Is this blessing?
The harsh sounds of machinery once again reverberated through my classroom as I attempted to teach my students. My fading voice was no competition against the hammering of nails and the buzzing of chainsaws. Is this blessing?
“…Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
It’s not that being poor in spirit just brings blessing. No, being poor in spirit is the blessing.
Teachers being trained to transform their communities. Students exhausted because of the incredible education they are being given. Basketball players learning the meaning of perseverance and character (they turned out winning the tournament, by the way). A little girl with the loving arms of a mother eager to embrace her. The testimony of a woman completely committed to following Jesus. The sounds of construction reverberating through my classroom as a reminder that a new teacher training center is being built on our campus. Is this blessing? Yes. This is blessing.
Rainy season has come.
I was riding my motorbike in the rain the other day. It’s quite a spectacle–as soon as the drops begin to fall all of the motorbikes pull over and take out these brightly colored ponchos. I was in my bright blue poncho being pelted with raindrops on my way home. In front of me was a man on a bike, seemingly doing the same. However, I looked carefully again and noticed two little feet in pink crocs sticking out the sides of his poncho. His little girl was sitting behind him under the back of his poncho clinging to him as they raced home through waterfall coming from the sky.
(here’s a photo of a similar situation, but with TWO pairs of little feet!)
This brought a huge smile on my face. Here was this little girl completely trusting her father in every way. She could not see where they were going or what was happening around her. She was faced with two choices–she could either ride with full awareness and understanding of where they were and where they were going, but be pelted with rain and mud along the way; or she could rest safely under the protection of her father, but this would mean clinging to him and placing complete trust in him.
Sometimes this is how I feel life is here. Either I am clinging tightly to God and allowing him to direct my every move, or I’m just being pelted. There’s no in between. Unfortunately, all too many times I find I want to grab hold of the steering wheel and drive myself.
God has been teaching me patience. I so badly want to have this culture and language under my belt already so I can move on to some of the things I am hoping to do here, but as I slowly grow and learn about the language and culture, I am finding He is growing me in other ways as well.
There weren’t even enough chairs in the room, but the excited middleschoolers crammed their way into the humble classroom, wondering, “Who are these strangers? Why are they here and what will they teach us?”
I glanced over at my three high school students. We had traveled together over the last few days to visit this school in a more remote region. They were nervous, and they looked at me and said, “My heart is going boom-boom boom-boom.”
Over the course of 5 days we would visit five schools and two orphanages, and each time my highschoolers stepped up and excitedly interacted with the students, giving English lessons, playing games, singing songs, and doing skits.
we are all learners–but we are all teachers
At the end of the trip, I posed the question, “What did you learn over these last several days?” After flushing squatty potties with redish-brown river water, eating bat (not my favorite), and sweating in scorching hot classrooms with no electricity or even a decent chalkboard, I expected a response such as, “I learned to be grateful for what I have.” Instead, one student said poignantly, “I learned that in life we can’t just know how to learn, we have to know how to teach.”
What a true statement I have found this to be since moving here. I came here with the expectation that the majority of what I would do here is learn–learn from people who live differently than I do. But it can’t stop there. I have been reminded recently that no one culture has it all figured out. We can all learn from each other, but we must also be willing to teach each other.
This past month has been packed with changes and adventures! I moved into a dorm with some national college students, hiked a volcano, and went on this trip to visit some of our schools in other parts of the country. I am so blessed to be here, every day I am reminded of the amazing things God is doing here, and I am so grateful to be a part of it all.
Here are some things you can pray for:
- Teaching: I am still teaching grade 9 Bible, and it has been quite challenging! Please pray for inspiration and guidance as I try to guide and teach these young people.
- Discernment: Pray for clarity as I continue to discover all that God would have me do here.
- Health: So far, I have been blessed by fantastic health, and I know it is largely in part to your prayers. Please keep them coming! I greatly appreciate it.
- Boldness in relationships: Pray for my relationships with the college students I now live with, that friendships would grow and that I would have boldness to share with them.
Thanks for all of your prayers and support. It’s making a difference.I’ve added some photos from my recent trip, and more photos will come over the next few days and weeks, so check back for more! Also, I periodically will post things I’m thinking about, need help with, as well as cultural stories etc., so even if you don’t receive an email, don’t forget to check back for updates!