God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change the courage to change the things I can And the wisdom to know the difference.
I stared at this prayer each day before I tucked into bed, pondering its deep meaning. For my 13th birthday my mom cross-stitched the prayer and hung it beautifully there for me to look at and contemplate. But what did it really mean?
For years it was always the third part of the prayer which captured my attention the most. Wisdom to know the difference. The words reverberated through my mind during my moments of failure, both small and large. A scoreless basketball game. Being rejected for a job. Financial stress. Being told by my university that they wouldn’t support me moving overseas. Wisdom to know that these are things which I must accept and which I cannot change.
A few weeks ago I found myself in the back of a pickup truck barreling through dirt roads on the island of Flores. We were on our way to visit a school, but as we got further and further from civilization I found myself struggling to accept the fact that small children would walk such distances in the rain and mud just to receive an education. As our truck tumbled up to the school, children poured out of the classrooms. Their smiling faces and joy-filled eyes distracted from the dirt caked between their toes and their mud-stained clothes. Good morning Mister! Good morning Mister! Gleeful laughter erupted from their little cliques. As I peered into their faces I allowed myself to take a moment and dream about their futures. These kids had already sacrificed so much just to get an elementary school education. Would they survive through middle school and high school? Become leaders? Become doctors, engineers, businessmen, on teachers? My heart broke as I realized the reality that for many of these kids dreams for the futures couldn’t happen because the education they needed just didn’t exist.
Wisdom to know the difference. The words rang in my head again. But this time I saw these words in a different light. Wisdom to know that I CAN DO SOMETHING. The serenity prayer immediately took on a whole new meaning to me. Instead of focusing on all of the ways I was powerless, on all of the things I needed to let go of, my eyes were suddenly opened to all the responsibility I have as a child of God. The courage to change the things I can. Bringing education for the poor. Loving the unloved. Feeding the hungry. There is just so much we can do to serve God’s children. But do we have the courage?
With this renewed ambition and excitement we have been growing out teacher training program over the last few months with the goal of getting more Christian teachers into more schools in more villages in order to influence and share the Good News with more kids.
Have you ever heard that whisper in your ear to just let go, and give to God that thing which you are holding on to so closely? To jump into His loving arms and trust him to carry you the way? Living a life of faith demands us to walk to the edge of our comfort zone and patiently trust God as we surrender that which we feel we are entitled to.
Recently one of my students shared with me a story of when he was in elementary school in a tiny village on the remote island of Papua. Read below to learn about a moment he had to give up what he held closely to him to God, and how God provided for him.
When I was in elementary school, my friends and I would walk 2-3 hours to school each day. We were lucky if it didn’t rain. We hiked up through the mountains and crossed rivers. But it was worth it, because we desperately wanted to get an education.
One morning, when we arrived at the school, we found out that the government had given a sponsorship for my friends and I to receive some simple school supplies and a school uniform. They gave us these things with the instructions that anyone who lost their uniform or school supplies would receive a spanking on Monday. I received one school uniform, and one pencil. With excitement, I left for home. All of a sudden on my walk home it started to pour down rain and my brand new uniform and pencil got soaking wet. All of my new supplies were ruined. What could I do? The whole way home I cried. To walk home in the rain was a regular occurrence for me, but to lose my brand new uniform and pencil was a tragedy.
On Monday I went to school with my friends. Before we went into the school the teacher checked all of the new supplies that had been given to us the week before. Myself and a few of my friends were given a spanking and sent home, and were told that the we had to come back to school with our new supplies. After going home I didn’t know what to do, so I just prayed to God and also asked my friends for help. I thank God, because there was one friend who reached out to me. I told him the story of my supplies being drenched in the rain on my way home and how they had been destroyed. My friend had an idea. He took his pencil and he broke it in two, and gave me half. Since he had two books, he gave me one. I was overwhelmed. I hugged him. I received it with such gratitude and was so thankful to have a friend who loved me like that. Sharing is proof that we care for each other.
Last week I took a group of our teacher trainees on a hiking trip up a local mountain. The goal was just one: grow in character. With 30 students and 2 nights on the mountain, we divided into small groups to coordinate food, tents, and making sure everyone got to the top safely. I tasked each student with something specific from first aid to paying the guide. I asked one student, John, to find a machete before we left so we could cut fire wood at the campsite. John’s a quiet student who doesn’t like to draw attention to himself. He’s committed to learning anything put in front of him and works extremely hard.
As we started to hike up the mountain John approached me and confessed he wasn’t able to find a machete to bring. “Don’t worry Teacher Faith, last night I went to the woods behind the dorm a cut some wood.” I looked and slung over his shoulder was a big bag filled with chopped wood. “You’re going to carry that all the way up the mountain?” I asked. He convinced me he could do it.
About 2 hours into our 8 hour climb to the first campsite John started to lag behind. The wood was clearly weighing him down. In my mind I kept thinking, Why not just dump it, we can get wood at the campsite. We are SURROUNDED by trees! But committed to our goal of growing character, I let John carry on. “Let me carry it”, said one of his friends. John looked relieved. Over the next 6 hours we all switched off carrying the wood up the mountain.
While carrying that wood may have brought our group together, it felt so pointless. To walk amongst trees carrying wood. It made me reflect on my own life. How many times do I carry pointless burdens, worries, grudges that are totally unnecessary and that weigh me down? I know that God will provide for me. I know that once I overcome and conquer this mountain He will be there waiting. I know worrying just weighs me down. Yet in my own stubbornness or pride I refuse to cast off my burden to God and I carry it; slowly and painfully.
“Cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.” (Psalm 55:22)
We have a phrase in our dorm that we constantly remind each other at the end of each day: Give it to God and go to sleep. I’m learning. He’s taken care of me this far. Will I trust Him to carry me the rest of the way?
“Service” Trip: This trip was entirely student led and coordinated. We visited a village about two hours from our city and they led the elementary and middle school students in a variety of critical thinking and character building activities. Afterwards we visited a local volcano close to the village.
Hiking Trip: This trip consisted of 30 students hiking up Mount Welirang with a height of 3,156m (10,354 ft). Students were broken into small groups with leaders and they were challenged to coordinate food, stoves, tents and everything needed for the 3 day/2 night hike on the mountain. With 8 hours hiking the first day, 6 hours the second day, and 4 hours the third day, the exhaustion brought out character and conflict and created an opportune moment for discipleship.
Outreach day: Coordinated entirely by students as well, they invited peers from other schools and communities in our city and hosted a day of community together. This was a great opportunity as our students made new friends and grew to know the community around us.
Last November I found myself on a plane headed for Boca Raton Community Church’s annual WorldLead conference. I truly love traveling alone, the feeling of invisibility in airports full of people, and the unique opportunity to witness people from all over the world cross paths. My first stop was Kuala Lumpur, and I was the lucky one who got to sit at the front of the plane. With only one person in front of me, I relished the chance to get off the plane quickly and beat the crowd. The person in front of me was a Malaysian, polite, and visibly well traveled. As we walked through the jet bridge into the concourse, I noticed the signs which normally indicate which way to walk were absent. As we came through, the Malaysian in front of me turned right, so I naturally followed, as did the large crowd of people behind me. The man in front of me soon after turned around in shock and quickly said “Not this way! I’m only going to the bathroom. Go left to get out of the concourse.” I paused in my tracks, looking left and right. It was unclear which way to go. Meanwhile the flocks of people continued right, following the man who was only headed for the bathroom. I considered. Do I follow the instructions of this man I don’t know, even though it goes against my initial instinct? Or do I follow the crowd, the safe option? I considered for a minute before deciding to go left, against the crowd but in line with the advice of the local Malaysian. Within minutes I began smiling to myself as I realized I had indeed made the right choice. Meanwhile flocks of people continued walking in the wrong direction.
As I sat waiting for my connecting flight I pondered and reflected on this experience I had just had. In so many ways it reflects our lives as God’s children. God rarely calls us to follow the crowd in an easy, safe manner. He is calling us to turn away from the crowd, completely trust him, and walk towards the unknown. His voice is whispering to us daily, giving us the opportunity to follow in faith or turn away.
The past few months have been incredibly full but so rewarding. I was so blessed by the WorldLead assembly last month. Our oldest group of students has already begun teaching. We have made progress on opening a new school on another island. And most of all, God’s voice has been speaking to many of the students. It’s a joy and privilege to grow together with them.
Our teacher training program is growing and developing and it’s so exciting! In just a few months we will graduate and send 12 students to be teachers in remote schools all over the country. Over these next few years we are going to be sending teachers every year to be disciplers of the good news to villages everywhere, and we are only just beginning. Please pray for these teachers in training, as they step out in faith to go to the most difficult, least reached areas of this nation to bring good news and education.