Raul’s Gift

I’m not in the classroom every day. And, boy, do I miss it. Those rotten kids have a knack for weaseling their way into my heart. Teaching is so hard, but I miss knowing what’s really going on in our students’ lives.

I’m thankful for the work I have now, though. By helping with sponsorship, I’ve been able to peek into classrooms. And I feel like a proud grandma observing all her sweet grandchildren growing up so quickly.

A few weeks ago, I walked into Miss Mery’s classroom, excited to find our 1st grader, Raul. His sponsor family had sent down a small sack of goodies for him, and I was eager to pass along a hug and spend a moment catching up with him. I scanned the room full of brown, little faces until I finally locked eyes with Raul.

Immediately, I knew something was wrong.  When I called his name, Raul dropped his head and averted his eyes. Uh-oh, I thought. Somebody’s not having a good day. I put on my best smile and called his name again. He slowly stood up and begrudgingly shuffled towards the door to meet me.

Suddenly, someone yelled out in front of the entire class. “You want Raul?! He doesn’t deserve a gift! He went to the office for fighting this morning! In fact, why don’t you just keep him for the rest of the day? We don’t want him back in here.” By the time the barrage of hateful words had ceased, Raul was by my side, eyes glued ashamedly to the floor.

He doesn’t deserve a gift. I was angry that someone would make such a spiteful comment about Raul in front of his other peers. The “mama bear” in me wanted to protect him. But instead of saying what I really wanted to, I calmly replied, “Well, I’ll be sure to talk to him. It’ll be fine.”

He doesn’t deserve a gift. The words kept ringing through my mind as we silently walked out of the classroom. How am I going to smooth this over? I wondered. We looked for a spot to sit down.

There were some folding chairs in the breezeway. As we set them up on the sidewalk, I was at a loss for what to say. Maybe I can remind him how important and loved he is. Or maybe I’ll tell him just to ignore the mean comments. Perhaps we can talk about how to “rise above” the hatefulness and “be the better person.” 

But on a whim, I decided to take a different approach.

“Buddy, did their words back there hurt your feelings?” Raul barely nodded. “They weren’t saying nice things, were they? But you know what? One thing they said was actually true.”

Raul just looked straight ahead, not making eye contact, but still listening. “Remember how they said that you don’t deserve this gift? They’re actually right! Do you know what it means for somebody to give you a gift? A gift is something that’s especially for you without any expectation of payment. You don’t have to buy a gift, do you? A gift is something that’s free. And if you’ll listen for just a minute, I want to tell you about Someone who gave the biggest and best gift that’s ever been given….”

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Sometimes I feel a literal ache in my heart when I think of how these precious little babes are running headlong into an eternity without God. What will happen if their lives aren’t supernaturally intercepted? God’s great wrath, which is so heavily hanging over their heads, will have to be satisfied. There is a darkness waiting for them that I refuse to dwell on.

Pray with me, please. Pray that our teachers would seek out moments to share God’s great love-gift with their students. Pray that they would be so filled up with Jesus that His grace just spills out through their every word and action.

And pray that our students’ eyes would be opened to the truth. Pray that their working minds would fully understand and that their hearts would not delay in accepting the precious gift of eternal life that’s so freely waiting for them.

Estefani

We recently ended an amazing two weeks with a team from Indiana! Met new friends and loved “sharing” our students with some people who genuinely care about our little guys and gals.

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It’s always fun watching people make connections with different kiddos. Most every team that visits has a story about certain students like adorable Alejandro, independent Yorjeni, or shy Yelin. Some boys and girls are naturally outgoing or absolutely gorgeous or incredibly smart – they just radiate their magnetic personalities and draw others to them.

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Then there’s Estefani. Estefani doesn’t have lots of cute memories attached to her name. I can’t brag about her good grades. She’s often “out to lunch” when we’re reciting numbers or letters. It has been difficult for me to keep her engaged and learning.

I’ve recently been praying that God would do something in me and in Estefani – that He would give me extra opportunities to talk to her; that He would give me wisdom in disciplining her and in encouraging her in the classroom; that He would give Estefani the ability to see how much she is loved and valued.

Well, God didn’t take long in answering those prayers. I met Estefani’s sponsor family last week! What a joy to see them connect in spite of the language barrier. I loved watching them work together on their letters and numbers and shapes and colors. I heard about how she jumped and ran and played with them before school started in the mornings. I’m sure Estefani smiled more last week than she’s smiled all year.

There have already been some small but exciting changes in Estefani since this team left! This little girl has transformed behaviorally in the classroom even over the last few days. She stays focused longer. She sits with her legs crossed and her hands folded when listening on the mat; she stands straight as a soldier when lining up. Estefani’s improving academically as well. We’ve noticed she can now write all of the letters in her name in order and right-side-up! I’ll often ask the kids at the end of the day if they “went to the corner” (which is our discipline system in the classroom)… Estefani ran past me today yelling behind her, “I’m not going to go to the corner anymore!” It’s as if she’s purposed in her heart to make a change, and I’m super pumped to see this played out in her life. I’m hopeful that these differences are for the long-term.

There may still be difficult days ahead. While tiny changes are taking place every day, Estefani probably won’t be engaged in every moment. She may still go to the corner. But one thing I think she knows now is that she matters. Her sponsor family took some time to be Jesus to her last week, and I think that her life is being intercepted. A family has made the choice to be involved in her life and to pray for her little soul every single day. And that is exciting stuff.

God has a plan for Estefani. I’m praying that He would continue to show her how beautiful she is to Him.