Several of our older kids have begun giving 7-year-olds Gabriela and Josue ‘tutoring’ during different 30-minute afternoon time-slots throughout the week to help stimulate our two littlest ones who are the most developmentally behind schedule. Thus far the classes have been a selection of Play-Doh, P.E. (tossing a ball back-and-forth, doing sprints across our front yard, spinning in circles, etc.), coloring, and playing with wooden blocks. It has been a very rewarding experience for all — perhaps even more so for the tutors than for Gaby and Josue.
This Saturday 11-year-old Josselyn (who is Gabriela’s biological sister and the 7th of our 8 kids to move in with us roughly 7 months ago) was the teacher for the designated tutoring time. She took the initiative to lean a large whiteboard against the wall in our living room and set up two wooden stools for her students. I sat on the floor in our bedroom organizing paperwork with our door open into the living room so that I, too, could ‘sit in’ on the class.
Josselyn, who just learned how to read, write and do basic math for the first time in her life since moving in with us in July 2015, up until Saturday had not been one of our more dynamic tutors. She had generally been in charge of the ‘coloring book’ tutoring sessions and, by what we could tell, had fulfilled her once-a-week class out of nothing more than a sense of duty to her little sister.
But something had changed. On Saturday she began enthusiastically writing the vowels on the whiteboard (which Gaby and Josue have no idea how to read), and soon enough she had them sing-songing the vowels in some catchy tune she had made up. Gaby and Josue were thoroughly engaged in the class, and at some point she even had Gaby counting with her up to 20 (Josue does not talk other than a handful of one- or two-syllable sounds). I felt like a permanent smile was glued on my face as I continued organizing several stacks of legal paperwork, students’ exams, and mission statements as the rest of our kids played in our front yard. My husband Darwin and our eldest daughter, 15-year-old Dayana, were in the nearby city of La Ceiba that morning in their weekly English class.
Far exceeding the 30-minute recommended time, Josselyn then dispatched her students to a short ‘recess,’ telling me with a big grin that she wanted to keep teaching them other subjects even though she didn’t have to. She then informed me quite seriously, “The other tutors don’t know how to manage Josue and Gaby, and that’s why they behave so poorly. But I just tell them that if they don’t listen up and participate, I’ll take their recess away. That seems to work just fine.”
I, too, took a ‘recess’ and crossed our front lawn to the little office building to bring more folders for my organizational efforts. When I crossed the threshold of our front door into our living room several minutes later, I was somewhat startled to hear Josselyn – who had already called her students in from recess and had them sitting obediently on their stools to continue the class – saying in a very even tone with more authority than perhaps I have ever heard her talk, and much less teach: “Of course we are going to die, because we are made of the dust of the earth.”
As I passed by them on my few-yard journey to our bedroom, I looked at Josselyn, intrigued, and she informed me, “Now we’re in Bible class.”
I nodded, very interested to hear what Josselyn-the-teacher (who did not have a Bible in hand) would be instructing her two very immature students on the Truth. (From the psychological evaluations we’ve had done, Gaby is roughly 4 years old mentally/emotionally and Josue is 3, and both suffer intermediate to severe developmental delays due to distinctive situations of abuse they suffered before arriving at our home. Josue is in a special-needs pre-school class at a private school five mornings a week, and this past week we moved Gaby down from first grade in a private school to kindergarten in our own school to help cater her needs.)
A few words about Josselyn: she has very short hair that is just starting to grow out after having arrived at our front gate with nearly buzzed-off hair with huge bald patches, and she is very, very small for her age due to malnutrition suffered in her early childhood (she’s about the size of a 7- or 8-year-old, and nobody knows how old she really is because she doesn’t have a birth certificate and was never registered with the government, although our dentist’s approximation is that she’s 11 or 12 years old).
So I continued organizing my mountain of paperwork, but this time with my mind much more focused on the theology class coming from our living room than on the manila folders in front of me.
Josselyn covered the beginning of Genesis with remarkable accuracy, instructing Gaby and Josue with all authority on themes that she has been learning in our weekly Discipleship Group but that, honestly, I had thought were beyond her. Of our 8 kids/teens, she does not tend to have a lot of questions, prayer requests, or comments during the various Bible studies we participate in each week, and I had (very mistakenly) thought that perhaps she was distracted amidst other thoughts, possibly not even hearing the instruction around her, although she had come to give her life to Christ in one of our community Bible studies a few months ago and we had seen distinct changes in her since then.
As I heard nugget after nugget of profound, God-inspired wisdom flowing easily from her mouth, I quickly realized I needed to be writing it all down so as not to forget her exact words. So, without her realizing it, I grabbed an old notebook from one of the many piles of paperwork around me and I began to scribble in a fat, blue marker as quickly as I could everything that she was teaching. Her words, verbatim, were as follows:
“God is love. He’s the only true love we’ve got. The love of a person is small, but that of God is big – bigger and bigger – and He won’t turn His back on you. Not even your mom loves you as much as He does. And if you repent, He’ll be there. But if we don’t repent, when we die we’ll be in front of God and He’ll say: ‘I don’t know you.’”
After Josselyn had instructed several times and in many different ways that God is love, Josue started echoing her every time she said ‘God,’ him answering with “A-moh!” (his way of saying ‘amor,’ which is ‘love’ in Spanish.) Every time she said ‘God’ in any context, Josue’s little voice echoed: “A-moh…” And I think Josue was onto something: every time we think about God, our knee-jerk reaction should be to meditate on His love.
She continued, changing the subject: “If I tell you to do whatever you want because you run your own life – like, go and have a lot of women — am I a good friend?”
Josue, who wears diapers, answered shyly: “No.”
Josselyn: “Isn’t that right that I’m not? A good friend would tell you to submit to God’s will and give away what you have to people who need it more than you do, and God will bless you.”
She continued: “Life is hard, even for children. A lot of kids can just run around and play, but they don’t even know what they do. But once you arrive in adulthood, things will be harder.” She swings her gaze over to me and confirms: “Right, Jennifer?” I laughed. “One day you two will be big, but you’ve got to start believing in God even now when you’re small. You don’t have to go around fighting – God says let there be peace and freedom, but no fights and wars.”
Josue started to giggle nervously, and Josselyn corrected him: “We don’t have to laugh at God’s Word. This isn’t like ‘A, B, C’ in first grade, Josue – this is the True Word, and I’m not lying.”
Josue shaped up, and she continued, now teaching on the crucifixion, Lazarus, and the end of the world. “Not even the angels know when the end of the world will come, only God – right, Jennifer?”
Her two pupils sat with total focus, listening to their young teacher who, by some miracle, already has God’s Word stitched deeply in her heart. She addressed her students: “Do you have a question about how God is?”
Gaby, stuttering and mispronouncing certain words, as is the way she always talks: “The—the…chapters say that we must love one another.”
Josselyn: “Very well, Gaby, but first we must love God.”
“If I believe I am bigger than God, we are believing Satan, the Father of Lies. If I say I want to be the queen because God’s dead, who’s talking crazy? Me, right? Because I’m from the dust of the Earth, and God is the Father of Truth.”
At some point the class started winding down, and the teacher asked me what time it was. “2:20pm,” I answered.
She laughed out loud and said, “I think I’m gonna keep going until nighttime!”