A few days ago my husband and I travelled to three of the public elementary schools in our rural town to announce in the sixth grade classrooms (the last grade in elementary school according to the Honduran educational system) the opportunity to study in our discipleship-based high school on the 7th-grade level.
Last November was our first time to travel to local schools making the general invitation as we groped around in the dark, seeking God’s will in an extremely new endeavor and rather daringly inviting others to follow as we designed a new homeschool-style high school for a small group of local students.
Having roughly a year of experience under our belts (and many, many trip-ups and lessons learned the hard way), this time we began making the rounds at the local elementary schools with a sense of familiarity. Many of the students at the schools we would be going to are younger siblings of the teenagers who are currently in our program.
As we parked our old Toyota pickup truck (which is becoming quite well-known in our small town) in front of each of the schools, asked permission from the watchman to enter the front gate, and walked across dirt playgrounds teeming with children to visit overpopulated open-air classrooms, certain thoughts streamed uninvited through our minds as we observed our surroundings:
In these public elementary schools, so many of the students don’t learn anything. Look! There are kids wandering aimlessly about everywhere. Do they ever receive actual classes? It seems like they are always canceling class because the teachers don’t show up. Over there! Pre-teens holding hands inappropriately; young men rubbing up against young women; teachers sitting around doing nothing. Kids in deep poverty tapping away on expensive cell phones; trash littered everywhere.
A sense of despair almost palpable (moreso in certain public schools than in others), our thoughts next wandered to our own experiences…
How many of the students who study in our home who came to us from these same public schools got up to fifth, sixth, seventh grade without having learned basic math and writing skills? Oh, the struggles we’ve had with our students this year of breaking all the bad habits they brought with them! How grueling the war has been that we’ve waged so that 15- and 17-year-old students might learn the multiplication tables, something they should have learned years ago! Oh, our students who came to us with devastatingly low self-esteem and an immaturity that’s off the charts! Teenagers who haven’t learned to look you in the eyes; young lives already heavily tainted by lies, theft and a consuming sense of despair. 15-year-olds who behave like 6-year-olds! Everything’s upside down! Many of our 7th-grade students arrived at our home in February on about a second- or third-grade academic level…
And now we’re out here in the educational wilderness looking for more to add to the growing bunch…
I sighed. Please, God, send us good students this year. (Or at least students who have a concept of the times tables and have enough self-discipline to arrive at school everyday…) The difficult ones are just too much work!
As Darwin and I passed by classroom after classroom, we peered inside to see children standing up, hitting one another, or altogether leaving the classroom without permission. I glanced overhead and saw a hand-decorated poster that seemed to be a bright spot in the midst of the chaos: the honor roll. The poster had a small handful of students’ names written in perfectly-cut stars that had then been glued onto the clean poster board.
A sense of dread filling in my chest at the possibility of receiving a whole new batch of woefully behind, undisciplined students at the start of our new school year in February (the Honduran educational calendar finishes in November and begins again in February), I laughed sarcastically and elbowed my husband: “Hey, we should jot down the names of the honor roll kids and then invite only them into our program!”
Immediately as the words escaped my mouth, I repented of having fallen once more into the trap of yearning for ‘easy’ and ‘nice,’ of essentially turning our back on those who most desperately need the loving, edifying environment that our home offers; the message of salvation that is daily proclaimed.
Jesus came not for the well, but for the sick; not for the ‘good’ people, but for the ‘bad.’ He spent time with the prostitutes, thieves and sinners! Who am I to want to hide out with the healthy people — the nice ones, the pretty ones! — who’ve got it all together? Oh, Lord, forgive me once more.
How many times has our Father confirmed that our home is not to be a hide-out for ‘good’ people but rather a daring rescue mission within a yard of hell? Thank You for stationing us here within a yard of the flames even though so many times in my selfishness I’d like to move this rescue shop a little bit farther into safe territory. A rescue shop within a hundred miles of hell sounds a bit more appealing, or better yet within a yard of heaven.
Oh, but the ‘bad youth’ are the ones He’s specifically chosen to find Him through us! This is our cross to bear.
My mind immediately snapped into focus as I remembered last Tuesday afternoon when we had our last Christian Leadership class of the year.
For one last time (until February when the new school year starts up again) each person passed to the front of the class to share a personal testimony — something the Lord is doing in their lives, something they’ve learned recently from Scripture, etc. We began implementing this activity into the weekly class as a way of truly developing the participants into active leaders who are always prepared to explain the hope that they have in Christ.
One by one each person passed up to the front with a maturity, a dignity that had not been present but a few months ago. A sense of God’s presence fell over our little classroom as each person assumed a vulnerability that had not yet been expressed.
A 15-year-old young man in our 7th-grade program — the same young man whom in my heart I had scoffed at when I realized he had signed up for a Christian Leadership course! (See: Unlikely Disciples) — took his turn at the front. Sure enough, he had not dropped out of the intensive course but had faithfully attended since July along with the rest of this ragtag band of disciples that surely any ‘wise’ person would not have chosen for a leadership class.
He passed up to the front, the rest of us seated in the students’ desks. He shifted his weight from one leg to the other and adjusted his white uniform’s collar. I could tell he was nervous, but it wasn’t due to the fact that he had to speak in front of the group. We had all been speaking in front of one another in this way, giving testimonies and teaching Scripture together for many months. I sensed he was nervous because what he was about to share would be extremely personal, a little too close to home.
He began, and he went way over the at-least-a-minute-or-two time suggestion as his voice softly trembled, his words carefully chosen and said with great sincerity. His large, wide eyes were alert and joyful. He began sharing with us — in his own words — the transformation that I believe everyone around him had already noticed.
“Before I began studying here, I was…so disrespectful. My mom would talk to me and tell me to stay at home, and I would just thrown up my arm and storm out, going to the river or just wandering around the neighborhood aimlessly, day after day…”
I remembered, for his story is always very present in my thoughts. His parents had kicked him out of the home the year prior, had sent him off to another town to live with his uncle and do manual work after he had dropped out of the public high school and got mixed up with the wrong crowd.
“But this year, I’ve learned about Christ. I feel that I’ve learned so much, and, what He wants from me –”
His eyes light up even more and a big smile overtakes his face: ” — is that I follow Him.”
He continued onward as everyone else remained in a respectful silence, eyes locked on his (another triumph that has been fiercely battled for and won among rogue, undisciplined youth!)
He confessed that at the beginning of this school year he had been so disrespectful of his teacher, Miss Ligia. He stopped suddenly, smiled shyly and glanced across the room at her. She returned the smile, for she, too, was about to share a testimony of God’s transformative power in her own life.
This brave young man with his rockin’ teenagery haircut in his daily school uniform continued, as he laughed and said, “I mean, at the beginning of the school year I didn’t even know the times tables. Someone could ask me 3 X 4, and I wouldn’t know the answer. And, I mean, that’s the easiest one! All throughout elementary school when I was younger I was so undisciplined, and I didn’t want to learn anything. I would just go around bullying everyone and messing around…”
He continued onward, talking easily about the impact our twice-weekly Bible studies have had in his life as he’s come to learn about God’s will, His perfect love. He spoke also of his participation in Miss Isis’ prayer group.
As his very sincere, powerful confession of God’s grace in his life came to an apparent close, he hesitated. It was as if a part of the story was missing, but he wasn’t sure if it was too dangerous to share. He looked at me, and I sensed I knew what he was going to say.
Seeing as no one had yet to make fun of him for his daring testimony in this roomful of ‘sick’ people who’ve come to be healed by the Savior, he took the risk. “There’s…one more thing. Last year.”
The room suddenly felt heavy. I definitely knew what he was going to say. “Last year…when some of my friends and I came up to the Living Waters Ranch…to steal. I was involved, so I was guilty too. The cops came and took us to the station in La Ceiba. And…Darwin arrived and he gave me really pivotal advice, told me to seek God. And…now I truly feel that God is transforming me. I’m not the same anymore.”
Many in the room probably had no idea what he was talking about while others knew too well as he continued valiantly talking about his participation in the robbery that happened last August on my birthday. (See: Justice in a Lawless Land)
My heart felt heavy with joy as the young man before us finished his testimony and sat down quietly. Before I knew it another one was standing up, sharing a strikingly similar testimony of salvation and life — life abundant! joy! — found in Christ. Here. In our midst, in these little melon-colored houses at the end of that long gravel road.
Lord, please forgive me for wanting ‘easy,’ for wanting to surround myself with polished people, with those who have it all together. Thank You for bringing these broken, lost young men to our home, to learn of You and to be transformed. And thank You for transforming me in the process, for renewing this hardened hart of mine and for utilizing me in the midst of this great rescue mission You are performing all around the globe. Lord, may You continue to be glorified in and through us, and may You grant us the strength to remain faithful to the calling You’ve given us.
Amen! Glory to God!