Costumes, healthy physical touch, eye contact and God’s love — welcome to our twice-weekly Speech/Communications class! As we’ve reached our mid-year point in our discipleship-based community homeschool program at the Living Waters Ranch in rural Honduras, we’ve introduced several new classes. One such class is a dynamic, sometimes impromptu class I’m teaching our oldest students — roughly 25 teens grades 5th-8th who come from (and many of whom are still in) marginalized situations.
During the first half of the school year we began seeing the dire need for such a class as the majority of our new students are desperately shy, afraid to speak up or share in Bible study, won’t pray in public, and are completely lost as to how to do any kind of class presentation. In Honduran culture, it is very common and accepted for people to be ‘ashamed,’ which becomes a debilitating disease that causes them to hide from doing anything good (but not, of course, to shy away from doing anything bad, as we know all too well that violent crimes and rampant sin have this culture in a stranglehold).
As we are learning alongside of our students in Bible study every Tuesday and Thursday, one of the many messages in the book of Hosea is that human beings generally love shame above honor; we love what cuts us off from relationship rather than what gives life; we give our affections to a passing, flawed worldly system with false promises rather than to the good, eternal God. This backwards or confused attitude is very present in our students, as many struggle secretly with pornography addiction, theft, lying, etc, but are scared stiff to talk openly about God’s love, give their undivided attention to the person speaking to them, respond to God’s grace in joyful, unashamed devotion, etc. They are scared to sing worship songs but are not scared about falling into sexual sin. Surely we as a human race have got it all backward!
Thus, we invented our three-week-long intensive Speech/Communications class (a more in-depth version of the one-day workshop I gave last year), and thus far we’ve seen many breakthroughs in even our shyest of students. The class atmosphere is light and fun, and the youth are encouraged to participate openly without shame. In addition to playing many interactive games, a good portion of each class is dedicated to sitting in a large circle as a certain theme is presented (it could be something from the Bible, everyday life, etc) and each student — in their own timing — stands up and talks freely for a minute or so on said topic. (This is the only activity I can recall from my own high school speech class, and I remember that it greatly helped me overcome my own fear of public speaking.) The speaker is instructed to create and maintain eye contact with each member of the audience (which is a new concept for the majority of them, as they’re used to staring at their own feet or up at the ceiling), and the audience is instructed to maintain open body posture and not break eye contact with the speaker (another struggle, as respectfully listening to speakers is not generally a strong point in Honduran culture.)
Last week as class was nearing its end, we sat down in our large circle on the porch to discuss the topic of ‘family.’ I had assumed this topic would be the easiest of all to discuss because it was intimately known and experienced each day. They didn’t need to prepare a large presentation or do any research; just talk about their family. After all, if they wanted to take the quickest route out of their public speaking commitment, all they had to do was stand up and stutter, “Uh, I have three siblings, and I live with my mom and dad,” before quickly sitting down again. I thought it would be easy enough.
Well, a young male student was our first volunteer. He popped up to his feet, his short frame standing as tall as he possibly could as he opened up his heart in an entirely unexpected way. He began sharing with all of us some of his family struggles along with the fact that when he was younger he spent much time in the street, even occasionally sleeping on the street to avoid family conflicts. He then went on to publicly thank God that he now has a much more loving step-mother who treats him nicely along with the fact that God’s hand has been over him in several other noticeable ways. This particular young man is normally very upbeat and tends to play the role of ‘class clown,’ so we were all blown away by what he shared. As my eyes searched the faces of all those two dozen students who were looking up at him, eyes trained on him as he spoke, my heart recognized another miracle: no one laughed.
When he finished sharing several minutes later, another teen boy hopped up to his feet and began sharing a long, intricate narrative of his woeful relationship to his mother, her murder a couple years ago, and his blossoming relationship with Christ since then. No one made any uncomfortable faces or poked fun. They were just really, truly listening in the purest sense, and he was earnestly speaking. No big poster boards; no dull, memorized speeches; just real, God-honoring sharing.
Our eldest daughter was the next one to follow suit and, like the other two young men who shared, she went far over the minimum time limit and valiantly shared about her experiences with her biological family, the devastating details of which her classmates had not previously known. After her, three or four other students shared sincerely. Two students finished their time of sharing about their family in tears. Some shared heartwarming stories of parental love and support while others spoke of murders suffered, indescribable loss and abuse. The element that was present in nearly every story, however, was that of redemption, of God’s love shining through to reach them in the darkest of places, drawing them toward Christ. And the best part was that they were putting it in their own words, were recognizing (and proclaiming to others!) God’s handprint on their lives.
With great joy I share with you the following photos that were taken from our class last week. To God be the glory!
Amen! Glory to God!