Tag Archives: Integral Recovery

Abandoning Shame and Embracing Love: A Speech Class Experience

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!

The first step during each Speech/Communications class: hand out silly hats! We’ve purchased dozens of fun hats from a local thrift store, and with our students they get plenty of use! One of the goals of the class is to help the students to have more confidence, not be afraid of one another, and lose what the Honduran culture calls ‘shame,’ so we see the use of the goofy hats to be integrally important to this process!
Our 16-year-old son Brayan loves his Mexican ‘mariachi’ hat!
What a cute, fluffy pink bear! That’s our 13-year-old daughter Jackeline who oftentimes gets the giggles when she has to stand up and talk in front of the group!
The next step: silly greetings! Everyone has to go around greeting everybody…The only catch is that you have to do it according to the announced theme. Sometimes we have to greet each other ‘sickly;’ other times ‘like old people;’ sometimes ‘mad’ or ‘sad,’ etc. This always makes even the shyest kids laugh!

What an elegant gathering of young ladies! Great hats!
Next up: eye contact! Everybody grab a partner and you have to look them in the eyes for several minutes straight! (This activity can be extremely difficult/uncomfortable even for the most socially well-balanced person, so this ‘eye-contact game’ proves to be quite the challenge for youth who come from broken backgrounds and are used to hiding at all costs. I’m sure they feel like they’re under a magnifying glass!)

These are two of our shyest boys, both of whom this year have struggled with behavioral issues in the classroom. The act of looking each other in the eyes for several minutes can go a long way toward cultivating focus, respect, and love toward one another. As the kids/teens do this activity, I walk among them and talk openly about the fact that each one of them was made in God’s image, and the same salvation in Christ Jesus is available to each one — there is no reason to hide, to fear, or to hate one another. The students have at least a ‘head knowledge’ of this through our ongoing Bible studies and prayer groups that they all participate in, but it is pretty cool to be able to reinforce this reality through interactive games such as this, especially in the Honduran culture where violence and broken relationships abound.


The giraffe and the pig have a stare-off!
Great costume! We’ve got a fireman in our class just in case any problems break out!

 

Okay, now everybody break up into groups of two, and find a quiet spot in the yard to start planning your secret handshake! In 10 minutes each team will have to perform in front of the rest of the group! (In this photo Sefora, one of our new seventh grade students, got brave enough to try on the large, old lady dress I got from the thrift store. It was the only costume part everyone was afraid to put on!)
Don’t be scared to show your face! You’re rockin’ like a homeschool mom from the 80s! You go, girl!

Everybody’s busy designing their secret handshake/greeting with their partner!


Here is our 16-year-old daughter Dayana (right) planning her upbeat ‘secret handshake’ with 12-year-old Dayra, one of our new local students who entered the Living Waters Ranch in Jan. Their greeting involved a hip bump and many other fun details!

Okay, gather up! Everyone sit in a semi-circle on the schoolhouse’s front porch (it was way too hot to do the class inside), because everyone’s going to present their handshake! (Aren’t they all just too cute?)

Elalf (our tallest student, Pastor Domingo’s son) was partnered with Charlie (our shortest student). The last step of their creative greeting was that Elalf picked Charlie up by his trousers and spun him around! Good thing he’s got a firm grip!

Come on out, Jackeline! She was so nervous that she kept hiding behind the house so that she wouldn’t have to perform!
Our daughter Jackeline was so nervous that she ran off the ‘stage’ when she finished the last step of her handshake with Josselyn!

Amen! Glory to God!

A Rag-Tag Group of Godly Young Men: The Art of Transformation

Yesterday we began our three-week period of intensive, dynamic ‘mid-year’ classes with our roughly-40 students to shake things up a bit and further serve them in their integral development as loving, joyful beings under the headship of loving, joyful God.

After Bible study, prayer groups, and group geography class in the ‘movie theater’ (the students called it that because we used a projector to show large images and maps on the wall, something we had never done before because we just purchased the projector a few days ago), all of our students divided up into two groups: the girls with Darwin for choir class (I participated as a very naughty student in the choir, and the girls loved it), and all the boys in our large dining room for art class with the rest of the teachers.

At one point I snuck out of the little building where we were having choir to go check on the boys in their first large-group art class, and I found them all very much hard at work, collaborating with one another and thoroughly enjoying the whole creative process. I have absolutely no idea what the actual project was (they seemed to be divided up in several groups according to age/ability/interest as some were working with cardboard, others with string and hot glue guns, others with simple paper and crayons), but God’s peace among them was tangible and I marveled at the beauty of what God is doing deep in their hearts.

I share with you the following photos that were taken of roughly 20 young men that we absolutely adore and are so proud of. Some of them we have known and been closely discipling for two to three years while others entered our lives but four months ago. Many of these young men have dropped out of school several times, entertained the idea of moving illegally to the United States, or become dangerously close to becoming teen fathers. They are quite the rag-tag group — some are naturally very bright and well-adjusted; others have been orphaned or had family struggles and no longer live under the protection of their parents; others suffer mild to severe learning disabilities; all of whom are growing in the knowledge and love of God. Especially in our rural community and the general Honduran culture, seeing young men become brilliantly alive in God’s love –actively seeking out His Word, submitting their lives to His will, recognizing and developing their God-given ‘hidden treasures’  and talents in order to more fully serve Christ — is no common occurrence. There is a high percentage of young men in our neighborhood who are vagabonds and thieves, oftentimes committing themselves to the service of the local gangs who end their lives before age 20. Thus, with great astonishment at God’s active work in these precious young men’s lives, I share with you the following photos we took yesterday…

This is Charlie, one of our high school students who didn’t pass his grade with us last year but has valiantly come back again to give it a second try (after much persuasion), and this year he is one of our more consistent and joyful students. He was baptized last year, and he has become actively involved in the search for God, both at the Living Waters Ranch and in his personal life with his family.
A year or two ago I don’t think we could have ever imagined that our dining room would become so multi-purpose! Sometimes several times daily we move around the tables and benches to transform the space into whatever we need it to be. We use this room for our twice-weekly Bible study, 5th and 6th grade homeschool, worship time, academic support group, dance club, the new geography class, and now group art lessons!
This young man on the left is Eduardo, a 14-year-old who joined us at the beginning of the Honduran school year in January. He had dropped out of the local public high school last year and recently experienced a bout of depression/discouragement and came dangerously close to dropping out of our program as well. Darwin, the teachers and I have all had productive one-on-one conversations with him over the last several weeks to encourage him to continue seeking God’s will for his life and to stay put at the Living Waters Ranch so that he can keep growing, and after a recent visit Darwin paid to his house to talk with his mom he has experienced a change for the better and is now participating more fully and seems to be genuinely happy and engaged.

This is Miss Ligia, a local lawyer who came to us by divine appointment and has been serving with us as a teacher for a year-and-a-half. She always has wonderful arts and crafts projects for the kids, and this is a particular blessing in our context because the majority of our students have poor fine motor skills and/or developmental delays, so the act of measuring, cutting with scissors, painting, etc, is very therapeutic and aids them in their recovery from past traumas/neglect.

This is Brayan, our 15-year-old son who has experienced healing and freedom on many levels over these past several years. He is not the best student and still struggles with emotional immaturity at times, but his heart and his soul are being renewed with God’s love, and he knows who he is as one of Father God’s beloved children. He will be finishing 6th grade this year and entering our high school program (which begins at the 7th-grade level) next January.
Something that happens in our discipleship-focused community homeschool (the name just keeps getting longer!) that doesn’t happen in most other schools is that students of different ages and grade levels have a lot of contact with one another, which we believe cultivates in them compassion for one another along with mentor-like relationships that blossom among the students. In this photo is 14-year-old Cristian (right) who comes from a very poor family and had never been in school before joining us in 2014 and is now in 6th grade as one of our best overall students is working alongside of Alejandro (left) a 12-year-old who had gone through the public elementary school system his whole childhood, successfully finishing 6th grade and supposedly ready for high school but without the basic knowledge of knowing how to read, write and do math, so he entered four months ago with us on the second-grade level and is learning for the first time the basic academic- and life-skills that the public schools failed to teach him.


Our littler/less mature male students (and sons!) were at this long wooden table as they experimented with crayons, oils pastels and paints. Most public (and even some private) schools in Honduras do not have art supplies for students, and it is uncommon to find these kinds of basic enrichment activities in most Honduran homes, so for many children/youth the act of taking time to draw, paint and be creative is a rare treat and can go a long way towards restoring and developing them for God’s glory.

Here’s Erick (one of our extremely faithful and wise local Christian teachers/mentors) helping out with the boys’ art class. I think he might have preferred to direct a prayer group or teach agriculture class, but he was a great sport, and I’m sure the boys loved having him with them during their art time!

Reina was the hot-glue-gun-master! Here she is working with Yexon, one of our night watchman’s children who just passed fourth grade in our accelerated homeschool program for older students.

                       

Amen! Glory to God!