I smirked at the question last night as I sat at the dining room table in our teacher common room. I had spent the last 20 minutes speaking to one of our new teachers about her transition and about what we have both learned from our time here – me with my two+ years and her with her 2+ weeks.
I laughed as I let an emphasized, “Nooo,” leave my lips. “I have never felt naturally gifted with children,” I told her.
Growing up I wasn't around children much at all. Whenever I was, I remember watching female peers of mine in near-envy as they seemed to know exactly what to do around young kids – how to hold the sleeping baby, how to play “I'm gonna get you!” with the toddler, how to calm the child crying for his mother. As I watched these other girls move naturally in play and care for children, I felt like there was a set of gears in the machine of my body that wasn't oiled to move as theirs did. Things other girls did so easily just felt awkward and unfamiliar to me. Youth-aged kids were my niche, not babies and small children.
Then I came to live at Good Shepherd Children's Home, where I am surrounded by children from ages 1 to 18 on a daily basis. As I stepped into the baby and toddler houses, I began to use those previously un-oiled gears. Over time they began to glide more easily – almost naturally! Fast-forward two and a half years and I love spending time with the babies, chasing them and hugging them and tickling their little bellies as they laugh with the uninhibited glee that only a child can possess.
"Fast-forward two and a half years and I love spending time with the babies, chasing them and hugging them and tickling their little bellies as they laugh with the uninhibited glee that only a child can possess."
Did I have much experience with children before I came here? No, I didn't. But I have learned. I have experienced more and grown in wisdom that I didn't have before. And it is neat to look back and see how far God has brought me.
As the new teacher and I continued to talk about things we have learned, two other GSCH “Veterans” walked into the common room and joined our conversation – Ben (our pastor who has been here for two years) and Keri (a teacher who came in Summer 2016). As they sat down, the new teacher began to share about a struggle she is having with a 9-year-old girl (we will call her “Nina.”) The teacher thought that she and Nina were building a great relationship, but then Nina got mad for seemingly no reason and has stopped talking to her.
“I was working with a student in my classroom today,” said the teacher, “and Nina stuck her head through the doorway. She said 'Hi' to the student, then looked at me and walked off without speaking to me.”
As Ben, Keri, and I listened to her story, we looked at each other and laughed at the familiar narrative.
“Welcome to ministry at GSCH!” I told her, remembering the moment that I first experienced the silent treatment from a child I was close to. “Every one of us has stories like this.”
"I have experienced more and grown in wisdom that I didn't have before. And it is neat to look back and see how far God has brought me."
Ben nodded. “These kids are used to people coming into their lives, saying 'I love you,' and leaving. They will be mad at you and expect you to know the reason. Then they will stop talking to you and it'll tear you up inside.”
“They'll come back to you eventually,” I assured her, “but then it will happen all over again. You just have to keep telling them, 'I love you, and I'm here when you are ready to talk to me.'”
“There are times when you will discipline a child for something and they will get mad for days,” said Ben. “And you'll think, 'This is it … They are never going to talk to me again.' But then they finally come around.”
“And they want you to discipline them,” Keri added. “They know it means you love them and care about what they do.”
After we all finished sharing our own stories, I don't know if the new teacher felt relieved that her experience is a normal one or anxious about the fact that this is only the beginning of drama in her relationships with these children … maybe she felt both! We went on to tell her that each child at the Home, for reasons unknown to us, clings to a different person. We all have those children who cling to us. We pour out love onto them and teach them, and think that things are going wonderfully, only to get spat in the face. But those are the relationships that foster the most growth.
I had a conversation with Yolanda earlier this week as we sat making jewelry in Casita 7; she is one of these children for me. She loves me and I love her, but I cannot tell you how many times she has stopped talking to me, yelled at me, or intentionally tried to manipulate my feelings to make me feel bad. (She has a unique knack for that). But because of persistent love, I have witnessed some wonderful changes in her life. She used to have a darkness in her heart that I felt anytime I was near her. A cloud of hurt, insecurity, and blindness to others' feelings hung over her wherever she went. But now, she is more considerate of others' feelings, more careful in the words that she uses, and more peaceful in her air. The change I have witnessed in her is one of the most beautiful things I have seen this side of heaven.
"because of persistent love, I have witnessed some wonderful changes in her life."
“Do you see changes in me from last year to this year?” she asked as I strung beads into a necklace. I wanted to scream YES!! Don't you see them? I reminded her of things she used to do that emotionally hurt herself and others, and she laughed as she remembered the time she told me we couldn't be friends anymore. Then I told her that I am so proud of the changes I see in her, and I am waiting for the day when she tells me that she wants to follow Jesus with her life.
These relationships are hard. There are days when every teacher wants to curl up in their bed and cry, but the difficult relationships are the ones that we learn from the most. We learn to use those un-oiled parts of our machine with greater ease. We join the club of GSCH missionaries who receive the silent treatment on a regular basis, and we continue to love.
We learn from experience, we grow in wisdom, and we watch God work through our relationships in mighty and beautiful ways.