There are just days when the "where we are" and the "where I want us to be" is a chasm so great that you don't know how to begin, where to begin to cross that divide. In her book "Kisses from Katie," Katie Davis said that she sometimes feels like she is trying to "empty the ocean with a medicine dropper." I so get that.
Zaida is one of my oldest students. She is 11 years old and she has never been to school. She doesn't know her letters, she can't count, and she barely speaks Portuguese. In her village, they mostly speak their local language, Yao, so she is barely competent in Portuguese. She can't follow more than one instruction at a time. After two months of diligently reviewing her letters and numbers, I really don't see any progress at all. She still can't write her name.
Give the girl a crying baby and that baby will be asleep on her back in a kapalana in no time flat. Ask the girl to sing and she'll have a room full of adults dancing, singing, and praising Jesus with her. There are so many things that she is good at BUT she has no interest in being in school or learning. So, everyday she copies someone else's work.
Every day I sit with her and tell her not to copy someone else's school work. First of all, it is called cheating and cheating is a sin. Sin cost the Son of God his life. God's heart is broken when we sin. Second of all, when we cheat on our school work, we are not learning anything. Learning to read and write is important.
Yet everyday, when I'm not looking, she goes to sit beside someone whom she knows will have the right answers. Today we were working on beginning sounds. At the top of the page there was a letter. Under that letter were three pictures. She needed to color the picture of the object that started with that letter. For example, under the letter "B" was a rat, an egg, and a banana. She was supposed to color the banana.
When she handed in her paper, all her answers were right. However, I knew she didn't know the letters. So, I asked her to tell me each letter. She could not. So, I asked, "Zaida, if you don't know that this is letter 'B' how can you know that banana starts with letter 'B'?" She clammed up and wouldn't speak. Big crocodile tears started falling down her cheeks and then she begin to shout, "I didn't cheat! I didn't cheat!"
"Okay, Zaida. You say you didn't cheat. BUT you got all the answers right yet you don't know any of these letters. How is that possible?" She stopped talking.
Then today when it was time for the Bible Story, I called all the kids to come to class. Some refused to listen to me. So, I told the few that had gathered around me that I would give a sticker to everyone that listened quietly and sat still. Of course, when it was time to hand out stickers, everyone was suddenly ready to come to class. There was great wailing and gnashing of teeth, but I stood my ground and refused to give stickers to those who were not present for the story.
A few minutes later on of the parents tapped me on the shoulder. "Desadelia wants a sticker."
I nodded. "Well, she wasn't in class and only those who were in class and listened quietly received a sticker."
"But she's crying for one."
"I'm sorry. But, if I give her one, I have to give one to everyone. I am trying to teach the children that there are consequences for good and bad behavior."
"But she's crying for one." I just shook my head and tried to explain again why Desa didn't receive and wouldn't receive a sticker. She said something in a language which I do not speak (and it didn't sound like a blessing) and stomped off.
Finally today, Cecilia refused to come to class. She is five years old and this scene is repeated EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. When we are playing, she is happy as a lark. When it's time to go to class, she pitches a fit and refuses to go to class. Her mom comes and gets her and doesn't make her obey. I have tried explaining to this mom that Cecelia is old enough to learn and needs to be in class. I have tried to explain that Cecelia is being manipulative and just wants to get her way. I have explained how important it is for Cecilia to learn to obey and to learn that there are consequences for disobedience. Yet, every day this scene is repeated and every day Cecelia's mom comes to get her.
I know these seem like simple fixes. But for two months we have been working on these simple behaviors and still they are not improved. I don't mean to imply that there have been no improvements. The kids can stand in a line. They couldn't do that two months ago. They sit patiently and wait to be handed their school work, pencils, and crayons. They were like little vultures two months ago. They don't hit and push nearly as often. They ask for things instead of just taking them most of the time. These behaviors which seem so normal to us are things we had to fight and pray for. So, in some ways, I am so happy and so blessed to see how far my little people have come.
But, I'm left with so many questions about discipleship. How do you break the habit of cheating? How do you explain how important it is to a parent to let their child experience the painful consequences of poor choices? How do you stress the importance of a little girl going to school, when the parent didn't go to school herself? How do you change someone who doesn't want to be changed? How do you help someone understand that God doesn't except all the things that your culture excepts and that we have to obey God - not our culture?
You see, these parents, they are the first generation of Mozambicans to have the gospel. Before that, it was Communism and war. Their understanding is so small. We are trying to disciple them while we are teaching them to disciple their kids. It feels almost impossible.
You can't blame them. No one made them go to school. No one let them experience good or bad consequences. If you cried loud enough, you got what you wanted. Now that they are parents, these white people are coming in and telling them that all these things are important - yet they grew up without them and they don't see the value in them.
These people LOVE their kids. They would die for their kids. It isn't that at all. It's trying to teach them God's principles for life - which are new to them - and then trying to get them to implement them with their own kids before they've even seen the value in their own lives.
On days like today, I realize that I can enforce consequences in school, but in a few months they will go home and probably no one will do that for them. So, I diligently teach them things which seem so normal to me, and I pray that little seeds will be planted in their lives. I thank God for the progress we've had and I ask Him for even more.
It's not easy to teach people to value new concepts. I feel blessed to do what I do. Everyday when I arrive at school and 30 little people come running with their arms wide open shouting "Tia Jennifer is here!" My heart just melts right there inside my chest. These kids have learned to be held, and hugged, and kissed. That's a huge thing!
I ask the Lord to teach me to be more content. I know that when He looks at me, He must feel the same way. I look at how far I've come, but He must look at where I should be. Yet, there is nothing but grace and patience as I continue to try to get this thing of loving Jesus right.
So pray with me. Pray that I will see our progress. Pray that I will know how to better disciple these precious little people. Pray that I will have more patience and more grace. I need to remember that discipleship (in my life and the lives of others) is a marathon - not a 100 yard dash.