Back to (Peruvian) School

After only a few weeks out of school, we returned to the classroom to teach assemblies in the secondary and elementary schools in Iquitos. Our kids led worship, shared their testimonies, and gave lessons about the Bible.

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The first day that we were in the schools the kids were working with older children, and the following day we ministered in an elementary school. With the younger children, we did very dramatic renditions of Noah’s Ark and David and Goliath – they were quiet entertaining!

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It was really fun to see different student find their own little corners of ministry in which they excelled. Whether it be in crafts, face painting, soccer, guitar, puppets, or throwing kids around, they did a great job finding out where they fit in and could make a difference.

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Also, we got to hold sloths and monkeys and snakes. So that was pretty cool ☺

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Up and Down the Amazon

This post continues a six part series about my time in Peru with the Grace youth group. If you want to find out how in the world I got there or read about my experience moving so rapidly between cultures, those posts will give a bit more background on our trip!

For our ministry, our large group of 94 split into 6 groups, each with about 14 students and 2 leaders. It made our enormous group a bit more manageable and a bit less overwhelming, allowing us to spread out to different ministry locations throughout Iquitos and along the Amazon River.

This really isn’t the goal of this piece, but I’d like to stop for a moment to say that our group was absolutely fantastic. I had not known many of the kids before the trip, but they did a wonderful job loving people, investing in their work, and dealing with changes in plans. Our partner there, Michelle, was great and really built into our team. My partner from Grace, B.B., was a great example of taking things as they came and investing in what was really important. I was so blessed by being a part of that team!

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Most of our team’s ministry mornings were filled by boating down the Amazon to villages along the banks. Our third day we were able to return to the first village we had worked in, which was especially fun!

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The Peruvian children with whom we were working were wonderful. The first morning, they were waiting along the banks to greet out boat, then walked us to a church that was full and overflowing with people that wanted to attend our VBS program.

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I was so impressed by the way that our students really went with the flow, setting aside their own comfort and plans for the needs of the children with whom we were working. Despite their lack of Spanish, they got down on the kids’ level and interacted with them more than I had ever hoped.

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To me, this time was one of the most beautiful glimpses of Heaven while we are here on Earth. To see children from two different cultures, speaking in two different languages, loving on each other and connected by their belief in the Lord is so powerful!

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What really stood out during our time working along the Amazon, though, was the impact that serving has on those who are doing it. I saw so many students forget their own troubles, unaware of their discomfort, because they were instead focused on the people around them and on the work that God had for them. The freedom that He gave from the usual pressures and burdens of life during that time was truly incredible. There is a lot to learn in that small example!

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Reverse Reverse Culture Shock

Our trip to Peru allowed for a very twisted but interesting cultural experience. People talk about “reverse culture shock” – the idea that re-entry, into that which was once normal for you, can be a surprising and overwhelming experience. While most people go home and are reminded of things that they had forgotten about while abroad, though, I headed to another third world country, which was very similar to Indonesia, and watched other people go through the things that had been normalized in my mind over the last two years.

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I watched 93 others process the things that I stopped balking at long ago – bucket showers, no toilet seats, hot and humid weather, not understanding the language, a lack of efficiency, and big bugs.*

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The biggest change that I recognized in myself, though, was my reaction to things not going as planned. One of my biggest shortcomings is my love for control. I’ve habitually stuffed my life so full that things not going as planned throws a major wrench into my mental projection of how things should go.

Those of you who know anything about Indonesian culture can probably imagine, with some amusement, the way that it lined up with my personality and priorities. Needless to say, I had many opportunities to practice dealing with things that did not go as planned. To name a few: nothing ever being done on time, rain storms and flash floods, bankrupt airlines and disappearing drivers.

When we got to Peru, there were lots of things that weren’t quite what we expected. I didn’t get my luggage for two days. “We provide bedding” turned out to mean that there was a sheet on the mattress, but nothing else. We had no enclosed showers, and the public spigots sat between the boys’ and girls’ cabins.

What struck me, though, was that none of this really bothered me. Two years ago, I would’ve been up in arms, but my time in Indonesia taught me that, if you really think about it, those things don’t determine your effectiveness or joy or anything of much importance.

I learned that complaining and worrying and anxiety don’t solve anything, and that one’s response to a situation is 95% of the outcome. This sounds so simple, but it had to be beaten into me time and again before I really internalized it! I can’t say it was a fun lesson to learn along the way, but I am grateful for it.

So for that, Indonesia, thank you for rarely getting things right the first time.

*A quick return to the big bugs and getting over things that don’t go as planned. There were tarantulas around our camp, which had the students (literally) running in terror. A few days in, I decided to teach an object lesson in taking control of one’s surrounding and overcoming fear. One of the translators picked up the spider, and I passed it around to many of the students, who quickly learned that they were, in fact, bigger than the spiders at hand. I was pretty impressed by how many fears were tackled!

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Stereotypical Summertime

This summer has, thus far, been very stereotypical of my recent life.

I flew back to the states on a Wednesday, looking forward to a relatively empty month and a half before starting at my new job in Florida. It’s incredible, though, how quickly things fill up!

After arriving Wednesday at midnight (thank you, 11 hours gained due to time zones!), I headed back to the airport 8 hours later to spend a long weekend in Vermont for my cousin’s wedding. It was a beautiful day, and a well-timed opportunity to catch up with family that I hadn’t seen in a few years.

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We got back to Ohio on that Saturday, and within 6 hours of arriving I had somehow agreed to act as an advisor on a missions trip to Peru… on Monday. I spent a hectic couple of days unpacking, packing, and spending time with my family before leaving for South America.

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While I can’t say that I was particularly happy to see another airplane, I am so thankful for the way that the Lord worked things out for me to go. His hand was so clearly in every step of the process, from the big things to the small details.

We took a group of 81 students and 13 adults to Iquitos, Peru, which is the largest city in the world that has no road leading to it. Chronicles of the trip and pictures will follow, but even the fact that I got there was really a blessing.

The group traveled in two masses, with groups of forty-something taking charter buses to JFK and flying out from there. My group was the second, driving through the night and arriving around 7 am in the morning for our 9:30 flight. I was the first to check in, just in case the airline ticket – which had been switched to my name from that of a lady who couldn’t go last minute – didn’t go through. It indeed did not, though the travel agency had already made the switch.

I waited two hours while all of the students checked in, then went up to try again. Still nothing. The lady helping me seemed very eager to help, but her supervisor did not. They repeatedly switched into Spanish to discuss, not realizing that I could still understand their conversation.

The next hour was full of false excitement. They informed us that they could not help us, and the travel agent had to be the one to make the changes. The issue was that he had done so, but did not have confirmation from the airline and could not get an answer from them. We tried to buy a new ticket, but the flight was oversold.

Finally, our agent came through with my ticket. We sighed and relaxed, just to find out that the ticket hadn’t been appropriately linked. At one point, we were told that I had four minutes left to get checked in, or I wouldn’t make the flight. With about two minutes remaining, the ticket finally came through. Once again we rejoiced, only to find out that there were no seats left.

My friend went ahead through security or he wouldn’t make the flight, and I remained, nervously glancing at my watch. The line was getting long. The supervising worker, who originally had seemed so disinterested in our problem, looked at me and said, “Don’t you worry, I’m not leaving you.” From that point on, she really fought to get me on the plane.

Because there were no seats left, they gave me the final seat in business class! With that ticket, I was able to skip the security line and get to the gate just as they finished boarding.

What was really incredible to me is the peace that the Lord gave throughout the entire process. Though I was tired and pretty done with traveling and the issues that it entails, I knew that it would work out and that He would continue to provide – after all, He had gotten us that far!

God is good!

Investments

Tomorrow marks 3 weeks left in Indonesia.  While I am unbelievably excited to get home and see the people I miss, breathe clean air, climb a tree, and eat Chipotle, it will also be hard to leave.  There is so much that needs done before I leave – the school year must be wrapped up (teachers – and English teachers especially – I know you feel me on this one!), my house needs packed and cleaned, you’re-leaving-the-country paperwork needs to be taken care of.  We have our last homeroom get-together to be had, our last student council event to be planned, our last coaches meeting to be attended.  On the other side of things, a place of dwelling in America needs to be found, paperwork needs to be done for the new job, summer plans need to be made.

And on top of all of this, I am leaving a lot of people that I have grown to love.  And moving to the opposite side of the world.

Now more than ever, the question arises:

What is important?  Where do I invest?  

A few weeks ago, my mom shared with me a story about my younger brother that answers this question beautifully.

As you prepare to be challenged by a 12-year-old, let me give you a quick background on my family:

We love to win.

It’s just something in the Schaeffer blood.  Ice cream and winning, not necessarily in that order, are among the most important things in life.  My father has instilled in us a deep love for both.

And this love for winning can bring lots of good!  In addition to the highly entertaining rivalries and memories that have resulted from this, it often points to achievement.  We don’t want to give up!  My siblings have accomplished all sorts of neat things due to the drive to do well.  Where I see it tripping me up, though, is when it becomes the main goal.  When it becomes more important than people.

A co-worker put it well recently while we were casually sharing important life lessons with our students.  “Just because you prove you’re right doesn’t mean you win.”  Sometimes focusing on achievement means neglecting or stepping on the people around us.

Back to my brother.  Although he appropriately loves ice cream, Andrew’s real passion in life is baseball.  Since he was three, that is the activity in which he has invested the majority of his time and energy.  And he’s good!  He plays on a travel baseball team and does a pretty darn good job of it.

Recently, they were playing in a tournament and Andrew was up to bat. The catcher let a pitch pass him, and the opposing coach began yelling across the field, berating him. Andrew, as the batter, was at the place as all of this took place.  Before taking the next pitch, he turned and told the catcher that it was ok, that those things happen to everyone, that he just needed to keep his chin up and keep on playing.

Andrew wanted to win that game.  He wanted to do his best, and he worked toward that.

But he didn’t let that stop him from loving people.

It’s not an either/or questions.  It’s not accomplishments or love.  It’s not working hard or having friends. It’s not winning or being soft.  Both can absolutely co-exist.  We just can’t let a to-do list or a desire to win stop us from seeing people.  Stop us from loving people.

Because at the end of the day, that’s what matters.

It is good to strive for excellence.  It is good to want to do well.  It is good to work hard toward things. But we must be careful not to focus on these things alone, blocking out the people in our peripheral vision.

As I finish here at SPH, I want to finish strong.  I want to invest in people.  And sometimes, as a teacher, that means taking the extra hours to give good feedback on students’ assignments.  It means staying after school to focus on that new unit I decided it would be a great idea to do at the end of the year.  It means organizing everything for the people that come after me.  That is one way to invest in these kids.

But it also means putting my pile of papers away during lunch and laughing with the students in my classroom.  It means taking the time to sit and talk with a student that is struggling, whether that be academically or otherwise.  It means patiently working through the silly requests that may presently seem like they don’t matter.

Because really, those are the reasons that I love teaching.  Those are the things that I look back on and remember.  Those are investments in people.

And that is worth it.

Truth and Love

Recently, some friends and I were discussing love, truth, and the relationship between the two.  How do we confront without becoming judgmental?  How do we love without becoming too permissive?  What is loving and what is truthful?  Where do they overlap?  Can you have one without the other?

This idea of truth and love is something that has always been a real challenge for me and my vocal self.  I’m a doer.  I want to get things done.  And if I don’t believe something will make a difference in the end, I generally don’t see any point in doing (or saying) it.

This leads to an often imbalanced application of truth and love.

Today, though, while teaching, I had a tiny little glimpse into how this should look.

I know teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites, but (if we’re honest) there are definitely kids who especially tug at our hearts. For the purposes of this story, I will name this particular student, who easily fits into the above category, Landon.

Landon didn’t care much about school last year, and sometimes got into trouble for being dishonest or consistently not doing his homework.  This year, he’s really stepped up and taken more accountability for his work.  He’s been trying much harder, and has readjusted his priorities.  He’s growing up and figuring out who he is.

It’s been an absolute joy to see that growth, and it is something that I badly want to reward.  That said, Landon still has a lot of growth to do in the English department.  While I have desperately wanted to nudge his grade in the encouraging direction, I have avoided doing so, hoping that it won’t discourage him to the point of giving up.

Today I handed back an assignment with a failing mark.  We talked through the issues, and some ways that he could fix them.  I was clear in what the problems were, and told him exactly why he received that grade.  I didn’t sugar coat it.  He looked sad.

It’s those things that are hard as a teacher.  How do you encourage a student, but at the same time appropriately cover their paper in the necessary marks? How do you call students out on bad habits without discouraging creativity?  How do you speak the truth in love?

As I sat at my desk considering these things, the class filed out, with Landon being the last in the classroom.  Despite our tough conversation, Landon turned around as he walked out of my classroom and added, “Miss? Thanks for believing in me.”

I was stunned that this was his response to our conversation.  Even after I failed his assignment and told him in no uncertain terms what he needed to work on, he still felt believed in.  The focus wasn’t on what I thought he had done wrong, but on what I thought he could do right.

Isn’t it the same in life?  The same in relationships with family, friends, and even the people that are really hard to love?  If we can invest, if people know, know beyond the shadow of a doubt, that we believe in them, that we love them and we’re on their team, then the focus is no longer on the short-comings that we address.  That negative aspect doesn’t govern the tough conversations that we may have.

Because, in reality, all of us fail at something.  All of us feel like we just can’t get that one thing right, no matter how many times we try.  That even if we do improve, that it’s still not good enough to be “passing” whatever test it is that we have set up for ourselves.

And sometimes, we just need someone to be real with us about it.  To tell us that we do, indeed, need to keep working on this, but that they’ve seen growth.  To tell us that, yes, we’re currently struggling in this department, but that they know we have the potential to beat it.  To tell us that we are broken and sinful, but they still love us.

And that they believe in us.

I still don’t fully understand the whole concept of truth and love, and I am by no means any good at applying it, but I am thankful today for this glimpse of what that means!

Also, as a side note: I love teaching.  It’s the best job ever.

Aside

Frisbee Tournament

Every Sunday, I play ultimate frisbee with a group of teachers and students.  It’s become a part of my week that I really look forward to!  I love the range of ages and the way that everyone can play together.  One of the best things about teaching in an international school is the special and unique community that is fostered between all involved.

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Our school recently hosted an ultimate frisbee tournament for schools in the surrounding areas.  Though the sport hasn’t yet taken Indonesia by storm, there were ten teams that competed.  SPH played some excellent frisbee, placing 2nd and 3rd, but more than that it was fun to see the way that they stepped up in sportsmanship and leadership.  Watching them help kids who were hurt, pull in kids who were left out, and pray for both teams at the end of the games made my day!

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In the middle of the tournament, we took a break to grill out, eat together, and enjoy the pool.  As must happen when in the pool and in the competitive spirit, chicken fights broke out!  Most impressive were the inter-school battle (won by SPH) and the triple decker chicken fight.

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