I’m a little weary.
I actually just googled that word just to confirm I’m using it properly; I am.
At least, according to dictionary.com. I am “physically [and] mentally exhausted, by hard work, exertion, and strain.” I started to leave the “hard work” part out, because I would never begin to pretend that I work as hard as other people that I know or know of. However, as I am writing this I am recalling what kept coming to mind last night around 7:30 pm after nearly two hours of torturing ESL.
“This is hard.” Over, and over, and over. “This is crazy hard.”
So yes, I am weary. In every aspect of the word.
The Lord is (graciously?) opening my eyes to help me see that I am stretching myself way to thin. Between work, babysitting, week night weekly obligations and traveling every weekend, for the past month I’ve been averaging about 37 hours at home each week, and that’s including sleep. (Yes, I just created an excel spreadsheet to calculate that number– what can I say? I’m an accountant. I value accuracy. :))
I woke up yesterday morning completely torn. A part of me couldn’t wait until 5:15 pm, when I would get to see Anna, Patrick, Julianne, Juliette, Debora and Amon– my new friends from Africa! (If you missed my post last week, I encourage you to pause, and go read that post first! You can find it here.) The other (slightly bigger if I’m being honest) part of me was not so excited. When I left my friends last Wednesday, I told them I would be there at 5:15 pm this Wednesday (instead of the normal time of 6:00 pm) so that I could tutor Amon (the father), before taking the kids to ESL tutoring (or “school,” as my friends so endearingly call it). This meant that I would leave my apartment at 6:00 am and not walk back into it until 10:00 pm, and knowing how tired I already was, and how crazy of a work day I had ahead of me, I wanted to cry.
The drive from work to their apartment felt like a small war within. I didn’t feel that I had anything to give to my friends, yet I told them I would be there, and the whole language barrier thing certainly makes it difficult to just changes plans last minute. Something tells me that wouldn’t translate too well. Actually, who am I kidding… it wouldn’t translate at all.
So I drove to their apartment, and I prayed all along the way. When I got there, they welcomed me to come inside. I came in and sat on the couch as they instructed.
Immediately, Anna presented me with her homework. Wait… what?
I saw that the homework was Algebra, so my surprise immediately turned into excitement as I remembered how much I “love” and “miss” Algebra. (Yes, those are words that have actually come out of my mouth recently.) I took the papers that she was presenting me with, confidently accepting the challenge.
I read the first question.
Hmm.. I’m having trouble recalling the answer to that one– terminology has never really been my strong suit. Let me come back to that one.
I read the second question.
Oh that’s easy. Got it.
I read the third question.
The fourth… the fifth… and the sixth…
I’ve got nothing.
Suddenly, my heart was filled with compassion for Anna and Patrick. I know English, and I do [oddly] love Algebra. But I was stumped. How in the world were these two students supposed to complete this homework assignment when they couldn’t even read the language in which the assignment was written?
As I stared blankly at the sheets of paper in my hand, much discussion was going on around me in Swahili. I know not one single Swahili word, so I truly had no idea what was being discussed. I began to look around, to see if I could pick up on anything that would help me to know what was being said. Everyone (literally, every person) made many attempts to communicate to me what they needed me to know, but we weren’t getting anywhere. Amon (the father) left the room and came back with paper in his hands. He studied the paper and then looked up at me and said “homework.” He then put the piece of paper on the table and used his pencil to point to an open spot, and then handed me the pencil. He wanted me to write the word “homework.” Once look at that paper and the last thing I wanted to do was write on it. What I really wanted to do was frame it, and hang it in my home to cherish forever.
It was gold.
What I held in my hands was one of the most beautiful things I had ever held. The African penmanship, the English words next to 2 other languages, the scribbled markings, and the tattered pages all begged to tell a story that I will never fully know.
The family took notice of the worth I had quickly assigned to this “notebook.” Their smiles told me that they understood.
After a few more attempts, I finally understood that Anna and Patrick would be staying home to work on their homework with a friend, and that Amon, Julienne and Juliette would be coming with me to “school.” I wish I could have snapped a picture of Amon, his pressed pants and his fedora-like hat! He was so proud and so excited to be going to school! We piled into my car and ventured on over, everyone ready for an evening of flashcards and ESL books!
The twins worked on flash cards together until another volunteer arrived to help them, while Amon and I immediately got down to business. I needed to gauge a little better where he was with his English, so we started with flash cards. Next thing I knew, his notebook was out, and with every flash card I presented to him, he would write in his notebook. First the English word, then 2 other languages. Then, sometimes, he would draw a picture to remember.
After a round of flash cards, we made our way into the ESL handbook. We reviewed the alphabet, and then moved into an exercise of identifying “what do you see” in the given image. I still can’t believe that we never made it past that page.
For nearly 2 hours, Amon would point to the tiniest detail on the page, waiting for me to tell him what it was, and then write it on the dry erase board for him to copy it into his notebook. It made my heart so happy to watch his face light up as he would remember body parts and quickly point to them, curious to know the English word for that particular part. We laughed EXTREMELY hard together when I presented him with the following image on my phone, just to confirm that he was wanting the word for skull:
He took one look at it and jumped back, a huge smile on his face, shaking his head up and down saying “wi.” Probably wasn’t my brightest idea, but it worked. 🙂
Toward the end of our time together, Amon was saying aloud some of the words he had learned, and he kept trying to pronounce the (silent) “e” at the end of a word. I corrected him, trying to sound the word out for him and make it clear that the “e” is silent.
Next thing I knew, Amon had my dry erase marker and was writing out the vowels, “a e i o u” on the board. I immediately knew where this was going, and I immediately wanted to run. He looked right in my eyes and said, “in Swahili…” and then he proceeded to tell me what the letters sounded like in Swahili. Then he pointed at me and said “In English…?” and threw his hands up.
I hear you loud and clear, Amon.
It was precisely at this point in the evening that the words were on repeat like a broken record going over and over in my head. “This is hard. This is crazy hard.”
How in the world could I explain to someone who does not speak English that sometimes an “o” sounded like “oh” (goat) and sometimes an “o” sounded like “ah” (body) and sometimes an “o” sounded like what a “u” sounds like (foot).
I was in WAY over my head.
And it was crazy hard.
I did the best I knew how, using lines and “u”‘s above letters to try to explain the sound it would make.
It was crazy hard.
One light in the midst of the chaos was when I looked down to see that he had written “God.” At this point, I had no idea the religious background of my new friends. We had never had a conversation before, let alone a conversation about the Lord, so I had no idea what to make of him writing “God,” but it certainly did stick with me.
We wrapped up our time at “school” and headed back to their apartment. I was hoping that since I spent a little time with them prior to going to “school” that it would be acceptable for me to simply drop them off and not come up. [I was so tired.] I pulled into the parking spot and looked around with a smile, saying “thank you” and “have a good night,” but my smile was met with complete confusion. Amon looked at me, he looked at his apartment, and he pointed up (they live on the second floor). I took the cue– I wasn’t going home.
When I got inside, it was clear that they had been cooking, because the temperature in the apartment had to be pushing 90. Most everyone who knows me knows that I cannot stand to be hot. I hate the heat. 72 in my apartment all day every day, please. I think it’s safe to say a handful of people were worried about me when they found out I was going to Haiti, knowing that I had a rude awakening ahead of me. I was pleasantly surprised when I got to Haiti and was able to handle the heat! It hardly bothered me at all! It was quite miraculous! The second I stepped back into the states again, however, that whole “melting” sensation returned. I think God gives grace for things like Haitian heat.
So here I was, in the states, melting. Couple that melting with the fact that I feel like I am going to pass out at any moment from sheer exhaustion, and you’ve got yourself a dangerous concoction. But there was no way I was leaving. I couldn’t. Nor did I want to, deep down.
Amon and I started saying some of the new words he had learned, pointing at the items in the room as we went.
Bible? Did you say Bible? I was quite certain that he said Bible, but I didn’t see a Bible anywhere.
Amon picked up a notebook.
“Notebook.” I said.
Bible… where is a Bible? He definitely said Bible.
So I decided I wasn’t going to let it go. I repeated, multiple times, softly, but loud enough for him to hear me.
“Bible.. bible.. bible?”
Next thing I knew, it seemed that Anna had told him to look in her book bag. For a Bible?
He pulled out a note book.
He pulled out an ESL book.
He pulled out something with a black binding and a zipper wrapped around it.
My eyes lit up.
He handed it to me.
I immediately unzipped it and flipped it open.
It looked like a Bible, but it was hard to tell, considering it was in a very foreign language (kinyarwanda, to be exact) . Nothing was in English. How could I confirm? I flipped to the table of contents.
Looks like the Old Testament to me.
Definitely New Testament.
The reality of this potential truth began to sink in:
these are not just my friends– this is my family.
I poured over that Bible, soaking in everything I could. I turned to John 3:16. I wanted to know what word was “God.” I found what I believed the word to be, then said it out loud. “God,” everyone said. Ah. Yes. “God.” “Yesu.” “Jesus.”
My heart was going to explode with joy.
Good thing it didn’t though, because then I would have missed what happened next.
Suddenly Amon is sitting next to me, phone out, pulled up on it, the Bible. In English. Genesis 1.
“In the beginning…”
Amon began to read aloud, in English. We read together, him reading aloud, my helping him along the way.
Who knows how long we would have read, if Patrick didn’t need my help with homework, and if dinner was not ready to be served. First came the large glass, ready to be filled to the brim with juice. Then came the overflowing plate of rice and beans. It has become a predictable affair, one that I look forward to. This time, Anna blessed the meal. A conversation took place among everyone, and I gathered that Patrick was leaving to go get more milk. We began to eat. Anna’s father shared his plate with Anna, and her mother shared her plate with one of her sisters. I picked up on what was going on, and immediately threw my hands in the air saying, “what about me?!” Everyone laughed, and soon my plate too was being shared.” So we sat there, eating off of one another’s plate… it was hard to not feel like family.
Patrick came back in with two gallons of milk, and gave one to Anna to pour. I was captivated by the way that Anna placed her hands on the milk as her and her father both prayed aloud over the milk before serving it. They had already prayed over the food. But this milk was not present at the time, so they prayed over it as well.
[Funny side note: I love dairy. But dairy does not love me. It hates me, in fact. This does not stop me from indulging in cheese every chance I get, however, it does stop me from indulging in a glass of milk. It’s too dangerous. And not worth it. Not worth it, that is, unless someone who speaks Swahili and no English pours you a 16 oz glass of it, and repeatedly insists that you drink it. Then you smile. And you drink it. And you pray that the blessing they prayed over it somehow removes the danger and hatred it has for your body.]
While we ate dinner, the kids pulled up YouTube videos of African worship– song and dance, in the church! We ate and listened to African music, dancing in our seats to the catchy beats. There was SO.MUCH.JOY. in that room!
The girls got up to dance, and motioned for me to get up and dance too. No way was I going to turn down the opportunity to dance to African music with my friends from Africa! I hopped up without hesitation, and began to dance with them.
You would have thought I had just presented them with a million dollars!!
We finished dancing, but the music continued. They began to play Gospel music, is what Patrick told me. The Gospel music played, and the girls softly began signing along. It was beautiful. I couldn’t help but thank God for this beautiful gift that he was giving me. But He was nowhere near done.
“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.: Ephesians 3:20-21
We continued to watch videos, until about 9:45 pm. I was visibly exhausted, and when Amon noticed this, he had Anna turn off the music. I prepared to begin my “goodbyes,” but I noticed that Amon had slipped out of the room. He returned with a little black book, slightly bigger than the Bible, similar in binding. He looked at me and motioned with his hands as if to say “just a little bit” and then opened the book. He held it up high…
And then he began to sing.
Everyone joined in.
And we worshiped.
Mother clapped to give the beat, Father led, and everyone sang.
And full of passion for the Lord.
And in that moment, as I hummed along, and clapped my hands, this truth came clearly to my heart:
He brought Africa to me.
The Lord, in all of His goodness, in all of His sovereignty, in all of His awareness of this desire HE has placed within my heart, for Africa…
He brought Africa to me.
We finished singing, and I had the great privilege of participating in a devotion Amon led for his family. He spoke Truth (I didn’t have to have a translator to know that much) and he spoke with conviction, and he spoke with love. He spoke, and then he would pause to allow Patrick to try to translate for me.
God is good. Jesus is good. You work, you home, you school, you here. God is good.
Yes. Yes. God is so good. Thank God he brought us together.
Amon finished his devotion, and then we bowed our heads to pray.
I anticipated hearing Amon’s voice, leading his family in prayer.
I did not anticipate hearing 6 voices.
But no sooner were our heads bowed did I begin to hear 7 beautiful voices, passionately calling out to God. 6 Swahili voices. 1 English voice. The Lord fully able to understand them all. We prayed. They cried out to God. I approached Him in awe.
I suddenly had a strong urge to sing.
Patrick began to sing. I sang.
The prayers began to fade, and I marveled at the words coming out of my mouth.
At the song He brought to my heart and through my lips…
“…Take joy, my King, in what you hear.
May it be a sweet, sweet sound, in your ear.”
I trust it was the sweetest of sounds in His ear.
The enemy will do anything he can to discourage you. He will do anything he can to keep you from experiencing the fullness of all that God has prepared for you. I mentioned that it felt like war within as I drove to their house. It’s true. It did. And the reality is, there was a mini war going on within. The enemy did NOT want me to be there last night. He presented me with a seemingly valid excuse to not go– I was tired. That’s a totally justifiable excuse, right? Maybe. But what did God tell me to do? I knew the Lord wanted me there. I knew going was the obedient thing to do. And I knew that He would provide.
Obey, and He will make a way.