One of my teenage daughters had a story she wanted to tell… so I’m giving her a platform to do it. I hope you enjoy but even more I hope we can learn as adults what she’s learning as a teen.
A few months ago I went on a service day trip to a local Christian school for underprivileged kids with my small group from school. Being a first year school, they had one kindergarten class of 14 and they plan to grow one class per year. This trip opened my eyes to the poverty in our own community, not just third-world countries.
When we arrived, they put us straight to work cleaning three of the classrooms. They didn’t have time to clean them since they only have 5 or 6 regular staff members, so we jumped at the opportunity to help in this area. Once we finished cleaning the rooms, it was close to lunch time so three other girls and I went to prepare lunch for the kids. However, we didn’t know we would be able to actually eat with the kids!
After lunch was ready we went into the cafeteria to wait for the kids. I sat at a table with some friends and we talked about our experience until the kids came. After a few minutes, the kids came running in with huge grins on their faces. You wouldn’t even know these kids lived rough lives at home by their expressions when they saw us. The three kids with us at our table were Kistin, Markiel, and Brendan. Kistin and I sat together and talked the most. She was the kindest, sassiest, funniest little girl. About half way into lunch she turned to me, took out one of her hair clips - a navy bow - and said with a smile, “You are awesome, take this and keep it!” I later heard her telling one of my friends about how that was a good bow, not a cheap one. Even a girl who had so little was so generous with what she did have. I still have that hair clip and always will.
After lunch we went outside for recess. This was my favorite part of the day. The kids had little bikes they would ride down the hill. Daniya asked if she could ride down the hill with me. So – keep in mind that I’m about 5’9” – I sat down on the tiny bike that didn’t even come up to my knee. Daniya climbed on my back and we rolled down the hill together at least 5 times. But it was totally worth the awkward discomfort of a tall girl on a short bike to see the smile on that girl’s face and hear her beautiful laugh. To most people, this may seem like a common thing. I mean, she’s a little girl; of course she’s going to smile and laugh all the time, right? That’s what I thought too until I saw her crying inside one of the tunnels on the playground. I figured she had fallen or something. I went in to try to calm her down and I asked what was wrong. She said, “I’m just having so much fun here with you and all your friends and I don’t want it to end because I know what’s going to happen when I go home.” I was brought to tears. Right then and there I knew why we were sent there – to love the unloved. I had noticed before how skinny and possibly malnourished she was, but I didn’t think too much of it until she said those words. “What’s going to happen?” I wondered. I could only fear the worst. I wanted to scoop up her little body right then and there and take her home with me. The people who seem happy all the time still have struggles and pain in their lives. The people who smile the brightest are usually the saddest; that’s why it is such a beautiful thing to see them laugh.
The kids showed us how to whip and “nae-nae,” play basketball, and ride a bike. They also made us “salads,” and some even gave us parting gifts. They impacted our lives so much and they don’t even know it. I can only hope we impacted them as well and they remember the 12 girls that love them and will always have them in their hearts and prayers. Even more, I hope they remember that God loves them with a never ending love.
Just imagine how all of those kids are treated at home: neglected, abused, starving. They are beautiful children who don’t deserve any of this. If it wasn’t for the wonderful ladies and volunteers that teach, cook, and clean to make the school possible, they would be in that environment all day, every day. Instead, they are taught the alphabet, counting, and shapes at school. Some kids came to the school not even knowing how to spell “cat” and now they can read and write sentences as kindergarteners!
It’s been awhile, but I contacted all the girls that went on the trip and asked them what they remember most about the kids…
“They were so lovin’ and sweet and I remember one saying, ‘Come at me, I’ll beat you at basketball!’ and another one saying, ‘I love God and the world.’”
“I thought it was cool how the school leaders said the kids have such hard lives but you wouldn’t know it by how they act and by their innocence. Their sweetness was so genuine.”
“The thing that stuck out the most to me was Daniya talking about her abusive life and everything going on in her life.”
“I mostly remember the fun times we had just playing with the kids and letting them forget everything that has happened in their lives for a little while. I remember them saying they didn’t want to go home and even one child whose parents sold all her stuff so they could pay their bills.”
“I remember playing with them at recess and eating lunch with them. That was a party! Then I remember my girl Armya saying they took her daddy and her other daddy and then they took her stuff like her fishing pole. That’s what I remember and seeing the beautiful innocent little face she had. It’s making me almost cry thinking about her; I don’t know what’s going on in her life but I’m praying for her.”
Sometimes we have to get out of the classroom to learn the most important lessons. My day with these kids helped me realize that poverty isn’t only a third-world problem. It’s right here with us. We think we have so little when we actually have so much. If an underprivileged kindergartener can be generous with a hair bow, how much more can I give to others? If they can be happy in such a hard place in life, then I can be happy in the circumstances my life has given me. Finally, it’s easy to love those around us in our normal life. Most people are scared or don’t think they can love people who are different or in not-so-easy lifestyles. It turns out it’s easy to love those in different places and conditions. All you have to do is love like God loves – by loving the unloved.