Wednesday, November 25, 2009

For the Kingdom of Heaven Belongs to Such as These

It’s Wednesday, and the Jackson girls and I are frantically cleaning up our house, moving chairs around, and laying mats on the floor. As soon as we give the word, about thirty neighborhood kids stream in our front yard, then immediately commence playing with the scooters, balls, sidewalk chalk, and swinging from our guava tree. We then let them in to pick what books they want to borrow from our “library” for the week.

After everyone is glowing with excitement about their new books, we start Bible Club with singing, much to the delight of the little kids, who start jumping all around, screaming out the words. My favorite is “Jesus is Our Winner-man,” because it sounds like they’re saying, “Jesus is our wiener-man!” Apparently, Jesus is not only our Savior, but also the hot-dog hero. J After praising Jesus, I tell them a Bible story, usually accompanied by a pantomime skit performed by the older kids, we talk about what the story means, and then they get a page to color. They love showing off their coloring page to anyone who will look and praise their decorative and delightful scribbles. I often hear a chorus of “Auntie Catherine [pronounced “Catreen”]! Look!” echoing throughout the room.

I love Bible Club, because I love seeing the excitement these kids have about everything, especially Jesus. It has been such a wonderful experience to share Jesus with these kids, because as I teach them about what Jesus has done for them, I get to see their acceptance of it, as well as develop a deeper understanding for myself of just how wonderful God is. I think that is one of the main things God has been teaching me since being here: After filling my head with theology and philosophy at college, then filling my life with new experiences, I am better equipped to go back to the basics of who God is and what He has done for me. I have developed a greater appreciation for the Gospel and a deeper love for God. It helps that since most of the kids speak Pidgin, which is a simplified dialect of English, I must really focus on making the lessons simple and direct, so they can understand.

Bible Club is not the only children’s ministry in which I am involved. A few weeks ago, one of our Bible Club kids looked up at me and declared, “Auntie, I want you to teach me to read. And my small brother wants you to teach him too.” Another older kid overheard this statement, and echoed his request. Thus began Thursday reading classes. Every Thursday at 3:00, about seven neighborhood kids come over to hear a story, learn a letter of the alphabet, and play some letter and sound games. It astounds me that I kids as old as nine-years-old need instruction in basic phonics. But they are eager to learn, and they are committed to coming every week and doing the homework I give them.

At 4:00, I send the small kids home and my second group of kids comes over for more advanced word-decoding skill instruction. These kids range from ten to fourteen. I read them part of a chapter book and give them some comprehension instruction, then teach them about word parts so they can figure out how to read long, difficult words. I also just started teaching them some spelling rules, at their insistent request. They love working on the worksheet pages I give them, and these kids are just as committed to coming and working hard as my younger kids. I am really enjoying getting to know these kids in a small-group context.

It has been an interesting challenge to balance the different skill levels of all my students, since I’m only teaching two classes. Sometimes I get discouraged at seeing how much help they need in order to be reading at their grade level. But then I remember that any instruction I give helps them immensely, and I get excited thinking about how specifically God has prepared me to serve these kids in this way. Not only do I have a teaching credential, but I also taught reading classes all summer, right before I came here! Wow, God certainly knows what he is doing. I am excited to watch how God uses these classes to help improve their skills as well as build up the relationships I have with them.


*God has led me to some wonderful ministries here in Bamenda. I get to be a part of God’s kingdom work, and do what I love to do!

*Even when the needs of these kids discourage me, I know that God has equipped me for what he has called me to do.

*We are really seeing God working on the hearts of the kids who come to our house regularly.

Prayer Requests:

*That God would continue to provide me with the stamina and creativity to continue giving my all to everything He has called me to do here, even when I am tired or discouraged.

*That God would continue to keep our whole household unified and focused on God, so as to be the best witness to all the people who come into our home.

*That God would continue to bless the families of the Cameroonian girls who live with us.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A "Typical" Day in the Jackson Village

6:45 I wake up to the sound of my alarm, as well as the roosters and babies next door. I roll out of bed, shake the ants out of my clothes, and get ready for the day.

7:10 I stumble into the kitchen, groping for the coffee, while avoiding opening up any drawers that the mouse likes to jump out of.

7:15 Breakfast. We watch as Chris mercilessly pesters Lum in an attempt to see if she is awake. 80% chance he gets her to smile.

8:00 Doorbell rings. It’s Lillian and Pa, our Cameroonian househelp (it’s culturally very common to have Cameroonians work for people in their home. It’s actually a very respected position). Lillian and Pa are amazing—Pa is friendly in a shy way, and he can get anything spotlessly clean! Lillian is sweet, a master seamstress, and an amazing cook. I love helping her in the kitchen.

8:15 School starts. I turn on the energy to keep Katelyn and Lum engaged. I often resort to wild antics like acting out vocabulary words, performing “stick figure dramatizations” on the whiteboard for history lessons, giving poetry-writing assignments about monkeys saving the world, and using numerous “Gilmore Girl” references to help explain concepts in any subject. I really enjoy teaching the girls. They are enthusiastic, quick learners, and we have a great time together.

9:00 Doorbell rings. Usually it’s someone who comes to work with Chris or Karen.

10:15 Break time. We spend most of our break playing with the new kitty.

11:45 Doorbell rings. We often have visitors come for lunch.

12:00 Cameroonian lunch on the veranda! Time to get excited about almost anything Lillian cooks. The peanut stew and curry rice are my favorite. But I am still getting used to eru, a bitter leaf that looks like grass, and achu, which, honestly, makes me gag.

12:30 We go back to the dining room to finish school, and then I finish prepping for the next day while Katelyn and Lum do homework.

3:30 Doorbell rings. Fadi’s home from school.

3:45 Doorbell rings. The person/people waiting at the gate depends on the day:

Monday: Nothing’s planned for this afternoon, so sometimes a friend of Katelyn, Lum, and Fadi comes over, or Katelyn and I go for a horse ride to some waterfalls. Dreams really do come true!

Tuesday: Elizabeth, a neighborhood high school girl I tutor, is the doorbell-ringer.

Wednesday: Every other week, hoards of neighborhood kids are at the gate, jumping up and down in excitement for Bible Club. The other weeks, a group of ten to fourteen-year-olds comes over for Bible Study. Those two activities need a blog post all of its own. More to come soon…

Thursday: Two sets of neighborhood kids come over for the reading classes I just started. I’m teaching the alphabet to kids as young as six and as old as nine, and I’m teaching word-decoding skills to kids between the ages of eleven and sixteen. I just finished my second week of teaching them, and I love it, but seeing their lack of reading skills breaks my heart at the same time. More on that to come, as well.

Friday: Nothing on the schedule, so we can usually expect the girls’ friends to come over, or Katelyn and I go for a horse ride, or we just watch a movie to wind down from the week.

5:30 All the kids leave, and we start evening chores and dinner prep. Usually one or more of the girls in our house is belting out Taylor Swift or Mandy Moore songs. But this is not just confined to the evenings. The lyrics of “You Belong With Me” or “Only Yours” float through the house at any given time of day. J

6:00 Doorbell rings. Caroline and Sherry, our neighbors who also work with Wycliffe, come over for dinner.

6:30 Dinner. Last week, we had a Japanese-Cameroonian meal to go with our unit on Japan. Horray for sushi with baked fish, rolled in cabbage! Regardless of the meal, we're usually rolling our eyes at Chris’ bad puns. Example: “Tomorrow I’m going to Bafut. But I can’t get there by foot. Ahahaha!” Our dinners are frequently filled with just as much laughing as eating.

7:30 We clean up dinner, wash the dishes, and set the mouse trap—again. I’m convinced that our kitchen mouse has a higher IQ than most. He’s evaded capture way too many times to be a normal mouse.

8:00 I help Fadi with her homework while Chris and Karen read aloud to Katelyn and Lum, then Caroline and Sherry hike back to their house.

9:00 All the Jacksons go to bed, and I start entertaining myself with e-mail, Facebook, and any book I can lay my hands on. I think I’ve read a couple thousand pages since getting here. I love it! My late evenings are filled with adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel, drama from the English town of Middlemarch, intrigue with Amelia Peabody in the pyramids of Egypt, and the tragic family dynamics of the Karamazov family.

10:30 Lights out. During the rainy season I get to fall asleep to the sound of rain on our tin roof, and now, during the newly begun dry season, I am lulled to sleep by the croaks of frogs and the chirps of crickets.


--School with the girls is going really well

--We’re finally getting settled in our weekly ministries, and I’m really excited about the privilege of partnering with God in the Bible Club, Bible Study, and Reading Class ministries!

Prayer Requests:

--Continued wisdom as I teach Katelyn and Lum and lead the Bible Club and Reading Classes.

--That God would constantly remind me that He is sufficient, and He has equipped me for everything He is calling me to do, even when I get discouraged by the huge needs of this community.

--That God would bless the families of both Cameroonian girls who live with us.