“The greatest problem in my country is that so few people know Christ, and it is hard for people to hear of Him. We are getting more and more self-centered as a culture, and our growing lack of concern for others is all related to that.”
I was reading the exit essays of our students at the Summer English Institute (a month-long academic camp for international students who are going into American high schools) that I taught at this summer. They had been asked to write about the “most important problem” their country faces, and I had read about overpopulation, pollution, unhealthy food, and lack of worldwide communication. But this essay, by a young man I’m calling “Isaiah,” made me catch my breath. It wasn’t just words. His heart was exposed on the page.
Later in the day I conducted his exit interview. Isaiah’s spoken English is not impressive. He still has to think carefully to find the right words, and his thoughtful nature makes him seem less fluent in speech than he actually is. But his answers to my questions were worth the wait. When I asked, “How would you improve SEI?” he suggested playing worship music during the students’ free time. “It would be good for our hearts,” he said.
“How are you feeling about going to your American school?”
“Excited,” he answered, but in his face there was something else.
“Do you miss home?”
He nodded, slowly. “I miss my father,” he said, in his deliberate way. “When I come home from school each day, he is waiting for me. He opens his arms,” and here Isaiah spread his own arms wide, “and he hugs me and tells me he loves me. Then we sit down and I tell him about my day.”
He looked down, at his hands that were now resting in his lap, and I was glad because tears were brimming in my eyes. Still looking down, he added, “My father is a good man.”
I got it together and finished the conversation, but, obviously, I haven’t forgotten his words.
He didn’t say what his father did for a living. He didn’t say what work accomplishments he’d made, or where he’d traveled, or how many languages he spoke.
He just said, “He is a good man,” and gave his reasons for that belief: that his father made time for him each day, that his dad said “I love you” every afternoon.
For Isaiah, THAT was enough.
And as I looked at Isaiah, I would say it was enough, too. If I ever meet his father this side of heaven, I would say, “You must be a good man, because the evidence in your son is so strong, and what he says about you is beautiful.”
I often fail to see this connection for myself, though. I get tired of the mundane of food prep and cleaning and organizing and the afternoon grind of driving here and ferrying there, and I want accolades and accomplishments instead.
Not long after I finished SEI, I took my four kids and one of our international daughters (the older one was at a school function) to volunteer at Feed My Starving Children (http://www.fmsc.org/). It’s a ministry that creates food packets (called Manna Packs) for third-world mission groups to pass out, and it uses volunteers to fill the packets. Before we began working, we watched a video that showed children growing strong with regular, nutritious food intake and mothers feeding spoons of rice mixture to their toddlers. It’s the kind of video that makes me get a bit romantic about wanting to be overseas or working more with relief efforts here, that makes me wonder what good I am actually doing right now (I know that is not the intent of the video-makers; it’s my own issue).
I wasn’t overwhelmed by these thoughts, but they simmered as all the volunteers were split into teams and trained to create the Manna Packs with chicken bullion, dried vegetables, soy nuggets, and rice. Jake (my 8-year-old) and I were put on a team with several strangers, and Jake was put in charge of soy (I nicknamed him “Soy Boy”). My job was to weigh the final product, adding or subtracting rice to get the right weight. We chanted a list to keep the kids in the group focused: “Chicken, veggies, soy, and rice; chicken, veggies, soy, and rice!” and I checked Jake’s face occasionally. About an hour into it, I could tell his blood sugar was dropping. His attention strayed, and I had to remind him a few times: “Hey, soy boy, it’s your turn. Keep it up. You’re doing great!”
I, on the other hand, was uber-focused—remember, I was fueled by the video! At one point I even thought, “I could do this every day. It’s so worthwhile.” (Does anyone else have these ridiculously sappy, thoughts, or is it just me?). Thankfully, God gave me the grace in the same instant to actually recognize it and think, “You’re such a dork, Jen,” but then He brought an image into my mind. It was the picture of Isaiah at SEI, sitting across the table from me, holding up his arms as he talked about his father’s love for him.
And I looked over at “Soy Boy,” concentrating so hard on filling up his cup just exactly at the line with those soy nuggets, and I stole a glance at Patrick, busy, busy at the table just behind me, and I found Em and Maddie across the room, and Kelly on my right…
If they can say what Isaiah said, if they can know without a doubt that I love them because I myself am loved, if they blaze with love for Jesus themselves and carry it as a torch that shines to others—
Isn’t that incredibly worth all amounts of mundane effort?
Wouldn’t that alone be the “well done” from Jesus that I so long to hear?
Isaiah, I pray for you today, that this year spent away from your father would not weaken but would actually strengthen your relationship with him. I pray that your heart for your people would blaze, fueled by an ever-increasing understanding of Christ’s love for you.
And I thank you for reminding me how worthwhile the mundane truly is.