The first day of ministry did not go according to my plan at all, and I’m glad it didn’t.
Yesterday I followed team Esther to Camp Hope for our first day of formal ministry. Camp Hope is a school and home for children and adults with special needs. The team will be assisting with physical therapy, occupational therapy, cleaning the property and feeding.
As a squad leader my ministry is the squad. However I will go with them to their ministry locations 4 days a week, but it’s not my main focus. So I planned to stand nearby and serve with them, but stay in the background and let them lead. I thought I could set an example if needed.
We walked around the campus and a receptionist sent pairs of girls to do different things – a few to clean, one to the small children area, two to the kitchen, a couple to the high needs adults space and then it was just me. I was ok being alone because I can speak Spanish well.
As soon as I arrived in the classroom the teacher stood up and asked me to read and play with two children while she went to a meeting. I thought, “ok, easy enough.” But that was the beginning.
Throughout the day I carried/assisted several children using the bathroom, complete with latex gloves (fill in the rest with your imagination). I took one adorable child to a sensory break room to rest in a space full of specific but mild sensory activities. I helped one child eat lunch – and this guy in particular has an incredible sense of humor and we made each other nearly snort milk out our noses.
This was extremely fun, but by 2pm, I was exhausted (mostly my brain from speaking spanish exclusively) and I was concerned about the team – were they serving well? Could they understand what’s expected of them? Why did I need to be separated all day? Am I doing a bad job as a squad leader because I didn’t stay with them? I saw the girls a few times and chatted very briefly because the campus isn’t huge, but I still had doubts that this was what the day was supposed to look like.
However, just when all my (dumb) doubts started to weigh on my shoulder, I was asked to take one little girl to practice the stairs. I had already done this with another girl, but there was something about this girls shakey walk that the Lord used to remind me of a valuable lesson I’d learned in the first week of my own race in 2015.
I’ll call the little girl Lila (for privacy reasons, I’m using a different name). Lila CAN walk, but she wants to hold your hand. I was encouraged by the teacher to walk backwards slightly in front of her, encouraging her without letting her hold my hand. So I said “Bueno!” “Perfecto!” “Puedes!” over and over as she barely touched the wall and walked with me to the stairs.
Once there, Lila really does need assistance. The point of the exercise is for the children to not set both feet on each step, but go every other, like you naturally take the stairs when you’re confident. Lila held the railing with one hand and my hand with the other and went for it. She’d get tired and set both feet on each step and I’d remind her to go every-other with a tap on the back of her knee and guide it to the further step. We did this several times, up and down two flights of stairs.
On the fourth time, Lila was tired and plopped down on a couch at the top of the stairs. I asked her if she was tired, and she grunted (Lila doesn’t speak). She then laid down on the couch. She wasn’t sad, just tired. I needed to her keep going because we had to do this a couple more times before we went back to class, but Lila wasn’t having it. I just met this child so I didn’t know how much to push her. I encouraged her and reminded her she was strong and doing a good job, and I wanted her to get stronger. She protested a bit more and I said, “I’ll go by myself. Byyyee!” (obviously joking) Well, she laughed really hard and then… farted and we both laughed REALLY hard (I couldn’t help but laugh even though I knew it encouraged not super desirable behavior). After that she got up and we went down the steps. I held her hand again as we went down.
Near the bottom Lila lost her footing and fell into me. I held her elbow and she steadied herself, but the stumble was sudden and scared her (honestly it frightened me a bit too). I told her she was ok. She looked at me with giant brown eyes and I tucked her hair behind her ear, and she smiled again. I decided that was enough stairs and we went back to the classroom together.
I believe firmly that my walk with Lila is exactly how we are meant to walk with the Lord. He asks us to be brave and take bigger steps than we think we can. He understands that we’re going to stumble but he reminds us that it’s ok. We can be stubborn and not move on when we need to keep practicing, but if you’re listening, he’ll encourage you to keep going (even if we stink, figuratively and literally).
That day I thought I needed to revolve around my team, but I was actually meant to focus on a classroom of 6 children with huge needs. During my first week of my world race in 2015 I wrote a blog about taking the middle seat on a plane to bless a family with a whole row of seats even though I was supposed to have a window seat on that very long flight.
Back then I learned that knowing Jesus is NOT about doing what you want to do, it’s about doing what’s asked of you. The Kingdom will come when we focus on who is front of us and when we walk with them.
In 2018 I got to learn that again thanks to Lila.