Friday, September 30, 2016

Best Day of the Year

July 30. It was the best day of the year. And that’s saying something! There were multiple red-letter days this year such as the day Michelle arrived in Uganda, my first safari in Africa, and the day I fed a lion with my best friend (read about it here!). But this particular one was my favorite. The whole year had really been leading up to it, and it was highly anticipated by more than just myself!

At the beginning of the school year, I gave my kids in grades 3, 4, and 5 a challenge: memorize and recite 16 answers together with supporting verses to these 4 different questions (which some of you might recognize these from AWANA’s T&T book 1):

Who is God?
Who is the Lord Jesus?
How does God want me to live my life?
Why did God give us the Bible?

They had a total of 36 verses to memorize and recite word-perfectly by the end of July. The reward they were promised was an ice-cream party for all those who successfully finished every last verse, and for those who were able to actually do the entire challenge a second time and review all those verses, I promised to take them swimming. For the next 6 months, I had 62 children clamoring every day to recite! There wasn’t a single day that I wasn’t asked, “Teecha, reciting today???” I absolutely loved their eagerness!!

As they tracked their progress on sticker charts, the excitement grew. But as you can imagine, listening to 63 children recite all those verses takes a lot of time. I was so thrilled when God sent Michelle to Uganda over the last 2 months of the challenge so she could help me listen to the kids! I don’t know what I would have done without her!

On the last day before our party, there was a mad rush and desperate push for some to finish reciting, and a few to finish reviewing. We finally wrapped up a long day with 44 finishers and 22 reviewers!

We did have a rather exciting *ahem* moment when we realized that of the 22 kids who finished the review challenge and were to come swimming, exactly 2 had swimsuits. Ha! What followed was Michelle and I plowing through racks of used clothes searching for any type of short (and t-shirts for the girls) that could remotely work in a swimming pool. Finding enough of the *approximately* right sizes was a challenge for sure, but on the day every child had at least something to put on.

That Saturday morning had us up early with my little Rav4 filled with ice-cream, decorations, confetti poppers, cake, prizes, and 2 big trash cans full of water balloons. Together with Michelle and the wonderful help of 3 other interns, we pulled off a party that was an absolute blast, and was talked about in the village for weeks to come!

Kids intently observing Teecha Angelina telling
them about some of the prizes

At first the confetti poppers startled them.....
...and then they loved them! 

The relay races were a hit too! 

Michelle and I demonstrating a relay

After celebrating the morning away, we said goodbye to half of the kids and loaded the other half up into ministry vehicles to drive them the 30 minutes into town to the hotel swimming pool. Only a couple of my kids had ever been swimming before, and at first there was a bit of trepidation. But when they figured out that the baby pool was shallow enough to stand or kneel in and still get a great splash, every loosened up and had an absolute blast!

To these kids, ages 8-14, the greatest thing might be the reward at the end. But what I know personally, even though they might not understand themselves yet, is that hiding Jesus’s Word in their hearts has intrinsic value and power. The Scripture they learn now will be used by God throughout the rest of their lives to encourage, guide, and strengthen them, especially as they are sensitive to the Holy Spirit. I remember memorizing all those verses in AWANA growing up, and if I’m honest with you, I’ll admit I was totally doing it for the trophies. And the ice-cream parties. And the kudos from my parents and friends. And you know what? They totally kept me motivated and eager to do the single most helpful thing of my entire life: Know God’s Word.

There hasn’t been a single day of my life that I haven’t benefitted from the mounds of Scripture buried deep in my heart, and that is my prayer for these kids too. I believe that these 36 verses will only be a start to the mound of Scripture Jesus will first help them to memorize and then remind them of for years to come.

Plus, it really was incredible for me to watch the joy on my kids faces! I think one of the ones who made the most impact on me was E. She’s been a tough nut for me to crack for a while. She and her siblings have an incredibly difficult and painful home situation with their father out of work, and their mother abandoning them last year. E has been thrown into the position of mother, cook, housekeeper, and so much more (in village conditions!) although she’s only 14. I’ve seen her harden herself from affection and withdraw even from my attention. But that day was different. I don’t know whether it was just being in a completely different environment, or the chance to just be a kid and play for once, or feeling special with a sense of accomplishment, but her whole demeanor changed. For the first time, she was interacting freely with me, responding to my playfulness, and even seeking my attention. It was remarkable. For the following week that I had at school before leaving Uganda, she continued to be free with me. I pray it is just a start to a relationship that will bring her to a deeper understanding of just how valuable and loved she is by both Jesus and me!

The kids' first experience with water balloons!

And the winner for that round is... Purple!