Purpose Driven Failure

One day a bunch of my coworkers and I were sitting around waiting for work to start. The phone rang, but none of us thought too much about it. Answering the phone isn’t part of our usual job. Normally there are other people who do that.

“Answer the phone,” said one of my coworkers to the person who was closest. For whatever reason, he didn’t answer it. Nobody answered it. The call went to voice mail.

My boss, who is normally a pretty chill guy, came over, and he was furious.

“All of you were sitting here, I was across the parking lot, and none of you could answer the phone? If one person doesn’t want to answer it, someone else do it. Do you guys know how to answer the phone? You press the green button and say, ‘Hello?”

My boss sighed in disgust, and went upstairs to retrieve the message.

“Why didn’t I just answer it?” I thought to myself. “Now my boss thinks I’m pathetically incompetent. Great.”

When my boss came back down, he told us the message was from a kid’s parents letting us know that the kid was going to be dropping in that day. By that time of day my boss doesn’t usually check for messages, so if he hadn’t heard the phone ringing from across the parking lot, we would never have known that kid would be in our care that day. The consequences could have been bad, all because no one wanted to answer a phone call. My boss was so mad and disappointed in us (and rightfully so) that he brought up the subject again for the next two days. I think all of us felt bad.

One moment’s indecision led to three days of lecturing, and a negative perception in the eyes of someone I didn’t want to think negatively of me. “All I had to do was answer the phone. Something so simple and easy, yet I completely failed to do it.” I felt like a huge idiot.

Granted, it was an odd situation. I don’t know why nobody else answered the phone. Work hadn’t even started, and it wasn’t part of our normal duties to answer phone calls. There were plenty of reasons available to use as excuses for why I didn’t answer the phone. After all, there were many other people who could have done it, people who were sitting closer to the phone than I was, and I kind of figured one of them would get it. Nevertheless, once it became apparent no one else was going to get it, I should have. The bottom line is I knew the right thing to do, and I didn’t do it.

Everyone fails sometimes. It’s a given. But then there are times when we might fail, and fail miserably. Sometimes we fail in ridiculous ways, at things we should have been able to do easily, things that are pretty common sense. Sometimes we know the right thing to do, and for some odd reason, fail to act. It seems like I’ve had a lot of these types of moments this past year. Every time something like this happens, I’m left beating my head against a wall, thinking, “Why in the world didn’t I just do it…?”

My boss eventually got over it (I think), but it doesn’t always work like that. It seems like sometimes when I’m in situations like this, I realize my mistake, try to fix it, but it only seems to make things worse. At some point people switch us off, and give up expecting anything from us, so no matter what we do, it doesn’t matter. They already have a fixed image in their mind of who we are, and they’re not willing to change that. I guess I can’t really blame them. When we fail at something that’s pretty basic, I guess it’s sort of hard to get over.

Hopefully we don’t have too many stupid moments, but it happens to everyone from time-to-time, and when it does, we can’t let it bring us down. It’s good to feel remorse, but we have to learn our lesson and move on. We can’t let it get to us, or we could end up making even more mistakes.

Sometimes people are not willing to forgive us. People are not always willing to give us another chance, but thankfully we have a God that is always willing.

It’s sometimes hard to understand why we fail at things we should have been able to do easily, things we don’t expect to fail at. It’s usually frustrating for everyone involved. It makes people disappointed in us, and understandably so. If you’re like me, you’re left feeling deep shame and regret. But moments like these are actually blessings. God uses times like this to mold us. He humbles us, exposes our weaknesses, and reminds us that we’re not all that great by ourselves, and that we need him. I think God does this to prepare us for the great plans he has, so that the next time around, when the stakes are higher, when it matters most, we’re ready.

At the end of the day, we’re stronger people because of the mistakes we make, as long as we learn from them. Our failures are not really failures, just lessons we need to learn from.


Proverbs 24:16

For the righteous fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.




Decision Making with God

2 Samuel 7:1-3


After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”

The books of Samuel record how God delivered David from his enemies, and turned him from a shepherd into king over all of Israel. David wanted to give thanks, and thought it would be a good idea to build a temple for God.

It makes sense, right? Why should David live in a palace, while the ark of God stays in a tent? David had the wealth and opportunity to make it happen. It seemed like such a good idea that the prophet Nathan even told David to go ahead and do it.

David had good intentions. He could have spent his riches on lavish things for himself, his family, or friends, or to show off his power to the people he ruled or to foreign nations. Instead David wanted to use his wealth to glorify God. He knew building a temple wouldn’t be easy, and would take years to complete, but he was willing to put in the time and effort.

But God denied David’s request.

As Christians, we should strive to do only what we believe God wants us to do. When we want something for selfish reasons, it should come as no surprise if God denies us. But there are times when we want something for all the right reasons, and are still denied by God.

Sometimes we’re presented with easier options, options that are available immediately instead of having to wait, but we feel compelled to pass those up in favor of a longer, more difficult route. The easy roads might seem alluring in some ways, but sometimes the more difficult road is ultimately the more fruitful road. When we’re willing to be patient, when want something for selfless, righteous reasons, we might come to think that that is what God wants us to do, that it is part of His plan.

David wanted to build a temple for God. He wanted this for all the right reasons, and it seemed as if it was in God’s plans for him to do so. I’m sure David was disappointed when God turned down his request. His intentions were good, but God simply had other plans for him. Instead of letting David build a temple, he had him establish a kingdom that would reign for all eternity. A pretty good trade, wouldn’t you say?

Likewise, we can want something for all the right reasons, and we might come to think that maybe it is part of God’s plan. But ultimately, the decision is God’s alone, and His plan is always best. He withholds nothing from us. If we want something for all the right reasons, and he still denies us, it’s only because he has something better planned. We should trust that his plan is better than anything we could plan on our own. Accepting God’s “no” takes as much faith as carrying out his “yes.”

Cambodia Sharing

(Published in the November issue of my church’s newsletter. This was originally the transcript for my sharing about Cambodia to the church’s congregation, with minor alterations made to ease accessibility to readers.)


Cambodia is a land of wonder. At one point in history it was one of the world’s richest civilizations. Today it is one of the poorest countries in the world, where most people live on less than 2$ a day. Food is extremely scarce, and malnutrition is a constant problem. Disease runs rampant, since most people cannot get adequate medical treatment.

During the 1960’s Cambodia was heavily damaged by the effects of the Vietnam War, which in turn helped fuel their own civil war, which laid waste to the country. During that time, the country also experienced a terrible famine, and for years, many people died of the fighting, disease, or starvation. In 1975 Khmer Rouge soldiers entered the capital of Phnom Penh, and the people cheered, thinking that their suffering had finally come to an end. They had no idea that the worst had yet to even begin.

The Khmer Rouge implemented dramatic reform, doing their best to transform modern Cambodia back into the Feudal Age. They forced the cities to be abandoned and turned the entire population into forced laborers working on rice fields. Schools, libraries, and anything modern was destroyed, as they did their best to wipe out technology and culture. Teachers, artists, doctors, and anyone they considered “smart” were killed. People too old to work, people with disabilities, and people who wore glasses (who were thought of as “smart”) were also killed. People who couldn’t handle the labor, who were too malnourished, were killed, people whose clothes were too clean or hands too soft were killed (as this was a sign of not working hard enough), and some people were killed at random, for no apparent reason. Even though everyone was forced to work on rice fields, food was scarce, and many people starved. 

Children were reeducated, brainwashed, and turned into killing machines for the Khmer Rouge. Mothers were forced to watch as their babies were taken and brutally murdered. It was common for soldiers to grab kids by their legs and swing them against a tree like an ax, smashing their heads against the trunk.

If, for whatever reason, someone was accused of being a spy or rebel, they were thrown in jail, tortured until they confessed to doing something they never did, and then executed. The Khmer Rouge did this to even their own members.

This was one of the trees that Khmer Rouge soldiers used to execute babies and children on. It now stands as a memorial.

In just 5 years, anywhere between 1 and 3 million people died as a result of the Khmer Rouge. The entire population of Cambodia at the time was only 8 million.

Our mission going to Cambodia was to build a house for a family Aunty Adele has been working with, deliver supplies for her to distribute at her discretion, do Bible school for the kids, build relationships with the people there, and spread the love of Christ. Here you can see the house they were living in previously.

Cambodia is a heartbroken country. The Khmer Rouge is gone now, but their devastating effects remain. Everywhere you look, you can see the scars that still linger.There remain over 4 million undiscovered landmines throughout the country. Poverty, and everything that comes with it, is a part of daily life. I think the rest of the world has largely turned a blind eye to the devastation that took place so recently in Cambodia, which is why I felt it necessary to share a bit about the history with you today.

Corruption runs rampant in Cambodia. Everyone from the government, to the police, to the kids and teachers at schools, are expected and encouraged to cheat and bribe their way through daily life. With cheating such a regular part of life, the people just know no other way of living.

In Cambodia, people with disabilities are ostracized. The Buddhist culture there dictates that people with deformities are cursed, and that they must have done something bad in a past life to deserve their punishment. People don’t want to be associated with “cursed people,” so the handicapped are often rejected by everyone, including their own families.

We became friends with many people who have been through so much more than what we could imagine here in America. People like Hia, a boy we became good friends with, who was sold by his mom, and is forced to work at a crocodile farm, where he takes care of hundreds and hundreds of crocodiles by himself. Or this girl in the wheelchair, Gemaryan, who was born missing both her legs, her left arm, and with only 3 fingers on her right hand, and because of her disabilities, was beaten by her family. Or Kaiyi, another boy we befriended, who suffers from severe malnutrition, an enlarged spleen, and many other diseases, and was also beaten and rejected by his family.

These people have been through so much suffering, and lived in fear. But it’s amazing to see Christ at work in their lives, as they are transformed into new, stronger people. Like, Visnae and Pisae, two girls we met who have become leaders in their communities, and recently started attending medical school in Phnom Penh.

We did a lot of VBS’s for the kids. They were a lot of fun to work with, and seemed to really enjoy the Bible stories, crafts, games, and just hanging out.

One of the most memorable faces in my mind was not someone I met in person. While at her house, Aunty Adele handed me a photo album to look through. In it were pages and pages of pictures of people she’s met over the years, many of whom were suffering from giant tumors the size of softballs sticking out of their neck, forehead, and other odd places, many were missing limbs, and many had other terrible diseases and deformities.

Then I saw a picture of a girl who was about my age. Acid had been poured all over her body. Her face is horribly scarred, with the skin permanently removed, and her facial features missing, out of place, or otherwise hanging in odd positions. I cannot describe to you how terrible it is. It is easily the worst deformity I’ve ever seen. I can’t get her face out of my mind.

This was the house the family had previously been living in. (Family of 7.) It's a typical house for a Cambodian family.

The world might call these people ugly. Their country may be ashamed of them, and their culture, and even their own families, may have rejected them. People tend to look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. God only makes beautiful things. These are exactly the kinds of beautiful people I find so much joy working with.

The finished house. It’s not much by American standards, but for them it’s their dream home. For a family as poor and desperate as they are, where getting enough food to eat is considered a good day for them, a house like this seemed impossible, nothing but a pipe dream. But for God, all things are possible. This house was built entirely by Him. It was such a huge blessing to get to work on that house, and I thank God for giving me that opportunity.

People live in little house boats on Tonle Sap, a very polluted lake.

Our tour guide and interpreter for the trip was a man named Viloth.  He’s a pastor, but he doesn’t get paid at all for his ministry work, and instead supports his family by working as a tuk-tuk driver.  He works hard to serve the Lord, and God has blessed him. Whereas most people in Cambodia are undernourished, somehow Viloth is able to provide enough food for his family, and they are all at healthy weights. Their nine-month old baby, Elijah, was born with down syndrome. Normally kids with disabilities are rejected by their families, but it’s clear that Elijah will always be loved.

If you’ve never been on mission to a third-world country, I encourage you to go. It is a great opportunity to see God at work in so many different ways. But you don’t need to leave home in order to be a blessing. You don’t need special skills or a lot of money, just a willing heart. There are so many people right here in our neighborhoods who need help. All we have to do is be willing to obey when God calls us to act.

Picture of a Cambodian Boy

I find this picture disturbing, gross, and sad all at the same time. This shows you the desperation of the people of Cambodia.

This clipping is from a Singapore newspaper. This boy lives in a village near Siem Reap, which is the same district where we worked and stayed. The caption reads,

Getting his milk by udder means –

Eighteen-month-old Tha Sophat suclking milk from a cow in Nokor Pheas village, Nokor Chum district, in Siem Reap on Sunday. The Cambodian boy has been feeding himself by sucking directly from a cow as part of his daily meals since his parents left to work in Thailand, the child’s grandfather told Reuters. Mr. Um Oeung, 46, said his grandson has been doing this for a month now after the family’s home was swept away in a storm last year, leaving behind a total debt of $1,000.

Unfortunately, strange and disturbing stories like this are commonplace in Cambodia. So many people, children especially, find themselves in desperate situations like this.  A debt of $1,000 may not seem like too much here in America, but to most Cambodians, it’s a fortune. Many Cambodians, for one reason or another, find themselves deep in debt, with no way to get out. That’s why so many children are sold into slavery/indentured servitude.

Kids, Part III – A Bible for Kellie

There was a girl in my group who we’ll call “Kellie.” She’s a sweet girl, very well-behaved. She’s kind of on the quiet side, but she liked to talk to me about her family and friends and things, and she’d ask me lots of questions. Some were personal questions, like about my own family and things, and some were more general questions that little kids so often ask, like about how the world works. But the questions she would ask most were about God. She said she really enjoyed our chapel sessions because she liked to learn about Jesus. I’d tell her stories and teach her lessons from the Bible.

“When you have faith in God, you don’t need to worry about things,” I told her. “God takes care of all our needs.”

As I said those words, I thought,“Wow. I should really listen more to my own advice.” I tend to worry a lot about things I really don’t need to worry about at all. So often when I’m teaching the kids something I realize it would do me well to pay more attention to my own teachings.

I found out that Kellie’s parents are divorced. Kids whose parents are divorced have a much tougher time. They’re so much more likely to fall into bad habits as they get older.

“I have some friends, but not many,” she said. “But I’m happy. Jesus is my friend, and I know he is always with me.”

She said she wished she could go to church, but that her mom said she doesn’t have time to take her. (The usual excuse.) She said she wanted to read the Bible, but she didn’t have one, and that she had asked her mom for a Bible for her birthday.

“That’s nice,” I thought. “I hope she gets it.” But then I thought, “Maybe I should get her that Bible…?

“Nah, that’s a weird idea…

but…well…maybe I should?”

Whenever I think of something nice to do for someone, I’m usually pretty hesitant to carry it out. I’ve come to realize it’s a pride thing. I’m so afraid of putting myself in a position where there’s even a remote possibility I might look bad if things don’t work out the way I intended, that I often avoid doing things I feel are right.

I considered the reasons why I shouldn’t get her that Bible:

“What if it looks weird for a summer leader to give a Bible to a kid? Maybe it’s not even important for me to get her a Bible. Maybe she’d get lots of Bibles. Maybe she wouldn’t even read it. Maybe I’d be wasting my money.”

And then I considered the reasons why I should get her that Bible:

“What if she doesn’t get a Bible for her birthday? What if getting her a Bible convinces her mom to take her to church? What if getting her this Bible right now is the difference between her going through middle school and high school leading a life close to Christ versus going astray and getting involved in the wrong things? What if God wants to use me as a blessing?”

The possibility alone was enough to make me do it.

Sure, it’s possible that even with the Bible, she could end up getting involved in the wrong things anyway. But the future is so unpredictable. Only God knows what will happen tomorrow. We can choose to worry about “what if’s” or we can simply do things with righteous intentions and trust that God has everything under control.

I asked my boss if he thought it was a good idea I get her a Bible, and he agreed. So many people don’t like to read the Bible, and many more do so only grudgingly. Here was a kid who actually wanted to read it, so I felt it was important to make sure she got one. So I went out and bought her a nice kids Bible, along with a bookmark I thought she’d like that had a Bible verse and pictures of flowers on it.

(They make some awesome kids Bibles these days. I wish I had had a Bible like that when I was a kid.)

As I drove to work the next day I thought about how I would give it to her. I felt awkward. I’m no good at these kinds of situations. Even though I had already bought the Bible, somewhere in the back of my mind doubt still crept in, and I thought,“Should I really go through with this?” I have a tendency to second guess myself, even when doing something I know is right. There was really no reason why I shouldn’t have given her the Bible, but sometimes I’m overly hesitant.

I walked into work and right away Kellie came up to me and started talking. She said that she had borrowed a friend’s Bible and read the story of Noah. We talked for a while about it, and about what she had learned.

As we talked, a verse popped into my mind:

“The wicked run when no one is chasing them, but the righteous are as bold as lions.”

Proverbs 28:1

“That’s me,” I thought, “Running even though no one is chasing me. I’m so full of pride. The only thing that keeps me from being the person I want to be is myself.”

We finished talking about the story, and for a moment she looked up at me curiously in that way little kids do.

“This is the right thing to do,” I thought, finally deciding to put aside my inhibitions. “I’m tired of being a slave to pride. No more. This has gone on for far too long.”

“I wanted to give you this,” I said, handing her the Bible. She was surprised. “I hope you’ll read it and learn more about God.” She nodded, and thanked me quietly.

The whole day she looked at it every chance she got, showing it to all her friends. Later, my coworker came up to me. “I’m really glad you got her that Bible,” she said. “I wanted to get her one, but I couldn’t afford it.”

On my last day of work for the summer, as I was leaving, Kellie came up to me.

“This is for you,” she said, handing me a gift bag. She knew I was leaving for Cambodia, and she got me some snacks for the trip, along with a t-shirt, and a card.

“Aw, that’s so sweet. You didn’t have to.”

She thanked me again for the Bible, and said she would read it every day. We said our goodbyes.

“Hope to see you next year!”

It’s funny how you think you’re doing something nice for someone – not expecting anything in return, just out of the goodness that is Christ – when in actuality, God is doing something nice for you, and you receive double the blessings. The gifts Kellie gave me were nice, but by far the best was to see her learn about Jesus, find comfort and confidence in him, and the hope that she will continue that relationship as she grows up. I’m really glad I got to be a part of that.

You might think that after working with kids all day I’d be relieved to go home and get away from them. But actually, I miss those kids when they’re not around.

As Christians, we’re supposed to place other people’s needs before our own. For many of us this is a difficult thing to do, and I’m certainly no exception. But when I’m working with kids, I’m at my best. Instead of selfishly worrying about my own things like I so often do, I’m focused on looking out for the kids.

Working with kids is great. I’d do it for free if I had to. (Don’t tell my bosses! 😉 ) Of course everyone needs money, but the real pay comes in the form of hoping that God will use us to be a blessing in the lives of the kids, and watching them learn and grow into stronger individuals. That is priceless.



Kids, Part II – Little Brad becomes strong

(continued from Part I)

The next week Brad came to me, telling me that Lisa was letting her little sister call him names.

“He also called her names!” said Lisa, defending her sister.

Brad wanted me to punish Lisa’s sister for him, and when he saw that I wasn’t going to do that, he got upset. Kids have to learn how to handle problems themselves. If adults constantly solve their problems for them, they’ll grow up thinking it’s okay to run to other people whenever something goes wrong.

“Why do you listen to what she says?” I asked him. “Remember, you’re a lot stronger than her…”

He obviously liked it when I said that.

“…so because you’re stronger and older, you need to be the leader, and set the example. If she wants to say mean things to you, let her. If you say mean things back, you’ll both get in trouble. But if you don’t say anything and just ignore it, it’ll only make her look bad, and she’s the only one who’ll get in trouble. Being strong isn’t about being tough. It’s about doing the right thing, even when people are mean to you.”

At chapel that week we had a really outgoing pastor preach to the kids. He was a really unorthodox pastor, lighting a Bible on fire, and giving 5 dollars to the kid who behaved best during the sermon. His lesson was about love and about how Christianity is all about love, so he had his wife come up on stage next to him, and he kissed her.

This caused an uproar among the kids, and of course they all said, “Ewwww…!”

“What!?” he said, as if he were surprised by their reaction. “Kissing is good.”

My coworker sitting next to me looked at me and said, “I don’t know if it was a good idea to say that.”

“Definitely not a good idea,” I replied. “Oh my gosh,” I thought, “I can’t believe he just said that to the kids!” My mind started turning, thinking of what I’d have to say to the kids later to try to fix the situation. They might think kissing is gross now, but in a few years, that’s going to change, and the last thing they need is to think back and remember a pastor telling them that kissing is good. This must be what it feels like to be a parent: constantly vigilant about making sure your kids get the right influences.

But then the pastor added, “Here’s the thing. Kissing is only good if you’re married.”

My coworker turned to me again and said, “Okay, that made up for it.”

“Thank goodness he said that,” I said.

At lunch there was a big commotion. Word had gotten out that Brad liked a particular girl. All the kids were talking about it, making it a big deal, teasing him. Brad was smiling and laughing, acting as if it didn’t bother him at all. But later he walked away from the lunch table, past my coworker and I, and he looked distressed.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

He nodded, but judging by the look on his face, it was clear that he wasn’t.

My coworker and I looked at each other. “We’re gonna have to do some damage control,” I said, and she agreed. We told the kids we were tired of hearing them talk about it, and to stop. The talking gradually subsided. I went over to talk to Brad.

“Who cares if everyone knows? They were bound to find out eventually anyway. Let them say anything they want. You were man enough to actually admit it. Not everyone would have the guts to do that. You’re already a cool guy, so just be nice. Even if she doesn’t like you, I’m sure a lot of other girls will.”

That was the last I heard about the matter.

Later we took the kids on a hike, and I overheard the girl he liked making fun of him.

“You’re so short!” she told him.

Ouch. Poor guy. But he didn’t seem to let it bother him.

A few days later we were doing relay races, and Brad and this other boy were not getting along at all. They’d been fighting the whole day, seizing every opportunity to insult each other. It was bad. I think nearly all of the workers at some point talked to them about being nice to each other. “You guys have so much in common,” I said to both of them. “You two could be good friends.” Nothing we said seemed to help. They really were alike in so many ways, but it’s like all of their similarities were bumping into each other, and neither one was willing to make the effort to put their past transgressions behind them and get along.

The next week I noticed that Brad and the other boy were hanging out…all day! All the activities, all the games, they were next to each other, talking, and they were getting along. No one forced them to be together, they did so on their own free will. It’s like they became best friends. I have no idea what happened, but it was pretty amazing.

I’ve heard a lot of people, both kids and adults alike, refer to Brad as a troublemaker. It bothers me when I hear people putting him down. He’s been labeled a troublemaker by so many people that he came to believe that that’s who he really is, and accepted it as his role and identity. But Brad is really a good kid. He behaves well for me. So whenever I hear anyone talking bad about him, I respond by telling them about how well he behaves, and about how great a kid he is.

“Are we talking about the same kid? Brad, right? Little Brad?” That’s the usual response I get.

“He may be little, but he’s pretty strong.”

While I like working with all the kids, oftentimes the ones I like working with most are those who have been rejected or forgotten, those who others have given up on. They have so much potential waiting to be unlocked. It’s so exciting to see kids learn and grow.

Those kids who gave me so much trouble in the beginning became some of the best, most well-behaved kids. Remember those girls who, at first, kept attacking me? They turned into some of the sweetest, most well-behaved kids. One girl in particular seems to like me a lot. She used to give me more trouble than anyone. The other workers said that she’s usually troublesome. I’d discipline her, and made sure she knew that it was not okay to act up, but I also refused to believe in her as a troublemaker. Now she’s the biggest sweetheart.

Anyone can handle kids who are well-behaved. But as the Bible says, it’s people who are sick who need a doctor, not those who are healthy. Likewise, troubled kids are the ones who need teachers the most, yet many teachers are not willing to make the effort. They favor the “good kids” while ostracizing the “bad kids.” But there’s no such thing as a bad student, only bad teachers. Teaching is not merely a job, it’s a way to be a blessing. We never know when kids will look back and remember something we said or taught them. We should strive to be a good influence on them, even when they’re giving us a lot of trouble.

I’m convinced that there is no such thing as a bad kid, only bad situations. Behind every bad attitude is a wounded and hurting soul. I think a lot of troubled kids just need someone who believes in them.

Kids don’t misbehave for no apparent reason. There’s always an underlying issue. Oftentimes it’s because they’ve been hurt in the past, and they’re trying to cover up their pain. Take Brad, for example. Everyone makes fun of how short he is, and I think he feels he needs to make up for that in some way, which is probably why he acts up sometimes. As for those girls who were harassing me earlier, many of them have parents who are divorced.

Some kids come from broken homes, some kids have been hurt by authority figures in the past, and some kids have experienced worse. We may not know what the issue is, and oftentimes there’s not much we would be able to do about it anyway. The one thing we can do is be there for them. A lot of these “problem kids” are probably used to having people give up on them. I think that’s why they act up. So when someone gives up on them, it’s exactly what they expected. But when someone actually sticks with them long enough, their true nature is revealed, and we realize that they really are good kids. Just as God never gives up on us, I think it’s our duty to never give up on them.

(to be concluded in Part III)

Kids, Part I

Part I

Who knew working with kids at an elementary school would make up part of the most amazing summer ever? Kids are so interesting. They love to learn, and at the same time, I think adults can also learn a lot by working with them. A really cool part about my job at a private school is I’m allowed and even encouraged to teach the kids about God. I think working with kids is a great way to witness God at work.

Here are some of my musings from working with kids over the summer. It turned out rather long, so I split it into 3 parts. Part I is about my first week.

Although all the workers get some interaction with all the kids, during the summer I worked mostly with the older kids, the 5th and 6th graders.

For the first few days, some of the kids were wild, and they chose me to be the target of their aggression. There was a group of 3rd grade girls who particularly liked to attack me. They tried to jump on me, kick me, hit me, scratch me, bite me; you name it, they tried it.

The 5th graders were calmer, though they had their own share of quirks. There was one adorably strange little girl in my group who marched to the beat of a different drum. She wore high rainbow-colored socks, and t-shirts that said strange things on them. She proudly referred to herself as weird. She was obsessed with wearing fake mustaches, and even insisted she wanted to grow a real mustache. She would ask all sorts of strange questions, and one time she stared up at me and gave me a highly detailed description of the insides of my nose.

There was another girl in my group, we’ll call her “Janice,” who was really quiet. She was a nice kid, kept to herself, and minded her own business. She kinda reminded me of myself when I was a kid. But she wasn’t talking to anyone, and when she did talk, she didn’t say much. She just sat there, looking miserable. She obviously wasn’t having any fun at all. I tried my best to get her to open up more, but nothing really seemed to be working.

There was a boy in my group who we’ll call “Brad.” He was outgoing, fun to be around, and was really into sports. He made some of the most hilarious funny faces. But he’s short. Really short. He’s easily the shortest kid in the 5th grade. Even some of the 3rd graders are taller than him. He gets made fun of a lot for his height. People call him “Little Brad,” which he doesn’t like. He’s a ringleader, so when he misbehaves he usually influences some of the other boys to follow his lead. Brad has a reputation as a troublemaker. I’ve heard a lot of the kids and some of my coworkers say that about him. I’ve even heard him say that about himself.

There was another girl, we’ll call her “Lisa.” She’s smart, outgoing, well-behaved, and has obvious leadership skills. She’s the type of kid I think a lot of teachers would choose as a teacher’s pet. (A lot of the teachers I had growing up would favor kids like her.)

I think it’s a mistake when teachers think of certain kids as “good” and certain kids as “bad.” With kids you cannot play favorites. Kids can tell when teachers favor certain kids over the others, and it creates malaise. Besides, if you continuously praise the so-called “good students” it’ll go to their heads. They’ll get cocky and arrogant, and as a teacher, you won’t be doing them any favors. Praise should be given when deserved, but I think it’s important to keep in mind that there really are no “good kids” or “bad kids.” Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, different things that make them special, along with some things they can improve on. Lisa, for example, is a kid with a lot of good traits, but can also sometimes be bossy, selfish, and proud. (Three things I also struggle with at times.) As a teacher, I think it’s important to help students maximize their strengths, while minimizing their weaknesses.

On the first day of summer school we separated the kids into groups, and had them make a skit about the day’s Bible lesson. Brad, Lisa, Janice, and some other kids were in a group together. The kids were having fun working on the skit, including Janice, who was slowly starting to come out of her shell. The whole day she had been really quiet, but she finally seemed to be opening up a little. Lisa appointed herself to be the “director” of the skit. She was doing her best to lead the group, but was getting frustrated, since Brad was influencing some of the other boys into goofing around. For the skit, the boys were supposed to pretend to beat up this one kid. We’ll call him “Marcus.” Marcus was a nice kid, smart, but somewhat aloof, wore glasses, and wasn’t very good at sports. The other boys would kind of pick on him and leave him out, so Marcus frequently stayed close to me.

Anyway the other boys were supposed to pretend to beat up Marcus. All of the kids thought Marcus was only pretending to be hurt since this was a skit, so they all played along. Nobody noticed that Marcus really was hurt, and he started crying. Injuries are taken pretty seriously at work (though I think Marcus was actually more hurt about being picked on, left out, and ignored than he was physically hurt), so the big boss man ordered me to bring all of the kids involved in the incident down to see him.  All of the kids are afraid of him, and I don’t blame them. He’s a big guy, huge muscles, tattoos, shaved head, and has the power to ban them from field trips, call their parents, destroy them, or worse, expel them. He’s actually a really nice guy, but towards the kids, he purposefully keeps a rough demeanor to keep them in check.

“Are we in trouble?” asked Lisa. “I’m scared!”

“You’re not in trouble,” I said. “We just need to see if Marcus is okay, and apologize for accidentally hurting him.”

“I didn’t do anything though!” said Lisa. “I shouldn’t have to go because I didn’t do anything!”

“Everyone in the group is going,” I said. “We need to see how Marcus is doing and say sorry to him.”

“But I didn’t do anything! I shouldn’t have to say sorry!” said Lisa.

“Everyone is going, and we’re all going to say sorry. I know it was an accident, but we still need to apologize. We just need to show Marcus that we care about him.”

Brad came up to me, shoulders slumped, speaking quietly. “I’m in trouble, huh, Mr. Robert?” he asked. He obviously felt bad for what happened.

“I know you didn’t mean to hurt him. But you a got a little carried away, and you ended up hurting him on accident. It’s good to have fun, but you also have to be considerate of others. You’re not in trouble. Just say sorry to him, and be more careful from now on.”

All the kids had to talk to the boss and explain their version of what happened, except for Janice. I let her stand in the back and kinda go unnoticed. She’s so quiet anyway, she’s usually unnoticed. I made her apologize, but I didn’t make her say anything else. Some might accuse me of playing favorites here, but she didn’t do anything wrong. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I didn’t want her to feel like she was in trouble. Penalizing someone for something they didn’t do is damaging, especially, I think, for a kid like Janice. She had finally taken a step out of her shell and if she got in trouble for this, she might retreat back, ruining all the progress she’d made.

I think a lot of teachers take a “cookie-cutter” approach to teaching. They go through the curriculum, teaching all the things they’re mandated to teach, but they fail to recognize that everyone responds differently to different things. Every child is unique. Lisa, for example, is confident and obviously enjoys leading. Leaders are responsible for everything that happens under their watch, regardless of whether or not it’s directly their fault. To let her slide away from this situation would be teaching her to avoid accountability, which would hinder her development as a leader.

Janice, on the other hand, is completely different. She needed a self-esteem boost. To punish her in this situation would not have been the right thing to do, and would have done more harm than good. As for Marcus, he needed to feel like he was part of the group, while Brad needed someone to see through his sometimes wild behavior, and see that he really is a good kid.

I think all of us learned a lot about each other that day.

At the end of the week we went on a field trip to Waikiki. All of us had a great time. Janice had finally opened up. She was still on the quiet side, and there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s just how some people are. I’m that way too, so I guess that’s why she caught my attention. But at least now she was having fun. On our field trip she bought a whoopie cushion and started using it on people. Not at all what I expected from a quiet, studious Asian girl. She was running all over the place, was first in line for everything, and even started proudly declaring herself to be a “bad kid.” While we were at the beach, she started pretending to act up, playfully kicking sand and encouraging me to discipline her. She really wasn’t misbehaving at all, but by her standards, it was a lot. I was glad to see she was having fun.

(To be continued in Part II)