Thursday, August 18, 2011

Nothing Better


   More often in mission life than at home, formal homeschooling doesn't always happen. So many unexpecteds come up that there is just no time to sit down for lessons. At times, I am tempted to let this cause me great anxiety, as I worry about the kids keeping up with their studies; but I know that the best kind of learning doesn't always come from books. I am so grateful for the wisdom and experience of the Summers family, especially Mrs. Genie Summers, who advised me not to pack very many school books. God has shown me over and over that this was the right decision. Here are some recent examples: …............
    Ever since our friends, the Ocaba family, mentioned showing us the way up the mountain so that we could share food and God's Word with the many poor families struggling to survive there, I longed to go and be a part of the distributing team. I knew, however, that such a thing was most unlikely because it just isn't practical to try to carry a toddler, a preschooler, and a heavy care package for 5 miles up steep and slippery paths and back again. I would have to be content to hear of the trips from my husband and older children and to see the pictures they promised to take.
    Not long after my husband's first successful trip up there, our family was having a “Desert Day” in a nearby town and I slipped on some rocks in a stream while crossing with my 17 month old son. I fractured some of my ribs, and the pain was almost unbearable. I felt that God was reaffirming to me what I really already knew: going up a mountain with the little ones was completely out of the question. I tried to put the idea out of my mind.
    God is so incredibly amazing, though, and He felt like answering a desire of my heart! When our two fellow missionaries Teresa and Susanna, who are currently working on the mainland, heard about all of the needy people Odilio had ministered to, they asked if we could organize another trip up the mountain so that they could help too. Susanna's cousins from India were coming soon to visit her in the Philippines, and she thought they would really enjoy such an adventure. Of course, Odilio was more than happy to accommodate this request.
    The next week, our friends arrived at our home on Camiguin with the two cousins from India and a friend from a Catholic community here in the Philippines. To my surprise, all three of the new guests happened to be young men who loved kids. During the first day of their visit, we all got well-acquainted and it was decided that with so many extra muscles around now, it would be no problem for all of us to make the trip up the mountain!
    The climb was anything but easy, but I am so grateful for the opportunity. It was an experience I will never forget! On the morning of the climb, Odilio took the visiting crew to town to get the food that we would be distributing, while I stayed home to clean up and get the kids ready to go. Susanna's cousins came back from the shopping trip with several packages of candy that they bought to treat our kids. The kids were super-excited, and I let them put one package of some small gelatin cups in their backpack for a snack along the way. However, in the crazy struggle to get ourselves in one piece to the chapel on the mountain where many families were waiting for us, the snacks were not mentioned even once by the kids on the way up, and they seemed to be completely forgotten about. It wasn't until we were safely in the chapel and Odilio and some of the others were giving a Bible sharing and some wonderful testimonies about God's loving providence, that my 3-year old asked me if he could have his snack now. I glanced around at the crowd of people and counted about 15 to 16 children among them, including my own. There were only 12 gelatin cups in the package. I told Vincent that there were not enough snacks to share with all of the children and it would not be nice to eat in front of them. I gave him a choice. He could open the package right then and give the gelatins to the other children. If he did this he would have to wait until we got back to our house to have a treat of his own; I reminded him of the other packages of candy that we had left there. The other choice would be to wait just a little while longer and open the gelatin cups on the way back home when we were out of sight of the other kids. Vincent was silent for a long while after this explanation of choices. I figured he was pretty disappointed about the whole thing. I was surprised and touched when finally he said, “Mom, I want to open it now.” “That's nice, Vincey,” I said and reminded him that he would not get any. By this time, the testimonies and even the distribution of the food packs was almost done. I got the package of gelatin cups from the backpack and opened it. Vincent took out two at a time, and I directed him in passing them out. “See the little boy in the blue shorts and the little girl with the short hair next to her mommy?” And Vincent would walk by himself over to the ones I indicated and then come back for two more. Before long, he had his 5-year old brother Samuel helping him until, in the same fashion, he had offered one to each of the children who were present. Coming back to me after the last hand-out, he peered into the bag to find that there were two gelatins left, one green and one red—his and Samuel's favorite colors! “Can me and Samuel have these?” he asked hopefully. “Of course,” I smiled at him, so proud of his generosity.
Vincent, age 3
    On the way home, I relayed the incident to Susanna, who said very wisely after listening, “What better Catholic education can you get?” I heartily agreed! I could have remained at home with the three younger children and taught them to follow directions by matching up pictures in their workbooks with pencils and to subtract using their fingers as counters, but the real life experience of walking directly to each indicated person will stay much longer in their memories; and besides, now they know a truer way to figure numbers using God's Math—which tells us that sometimes

12-12= 2:)

   {Some of the children that we met that day were visibly malnourished. I can't describe the feeling of coming face to face with such a reality, which previously I had only known about by mail. Father Joe explained that such a thing was common for those dwelling in the mountains, where coconuts were often the main source of nourishment. On Odilio's most recent trip up there, he distributed some children's multivitamins and other fortified children's foods with vegetables along with the usual care pack food.}

    Mission life has held many surprises for our family. One in particular for me is that I felt compelled for the first time in my life as a mother to volunteer my time outside of the home without my children accompanying me. I teach Religion class twice a week at the parish high school. I teach 14 and 15 year-olds on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 1:30-2:30. The time that they allotted me is perfect, since my little ones are napping then. God has reassured me that this was His plan as well as mine. No matter how many times Julian(my 17 month old) wakes up looking for me on the other days of the week or how many times he refuses to fall asleep at all, every Tuesday and Thursday that I teach, he consistently stays peacefully asleep until after I return:) Anyway, I really enjoy sharing God's truths with my new students.
    The goal of my class is to teach the young people to know and love God and to want to serve Him by living virtuous lives. I started out teaching them the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. Through Scripture, testimonies, and the Catholic catechism I showed them how God is Love and how He is the only One worthy of all of our love. We also talked about needing His grace in order to accomplish this, among other things, etc.
    After about five or six weeks of lessons, I gave them a study guide followed by a test the next week to see how well they were understanding everything. When I entered the room on test day, I asked them to bring all of their books and personal belongings to the front of the room and to arrange the desks for test-taking, a procedure that my oldest daughter informed me was the norm for classes at the school. As the students were bustling about appearing their best to obey my command, I noticed one young man tucking his study guide into his pants. My eyes met his and I shook my head no, holding out my hand to take the paper. I was a little disappointed at this, and I walked the room collecting everyone else's study guides that they seemed to be keeping until the last minute. I said as I walked the classroom, “This is a Religion test. You don't want to cheat. That would be against the seventh commandment because you would be stealing answers. If you have any questions please ask me instead of your neighbor and I will help you.” I finally handed out the tests and took my place at the front of the classroom where I stood watching and waiting for anyone who might need help. As the time wore on, I became increasingly disappointed and my heart was heavy with sadness. Most of the students were trying to sneakily share answers. With apparent disappointment in my voice, I addressed the students once again, “The whole point of this class is to help you want to love God with your whole heart. You cannot do that by cheating. Getting all of these little questions right makes no difference if you are doing it in the wrong way. You are showing that you care more about your score than about pleasing God. I have not been a very good Religion teacher if you want to cheat on your test. Please just do your best. I will be more proud of you for getting a low score by yourself than a high score by cheating.” I trust that this one incident spoke more clearly to them than all of the previous lessons combined.
    In all of this I am reminded of one of my own reasons for choosing to homeschool. Humility and holiness have always been my highest aim in teaching my own children. My oldest daughter, Maddie, aged 13 ½ , made the tough decision to attend “real” school for the first time in her life. She prayed about it a lot and felt that it would be a great way to become part of the community of Catholic children here and possibly influence some of them by good example. There were many things to consider when she made this decision, the hardest one being that she wanted to be a part of our other ministries, too. She knew she might miss many of our family activities and prayer times. She was also nervous that she wouldn't be able to keep up with the other students, since she had never been in a regular classroom, and she wasn't sure how much she really knew. In fact, since I wasn't able to teach her a whole lot during our missionary training last year, she was a year behind in Math, and she was a little embarrassed to be with children younger than she. Nevertheless, she felt the most peace about going to the church high school (grades 7-10) than about staying in homeschool.
    I believe the experience has been a good one for her in many ways. She, too, has had kids wanting to copy her answers, but she kindly tells them no. She has witnessed how cruel some kids can be to one another, and she has made efforts to be a class peacemaker. She has real homework for the first time ever, and despite all of her good study habits and best efforts, she still at times gets low scores on some assignments and tests. When she gets frustrated at herself, I remind her that I would much rather she be holy than smart. While I love books and value studying, I believe that nothing can replace the real life experiences that can often be missed if too much time is spent in the classroom.

“Thus all who dwell on the earth shall know,
and all who inhabit the world shall
That nothing is better than fear of the
nothing more salutary than to obey his
Sirach 23:27