We see the hope and potential in every young person

Ministry of the Presence

“Um, excuse me Miss T, are you busy, like, right now?”

I was just leaving the hall after the Sunday morning service.  The students of Gitega International Academy (boarding school) gather each week for a church service, organized and run by their own discipleship group.  I had been asked to be the speaker and since the topic was up to me, I had chosen forgiveness using parts of my own story as reference.

It was a vibrant gathering featuring their own talented choir and worship team and I had very much enjoyed watching these young leaders step up, but now we were just waiting for the driver to take us home.

That’s when she approached me.

“Teacher, are you busy?  Can I just talk to you for just a minute?”

I glanced around the crowded room of highschoolers looking to see if the driver had arrived.  I felt rushed and possibly as if “right now” was not really the best time.

But when I looked back, I saw the urgency in her eyes.

“Somewhere private?”

 

I quickly cleared a friend’s office and ushered her in – closing the door to the chaos outside.  She sat and waited while I arranged my seat next to hers then looked at her expectantly.

Struggling to find the words or the courage or both, I presume, I saw a single tear slip down her cheek.  She quickly wiped it away – clearly embarrassed at her emotion.

I rearranged my chair so I was facing her and took both her hands in mine, coaxing her to continue.  “It’s ok to cry”, I assured her, “I cry all the time!”

The air was thick with struggle.  The fight between keeping quiet and letting it out.  The fight between staying where you are and breaking through to that place.  The new place.  The vulnerable place where you want to be but are scared to be all at once.

“I – I – I don’t know what to do.  I’m in the same kind of situation like you.”

I was slightly confused.  I didn’t know I was in a situation but I kept my eyes on hers.

“I feel so alone.  I feel like I don’t have friends.  They all say such hurtful things to me and about me.  I don’t really have a self esteem like you say.  It’s like I don’t have any talents – even when I think I can do something they tell me I can’t.  I just feel so alone and I have no one to talk to.”

As the words continued to spill out I grasped her hands tighter.

No one to talk to?  In a school of over 200 students plus staff – a boarding school no less – and NO ONE to talk to?  These thoughts appalled me.

And why me?  I’ve only been here for one week and she chose to come to me after being at the school for at least three years with all these staff and students?

Looking straight into her eyes I realized I was looking at me.

This girl was me 13 years ago.

I abandoned my thought train and focused on her.

“I know exactly what you mean, Eliza.  I’ve been there.  Like, you are in a room full of people but you are completely alone.”

She looked up from wiping the makeup that was running down her cheek and nodded.

“Yeah” she confided softly.

“I need your help.  I don’t know what to do anymore.”

For a moment I just sat silently.

What do I say in a moment like this?  Everything that was running through my head sounded hollow and fake.  What solution do I give her?  What profound truth can I speak over her life so that suddenly all is well?

The answer stared me bold in the face.

Nothing.

There was actually nothing I could do for her.

It became clear to me very quickly that what she needed right now was not a guide or a manual.  She needed to hear something from her Father, and I had been silently praying the whole time for God to give me something.  Something from Him!

Taking both her hands again in mine I heard myself saying,

“He sees you, Eliza.  Jesus sees you.”

Fresh tears welled up in her eyes and she began to cry again.

“He hasn’t forgotten you.  He loves you so much and He wants you to know that He sees you.”

I wanted her to hear the voice of her Father herself.  I instructed her that as I was praying for her she should also pray and ask Jesus to tell her how He sees her.

Several minutes passed – but it felt like hours.  I was praying fervently for God to give her a word or a picture or something but she continued to simply pray softly in Kirundi (her local language) under her breathe.

“Precious daughter.”

The words were out before I realized it, but I sensed it was what God wanted to tell her so I went with it.

“Jesus wants you to know that you are His precious daughter.  You belong.  You have a place that He reserved just for you, no one else.  You are His precious daughter.”

Again the tears rolled down her cheeks as I asked her if Jesus has spoken anything to her?

He had told her that he loves her so much and that she doesn’t need to worry.

“Pray for me that I can forgive them.”

“Forgive who?” I asked, a little confused.

“The kids at this school who are so mean.  I don’t want to hold on to these things.  I want to be free like you said in this service today.  I want to forgive them.”

We prayed and talked (and even sang) for a while longer until the driver pulled up.

“Come here.”  I pulled her into a tight hug.  “I am so proud of you for coming to me.  That was a very brave thing to do.”

And she beamed.

And I met with her again the next day and asked her to begin reading Psalm 139 every day until she believes it.

——————————————————————————————

It’s a difficult thing to explain – these past few weeks teaching at the high school.

There are so many moments like the one I described.  Conversations that feel impossible to put into words.  Glances and smiles.  Hugs and thank you cards.  Stories of turning points and change.

After my grade 9 and 10 leadership classes, I had at least four different encounters with students.  Each one expressing in a different way how the life lessons and principles that I shared on self-esteem and endurance had impacted them but again most of the kids just wanted to thank me for being there.

One day as I sat in the hallway, I was approached by two of my grade tens insisting that I need to come out and just talk with them because they want to know everything about me.  And so I did.  And soon we were a small crowd, laughing and talking and learning about each other.  And again, they thanked me just for being there.

While waiting for the church service to start I got into a conversation with one of my grade tens about her dreams and goals to help change her country and again I got goosebumps as I saw myself in her, and again she thanked me for being there.

As I said my last goodbyes to the students and we climbed into the taxi to be taken back to the capitol city (we had to return early due to the political situation) I pondered these two weeks.

Each conversation ran through my mind.  Every face.  Every question.  Every moment.

Every goodbye and every hand-made card and gift.  The note from the teacher who was moved to work through the bitterness in her life towards forgiveness.  The card from Eliza expressing her gratitude and the transformation our meeting had on her life.

What was the common denominator in all of this?

Although it is tempting to take credit for it I knew it wasn’t really about me!  It really wasn’t about what I said or did.  As good as it made me feel to be apart of something I KNEW it wasn’t really me.

At the beginning of the month if you would have asked what my ministry was in Burundi, I would have said “teaching at the high school in Gitega” or something like that.

But it wasn’t really about that at all!

It wasn’t about the English classes, or the teaching (let’s be honest, I’m not a real teacher!) or the Zumba sessions.

All of those things were good, but that was not what made the impact.  That is not what ministered to individuals.

It was the PRESENCE.

The ministry of the PRESENCE.

Just to BE there.  To BE available.

And so I learned something – again.

It is not about extravagant planning – it is about your time.

It is not about expensive gifts or prizes – it is about the sacrifice of yourself.

It is not about extra things to keep us busy – it is about being present.

Your PRESENCE.

And as a child of God, HIS PRESENCE becomes part of the package.

And THAT is what changes things.
THAT is what inspires and challenges.  Opens up and changes.

Transforms.

Not the ministry of all the things I can do.

It’s the ministry of THE PRESENCE.

**Eliza’s name has been changed for her anonymity 

My grade 7A English Class

My grade 7A English Class

Life Words with my grade 7's because when I asked them what they are scared of they said "Each other"

Life Words with my grade 7’s because when I asked them what they are scared of they said “Each other”

7B English class

7B English class

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The headmaster - and best person ever - of Gitega International Academy

The headmaster – and best person ever – of Gitega International Academy

Running club with these crazy kids - every Tuesday

Running club with these crazy kids – every Tuesday

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My Grade 9 Leadership class boys helping each other write encouraging notes to themselves for the  future.

My Grade 9 Leadership class boys helping each other write encouraging notes to themselves for the future.

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last sunrise I saw in Gitega

last sunrise I saw in Gitega

Up at 5:30 am to write out 100 encouraging notes for my grade nine and ten student's time capsules

Up at 5:30 am to write out 100 encouraging notes for my grade nine and ten student’s time capsules

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future leaders

future leaders

My grade tens can really multitask!

My grade tens can really multitask!

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Zumba - such a hit!!

Zumba – such a hit!!

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