What A Little Bit of Grace Can Do!

I saw God do something wonderful this week . . . But before we go there, allow me to set this up for you.

At about 3:10 in the afternoon this past Tuesday the side door of the church was flung open and here they all came, running down the hall with the urgency of a Roman legion, back packs flying here, there, and yonder! It was our second day of tutoring, and there were kids! Kids everywhere!

“WASH YOUR HANDS,” pastor Marta screeched! And then, as for good measure, in  Español: ¡LÁVESE LAS MANOS!

Like stampeding buffalo, they trekked to the bathrooms, and at the speed of light, at least attempted to give the appearance of washing their hands – a few of them actually did. Following Pastor Marta’s lead, I squawked: “Wash your hands!” But without her commanding authority, I’m not sure it had anywhere near the same effect.

The stampede then circled back through the fellowship hall and bottled-necked in the kitchen. Our brave kitchen team sprang into action — Styrofoam plates were fed into an assembly line that piled them high with fried rice and chicken. Finally, the kids settled in at the tables that had been set with care. They ate to their delight, with snacks and ice cream to follow.

About half an hour passed when I called to the fifth graders to head to our room, which is a virtual zone of comfort — bean bags, overstuffed pillows, a small couch, cool rugs, and mood lighting. It’s the kind of place I’d like to study if I were a fifth grader. Of course, my call to ‘vamanos’ was met with zero enthusiasm; the kids’ tummies were full, and their eyes heavy.

Let’s pause here for a moment. At this point in the narrative, it’s important for the reader to understand that the LaMisión tutoring program services a variety of different children with a variety of different needs.

Some of them have not been in the U.S. very long and are struggling to overcome the language barrier. Some of them are coping with the harrowing stress of making their way here. Some of them are very bright and learn quickly; while others are also very bright but need to be approached differently in the learning process. Suffice it to say, most, if not all, of our children have experienced more of this cruel world than anyone deserves.

Picking back up with the story, on the day in question I had two boys in my room. Pastor Marta advised me that they had a science test later in the week and to focus on their science vocabulary words. She also advised me of some learning challenges the two boys had, and in my arrogance, I thought to myself ‘Ok, easy enough.’ That was my first mistake – taking the situation for granted.

You see, the boys in question (brothers, as it turns out) do not talk. It isn’t that they can’t; they just don’t. Early speculation presumes autism, though this has not been officially diagnosed. Imagine being in a new country where you don’t know the language or customs, and being thrown into an unprepared school system that treats you as if you should know as much as any other child who grew up locally.

Wouldn’t you be a little scared? Wouldn’t you be a little hesitant? Could these variables, and probably many more, be the reasons for their silence?

As if it would do any good, I asked them to pull up their science work on their iPads so I could call out their vocabulary words, and as any one of you good minded readers can likely suppose: This was an exercise in utter futility.

They just sat there staring at me. I was perplexed and uncomfortable. How could I help them? How did their teachers deal with their silence? Were they silent like this at school? At home? Or was there something about me that brought on their silence?

Not to be dissuaded, I started asking them questions. Maybe I would get lucky and get them to bite. Keep in mind that the questions were open ended, so either one of them could answer. Things like:

“What’s your name?”

“Where do you live?”

“Do you like soccer?”

“Do you like to watch T.V.?

“Do you know you have a science test Thursday?”

Each question was followed by a shrug of the shoulders. On and on and on . . . The answer(s)? Shrug . . . shrug . . .shrug!! By now the situation was getting awkward (as if it wasn’t to start with), if not frustrating (as if it wasn’t to start with). How was I going to be able to help these kids?

“Ok,” I said, “I guess we can just sit here and stare at each other.”  Which we did . . .for what seemed like an eternity!

I wanted to give up. I wanted to go rant to Pastor Marta, to say: “. . . I don’t know what the deal is with these kids . . .” But of course, I didn’t. As I said, she had explained things to me already (more or less). Besides, I’m all too aware that she faces difficult challenges too, and when it comes down to doing ministry with children, NOTHING is an exact science. Regardless, however, patience has simply never been a virtue of mine.

Again encouraging myself to not be dissuaded, I said to the Holy Spirit, “Holy Spirit . . . show me some kind of way to get through to these kids­—something, anything!” And that’s when it occurred to me! I should go get Noa.

You remember Noa, right? From my article titled “Seeking and Finding” from the August 16th newsletter? (A shameless and cheeky plug for those who didn’t check it out!)

Noa is our new puppy, and I’ve been bringing her to the office with me every day. She’s a sweet pup, and so I thought to myself: ‘Maybe they’d like to pet Noa.’

So, I asked them, “Do you want to pet my dog?”

No shrugging of the shoulders this time – which I took as a good sign. Straight away, I went to the office and brought her to the room. At first the boys were hesitant (as was Noa). But after a few moments, they seemed to warm to the idea (and again, as did Noa).

The boys began to pet her. Of course, as far as Noa was now concerned, they were friends for life. She started to jump on them and lick their faces and romp around playfully.

That’s when the Holy Spirit showed up. As if on que, both boys smiled the sweetest and most brilliant smiles you have ever seen. I don’t know what hardships lie behind those smiles or the tears their eyes have shed. All I know is that, in that moment, it was as if a violent thunderstorm suddenly stopped and the sun broke through the clouds — a real Jesus-calming-the-stormtype of moment!

“She can even fetch things,” I said, giddily. “Come one, I’ll show you.”

I ran to the office to get one of Noa’s stuffed toys. The boys waited for me in the doorway of the room. “Watch this,” I said, and then threw the toy. Off Noa went, after a coal of fire. She grabbed up the stuffed toy and brought it back, dropping it, as luck would have it (or was it luck?) at one of the boy’s feet.

“You throw it this time,” I said. And the boy did. Noa launched down the hall and brought the toy back to him. I could hear the boys laughing! But not loud, not like the other kids. It was a silent laugh that spoke volumes!

I could see we were disrupting some of the other tutors, so me, Noa, and the boys went outside, where we threw the toy as high and as far as we could, and Noa never disappointed! With lightning speed, she retrieved the toy every time.

This went on for a while until we found our way out of the heat and back into the cool of the church. Even Noa was panting heavily from all the excitement. Back in the room, I was finally able to get the boys to show me their science vocabulary words, which I called out to each of them.

Of course, they didn’t answer. It was just me, reading off the words followed by the definitions. But you know what? It’s a start!

Afterword the boys lay in the floor, smiling, laughing their unassuming laugh as Noa crawled from boy to boy, licking and nipping and playing to their hearts’ desire.

Thank you, Holy Spirit! You always take what seems impossible and make it possible, and tangible. Paul was right. You really do choose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and you really do choose the weak things of the world to confound mighty (1 Cor. 1:27).

Why is this important? Because it exemplifies what a little bit of grace can do . . . it can go a long way.

Reacting to feelings of being “out done” is a pathway to more feelings of being out done! The Holy Spirit works in ways that lie outside of our presumed intelligence or the power structures of the world. Consider this—a two-month-old, Pointer-Lab puppy was far more equipped to turn utter silence into audible snorts of laughter than I was. In that moment, Noa was more prepared for ministry than Rev. Dr. Daniel S. Darling. This makes all the diplomas hanging on my office wall all the more insignificant.   So, I encourage you to reckon with yourself my friend: What more could be done? What are we missing out on? Oh, what more complex things we could conquer if we simply left things in the hands of the Holy Spirit?