(written in June 2017)
It was the last day of classes up at the boarding school. The next day, students would travel back to their home villages, scattered over this half of the reservation. They only get two weeks of break in between school sessions, but based on how emotional they were, you would think they were going to be spending months separated from each other.
I had walked up the starlit path, enjoying several minutes of nighttime beauty and jungle sounds. The plan was to sit in on the seventh grade Maternal Language class which was scheduled, but their teacher decided to cancel the class and give the students a chance to go up front, one at a time, to say good-bye and express whatever was on their hearts. At least that is what seemed to be happening. Sometimes I just guess.
Based on some of the conversation, I wondered if this particular teacher would no longer be teaching the seventh-graders, increasing the emotion of these farewells. Again, sometimes I just guess.
It was interesting to observe a lot of “typical teenage behavior” in the manner in which each young person went up to share. The order was determined by drawing
Some of them talked timidly and briefly, looking down at the floor. Others expressed themselves quite articulately, making eye contact with the rest of the class, gesticulating forcefully. Some students giggled or cracked jokes while another was speaking, or pushed a hesitant classmate up to the front for their turn.
At least two of the seventh-graders are already parents, one a young mama with a little boy who is just learning to walk.
After all the students had shared, their teacher spoke as well, his words seeming very sincere and heartfelt, whatever their meaning might have been. After he closed with the typical, “Ena tete.” (That is all), one of the more outgoing girls in the class suggested that they pray.
They formed a circle at the front of the room and the teacher invited me to join in. During the whole time, I had already felt as if I were intruding on private class moments, an out-of-place wallflower who is far too white and blonde to ever be invisible, but then again, the current story of my life involves habitual intrusion on moments that in all honesty, a Lewis County gringa does not belong in.
I can’t remember if we held hands or put our arms around each other’s shoulders, but we were all gathered close, touching one another, coming together to talk to God.
Someone said, “Let’s all pray.” And the low voices began all around me, words flowing fast and freely, to me an unintelligible stream, but understood perfectly by God, to whom language is no barrier.
And I long for deeper relationship with these precious young people, “teens” to us, but probably already considered adults in their culture. May our physical closeness in that moment of prayer symbolize a future relational closeness, that will give us a friendship of freedom and trust. May we someday spend hours in conversation about life, love, God, the Bible, the future, our hopes and dreams and fears.
My mind races with questions about these young people, questions that I don’t even know how to ask yet.
Who do these teenagers believe Jesus is?
Would they call themselves Christians just because a chief made that decision for the entire people group a number of years ago?
Or do they really understand what it means to know Jesus?
To them, is prayer a way of communicating with the God who created them and loves them?
Or is it a ritual performed to gain God’s favor, get something they want, or impress others?
Or is prayer merely a “cool thing” to do, because they have seen it done in churches in the city?
If prayer is important to them, why do almost none of them come to the Sunday meetings down in the village?
Are their hearts really hungry for God?
After the generator is turned off in an hour, will some of these very young men and ladies pair off and “secretly” do what we have been told many of them do every night, while the adults turn their backs?
Good thing their prayer wasn’t longer, or I would have started crying. I have no idea what they were saying, but I know what my prayer is tonight.
Father, thank you for these precious young lives gathered around me, and for the open door to be here among them, although my youth was a world away from theirs.
Help me learn this language fast and give me the privilege of discipling these seventh graders. Give us a deep friendship that will cross the cultural differences.
Protect them from the evil in this world, from the dangers they are exposed to in the midst of the major transitions their culture is experiencing.
Help them know Jesus truly and walk with Him, love Him best of all, and see Him in my life, even now.
Give them your word in their language, and a hunger to read it and know it.
Teach them what is right and wrong, convicting them of any immoral or sinful behavior that is forbidden by You, for their good and protection.
Guide them by your Spirit, in righteousness, morality and purity.
Show me how to love them like you do even before we can really talk.
Give us moments together of fun and friendship and connecting.
Increase my burden for their souls, my fervency in prayer, my love for every teen in this circle, and my faith regarding the work you are going to do in their lives and families and culture.
May this circle, which has neither beginning or end, symbolize unbroken unity and eternal life in Jesus…probably not a reality for all of these tonight, but by faith, I ask that one day it would be so!
For, since you open doors wide, can you not also close circles tight? With you, all things are possible.
In Jesus’ name, Amen