Tag Archives: teaching

Far Away

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If this were a normal summer, I would have spent my morning teaching English to Croatian middle school children.

This is not a normal summer.

There’s a walkway outside my office that takes you to a lower floor. I walk out there every morning on the way to a daily meeting. The air is always a little damp and a little dim. And the air smells a little like early mornings in Croatia on the few days I’d get up early enough to go running before breakfast.

And I miss it.

I miss the river. I miss the beaten-up old town where we always stayed. I miss my friends. I miss the people I came to know as family.

I miss their homes and their hospitality. I miss sleeping on mattresses on their floors. I miss waking up to the sound of birds and the occasional truck lumbering by the open window. I miss the food–even the pickled stuff. I miss the fried eggs (I make my own all the time now, just to console myself) and the börek and the baskets and baskets of bread.

I even miss not having air conditioning. I miss sitting in the river to get cool. I miss feeling like I needed three showers a day.

And I especially miss my students. And I’m so sorry I couldn’t be there this year.

There’s this wedding, you see. And I’m the bride. And I’m marrying the boy who told me he loved me at the end of our trip to Croatia one long year ago. I wouldn’t trade marrying this boy for anything–not even going home away from home.

I only wish that somehow I might have done both.

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Last Things

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Few things are worse than counting the last things. I’m sitting here next to the open window, listening to those silly quacking frogs and the distant sound of dogs barking, wondering if this is the last time I’ll hear them.

I can’t let myself think this way. It’s destructive thinking. If I think it’s the last time, it may very well be the last time.

The awful reality is that a 12-month contract with only ten days off is an impossible thing to move.

There’s always the year after that…but so much changes per year when you’re an adult, especially when you just become one. You plan on one thing, then all those plans change because you’re not anchored to a job/married/settled into a house/stuck to a school schedule. You’re a leaf blowing in the wind. There’s no way of knowing where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing with the summer after next.

Then again, that’s always the case in life. Even when you think you’re settled, life is always subject to abrupt and irrevocable change. I could tell you that tomorrow I’ll be going to two different class parties and then moving out of the hotel, but for all I know something will come up to prevent that.

I’ve learned to say “if the Lord wills, I will go” do such and so. Nothing is more certain than the will of God. God decided long ago how my life would happen. So if He wills, I’ll come back to Croatia one summer and continue what He’s begun here, no matter what my current plans are.

I certainly hope so.   

How I Am

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You ask how I am?

Well-fed. Today I had meatloaf and Spanish rice for lunch. The meatloaf had whole eggs baked into it, as if beef didn’t have enough protein. There was a side dish of what I call Croatian cole slaw, with is essentially shredded cabbage with vinegar poured on it. It was delicious, and there was even a real vegetable involved.

Healthy. Despite the lack of fresh veggies (for the most part, anyway), I have stayed active and I’m drinking plenty of water. I’m avoiding tap water for the time being, since there was flooding recently and you just shouldn’t trust the water when these tings happen. However, the floods have subsided, so I feel okay with washing my face and brushing my teeth with tap water. I buy 1.5 liter containers of water from the corner store for drinking and tea making (since I wised up and brought a kettle and a mug this year). So far I have not died of dysentery.

Cold. I never thought I’d say that during a summer trip to Croatia, but it’s just downright chilly outside. It’s rained every day that we’ve been in the village, which keeps the temperatures down. I thought we’d be lucky for weather in the 70s, but it’s dropped as low as 65 degrees so far. Honestly, the one year I didn’t bring a jacket or an umbrella…

Content. I’m in my favorite little village in the world with my dear friend. I feel foolish asking for anything more.

And apparently rather tired. I put my head on the pillow after lunch thinking I’d close my eyes for a little snooze before writing a blog post and working on lesson plan stuff. I passed out for two hours and missed the van taking us to the other town. I don’t teach there, so that’s okay. Four of us teachers remained behind, so I’m sure we’ll think of something to do.

So that is how I am. God has been good to us. The last piece of lost luggage arrived today (did I mention our whole team got their luggage late?), we have good students, and we are having a blast.

All Grown Up

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My first thought when they entered the room was “Oh, thank goodness, they’re back.” Three students I’d taught the year before who brought a friend who’s the sister of a girl I taught last year. I like teaching familiar faces. For selfish reasons, mostly. I don’t have to learn their learning styles because I already have. And I love teaching familiar faces. They’re delightful girls, and I’ve carried them in my heart for over a year now.

My second thought was, “Heavens. They grew.”

One grew about three inches and has long hair and braces. Another who was short and chubby a year ago is almost as tall as I am and slender. They’re all taller—they’re in that stage where they don’t really know what to do with their feet and are going to start looking worriedly into mirrors more often. Not that they need to. They haven’t stopped being beautiful. But their beauty is definitely changing.

The boys. I didn’t teach these boys, but I’d stand in last year when I was needed. The chunkiest one with the squeakiest voice is now looking down at me and his voice has dropped with his gaze. The other two, on the other hand, look exactly the same. A little taller, maybe, but their voices are just the same and still look small and boyish. Boys’ tendency to bloom late is perhaps one of the cruelest twists of pubescent fate, but I know that they’ll turn into men eventually.

No matter how they look or how old they get, they’re all lovely to me. They are precious in His sight, and so they are precious in mine.

Back Home

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So we find ourselves back where we started. Back in the national pastor’s house, well rested and very, very well fed.

This is also the house where the keyboard is set to Croatian mode, so if I type a “z” I get a “y” and vice versa. So if zou see anz weird tzpos, that’s whz.

I had forgotten how lovely it is to sleep for a solid ten hours. I have a very long Monday ahead of me, so I’m trying to stock up on sleep, if such a thing is possible.

Teaching is over for another year at least. It was harder to leave this year. Number one, for every inch we stepped towardy the car to leave the school, our students pulled us back a foot or so. Number two, I love my students, and for all I know, last night was the last time I’ll ever see them. Of course, a few of my older female students informed me that they are going to hold auditions for a Croatian husband for me–if I married a Croatian, I’d have to stay, they said. I told them “good luck.”

You know, last year I considered this trip a one-time thing. I would go, I would do my teaching thing, I’d leave, and I’d never come back. But somehow, after two years in a row, these people have become my people in a sense. While I am positive that God does not want me here on a permanent basis, I would come back every summer if I could. This is a dark land. So many people have never heard the liberating truth of the Gospel. The children here that I love do not yet know the love of Christ. I want to keep coming back to tell them again and again.

I am not much of a person. I am no great teacher. I am no great evangelist. There are amny things I love to do, none of which are areas in which I am proficient. But there are few things I’d rather do than be used of God to tell others of Himself. I have discovered in 21 years of living that there are fewer things more exciting than that.

I am praying already towards whether or not I should return next year. So many doors flew wide open this year that I feel I’d be a fool not to use another summer walking through them. As my Croatian mother says often, “It’s in God’s hands.” At the very least, my goal this year will be to tell people about Croatia and the incredible needs there. Maybe I’ll bring people with me next year. I’d love to.

But for now, I’m back home for a short rest before hitting the road again. So much is up in the air, and so will I be in a few days. Up in the air and headed home.

 

One Day More

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Classes ended today. Tomorrow, my nine students will take a test that determines whether or not they can move on to the Level Three next year.

They are brilliant children. Sometimes hyperactive, sometimes stubborn, sometimes whiny, sometimes excited, sometimes bored—but they are still brilliant, and I love them.

They all seemed really disappointed that class ends this week. And while I am ready for the rest that next week will bring, I will miss them. They didn’t know it, but they were the kindest group of kids an inexperienced and far from professional teacher could ask for.

One day more.

Tomorrow we say our goodbyes. I will have coffee with one former student for one last time—I will say goodbye to my UNO-playing buddies and all of the Level 1, 2, and 3 students in the other town. I will pack up my little bags and drive away, to rest up in a different town for a few days before flying home.

Home.

Croatia has a very special place in my heart—but it is not home. And as much as I look forward to when I can return, whenever that may be, I am eager to sail home and drop my anchor in a more familiar port. This picture has left my head full of stories to tell and my camera full of pictures to show. God has been so good, and I can’t wait to tell everyone at home just how good He has been. A hundred little miracles of grace, a thousand little tender mercies, and a million little answered prayers.

And one day more. One day more, and the return adventure begins. 

Miscommunication

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One of the many fun elements of traveling abroad is trying to communicate with people who do not share your mother tongue. Results vary, but the results for the beginner more often than not come to humorous conclusions.

Today I bought ice cream. There’s a newsstand a block away from the hotel that sells magazines, drinks, snacks, etc., and there’s a little cooler in front that holds a small wealth of prepackaged ice cream treats. There were prices posted on the cooler’s sliding lid, but it was a bit difficult to decipher which price belonged with which item. I grabbed one that I thought might be 8,00 Kuna (approximately $1.50) and handed it to the lady at the cash register.

She smiled, rung the item up, and rattled off what the price was in Croatian. I, of course, didn’t understand a word other than “Kuna.” The word she said sounded a bit like “ocho,” which is the Spanish word for “eight.” Knowing full well that all languages bear family resemblances to each other, I ventured a guess and traced the number 8 in the air where she could see it. She nodded, I gave her my money and walked away, sheepishly licking my ice cream.

I wonder if it would help matters at all if I carried around a white board where I could just draw whatever it is I need to communicate. In case you couldn’t tell, I’m a coffee drinker. They serve coffee at the hotel in the mornings, but only one demitasse at a time. There are only three of us staying in the hotel at the moment, so they understandably don’t put out a whole American-style spread in the morning, complete with a barrel full of fresh coffee like you might find at an American hotel and big American-sized mugs. This is not America. I don’t expect it to be America. But it’s hard to communicate to the very sweet and hardworking Croatian waitress that you’d like a second thimblefull of coffee, please. Maybe if I drew a little coffee cup on my handy-dandy little white board and held it up when she came to the table, we’d all get a good laugh and I’d get a second cup of coffee.

It’s really good coffee. Sad thing is, I can’t even tell the nice people who run the hotel how much I like their coffee.

Still, there’s nothing like trying to function in a culture where no one speaks your language to poke a hole in your ego. If any of you know someone with an overinflated opinion of him or herself, just ship the person to your nearest non-English speaking country and have them try to buy something. They’ll feel like idiots in no time.

If anything, this fish-out-of-water experience helps me understand how my students feel. Occasionally I’ll tell them a word or give a command and they’ll look at me with this blank and slightly terrified stare that tells me I need to rephrase myself, and fast. Now I know how they feel and can act accordingly. It’s not easy trying to communicate in your second language, even if you can speak a little bit. I know that. They know that. Hopefully we can all muddle through somehow. 

In Which Rizzy Falls in Love

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This happened today. Okay, it wasn’t my birthday, and my outfit was a little more casual than that of the woman pictured here. But I showed up to class today, and my name was written all over the board, accompanied by hearts and a huge “Good Morning,” and my students were all standing in a corner, looking sheepish and grinning.

They are all so cute.

Three days of teaching, and I’m beginning to feel like I know what I’m doing. I wish I had had this level of competence last year. This year I am uninhibited by the feelings of utter inadequacy that hindered me last year. Now I feel free to pay attention to what each student needs.

And they all have different needs. For some, they just need help with pronunciation. Others need help knowing what the words are. Others just need help forming sentences. No one knows everything, but everyone knows something. What’s delightful is watching them help each other.

This class isn’t intended to be serious. It’s not school. These kids came to learn how to speak English from native English speakers, and they’re taking time during their summer holiday to do so. Learning to speak a language should be fun. There should be no fear of making mistakes, because making mistakes is how they’re going to learn. And I think this group knows that now. I’m no expert when it comes to teaching—I’ve told people for years that I could never be a teacher on a permanent basis—but I can tell that these kids want to learn. Mistakes happen, but we laugh through it together. No one makes fun of anyone else for not knowing as much as he or she does. Instead, the stronger speakers help the not-so-strong, and the not-so-strong don’t get embarrassed (at least not much) when they say something incorrectly.

I am teaching some brilliant kids. They are brilliant, kind, caring, and hardworking kids. I love them to death. And I hope, more than I hope for anything else, that they will see how God loves them so much more than I ever could. How He loved them enough to die for them.

If I can’t teach them that, then I’ve taught them nothing at all. 

Provincial Life

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Little town. It’s a quiet village. Every day like the one before.

Until the Americans show up and make things interesting for two weeks.

I know I’m not walking around with a t-shirt that reads AMERICAN in massive red, white, and blue letters, but I feel like I might as well be. Everyone turns and stares when we walk or drive by. Of course, this is such a small town that any new face is stare-worthy.

It’s a small enough town that one normally has to go out of town to buy what you need. There are two restaurants in town, two or three small bars, one hotel, one Catholic chapel, one school, and one tiny convenience store. There’s food there, but you can’t afford to be choosy.

Thankfully, there is also a fruit stand. For me, the herbivore from Anytown, this is a definite plus. I brought pocket change for the sole purpose of buying myself fruits and vegetables, since those are two things rarely served at meals. Meat, yes. Pasta, yes. Pickled peppers, yes. Fruit? No such luck.

Today I bought apples and bananas. Dinner. If you could see my face, you’d see that I am smiling.

Apparently the notoriety of our English has spread in the last year, since record numbers of new students showed up for classes today. Last year I had four students on my first day. Today I had thirteen. That’s right. Ten plus three. Thing number umpteen that I’m not used to.

I’m really grateful, actually. I came over here to do things I’m not used to, so here I am—doing things I’m not used to, like teaching thirteen students under the age of fourteen, none of whom speak my language very well. Or buying bananas with a currency I’m not familiar with from a guy I can only communicate with through gestures. Or waking up at 5:00 AM because that’s when the sun rises over here. Not used to that.

And you know what? That’s fine. That’s wonderful, actually. Because life and travel are about learning and experiencing new things, not having everything remain the same. If life were always the same, it would be really, really boring. And if every place in the world was just like every other place, the world would be really, really boring. But no place is like any other, so it’s a beautiful world. God’s big, beautiful world. God’s great, wide somewhere. 

Done (Soli Deo Gloria)

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Our students took their exams today. Testing is a bigger deal in Europe than it is in America. In America, a test is just a test. Pass or fail. Either you did awesome or you didn’t. Here, tests are harder, and the outcome of tests tends to determine things like, say, a student’s career or general path in life. No wonder they freak out when we hand them our little English proficiency tests.

But my students did just fine. Everyone who took the test passed. Next year they can move on to level three. I may or may not be there to teach them.

What an adventure these two weeks have been. Except it doesn’t feel like two weeks. It feels like two months. Or maybe years. It feels like I’ve been here for a much longer time than I actually have been. So much has happened.

You know, many months ago, I had a friend tell me that he thought I would be wasting my time going on this trip.

“What’s the point of a mission trip where you don’t do any evangelizing?” he said. “Why go so far from home just to teach English? How can you possibly give the Gospel to people who don’t even speak the same language as you? You’ll spend all that money to go, and it will be a total waste because how could teaching English to these people possibly do any good?”

I stared at him, incredulous. “We use teaching English as a tool to build relationships with our students. We show them by how we live our lives that we serve God. The curriculum incorporates huge portions of Scripture as reading practice. These kids will get the Gospel every day.”

“Still, what if something happens to you while you’re over there, and it was all for nothing?” he continued.

“Look, God told me to go. I’m going. End of story. God can use anything to bring people to Him.”

 I had never seen someone look more unconvinced. “Alright,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do to stop you.” He still looked at me like I had told him I was going to try skydiving without a parachute.

“Why do you have so much trouble accepting that I’m doing what I believe God wants me to do with my summer? I thought you would be happy for me.”

“Oh, I don’t question that you’re doing what you think God wants you to do.” Oh, really? “I just question the profitability of this trip. Go, I’m not trying to stop you. Just tell me when you get back whether it was profitable or not.”

I’ll admit that this conversation shook me. I began to wonder if going on this trip really was a good idea. Maybe he was right. How on earth could God use an English course to bring the Croatian people to Himself? Maybe, I thought, maybe I am wasting my time and money by going over there. I even thought that as I took off from the airport and floated across the Atlantic.

But no. To waver wasn’t right. God makes our efforts profitable, if we do them in His name with the desire of doing His will.

Dozens of Croatian believers have been blessed in the past few weeks by the ministry of our team. We have sung for them, in our language and theirs. I played my violin for them, at their request, playing melodies they knew in God’s universal language, music. We have ministered in a nursing home, bringing smiles to the faces of those not often shown any love. We have taught English conversation skills to over 50 students from ages six to forty five or a little older. New connections have been made and bridges built for those on our team who plan to live here as full-time missionaries. The Gospel has been clearly presented to our students over twenty-two times.

This week, one translator and around eight students in the level one class have made professions of faith. In the other town where we teach, one little boy and one woman have accepted Christ as their Savior. And this morning, after our little graduation ceremony, one of my girls told me that she wanted to accept Christ into her heart.

“All my life I thought I could get to heaven by going to church and being good,” she told me. “But now I know that’s not true. All I need to do is accept Christ. But I don’t know how.”

So I showed her how. And she wanted to so badly.

God has proven Himself to be all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, and all-good. He has changed these people’s lives for good, forever. He used music. He used eight teachers from the United States. He used the English language.

And He used me. Even though I doubted, He used me.

He deserves all the credit. I am so grateful that He sent me here to do this. I am so grateful for allowing me the privilege of teaching those girls, and that now I can call one of them my sister in Christ.

In a scant three days, I will be back on a plane, drifting back over the Atlantic to come home. I am very ready to come home. But I will never forget the magnificent things I have seen and experienced.

I have always been told that going on a mission trip would change my life forever. I didn’t really believe them.

Until now.

 

UNO

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A typical class day works something like this: we start class, teach for an hour, then we hold a short chapel session, then we have class for another thirty minutes or so.

Then it’s break time. Otherwise known as UNO time.

I have never seen kids more obsessed with a card game. The Croatian kids love to play UNO. When I first started talking to the missionaries about taking this trip, they told me to be prepared to play lots of UNO. Considering I’ve been playing this game with my mom for almost my whole life, I felt I was prepared.

What I could not have been prepared for was the stampede of children that thundered from the classrooms, barreling down on the stacks of UNO cards like piranhas on a wayward cow.

And they play mean. I didn’t say that they play dirty—they make sure that no one else does any cheating. But they play mean. They have rules I never heard of and didn’t think were possible. And they would play until the cows came home if you didn’t tell them it was time to put the cards away and go back to class.

You’d think by now I’d know all the words for Croatian colors. And for “skip” and “reverse” and “draw two.” But it all happens so fast and so loudly, I have no clue what word goes where. It’s all I can do to focus enough to keep playing.

I can see it now. Someone will ask me what I did during the summer. My knee-jerk response will be “I played UNO.”

Then my right eyelid will twitch a little.

Crash Course

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Have I actually been teaching for a week? Four hours a day? How is that even possible?

Although, to be honest, it feels like years since I left Anytown, Somestate, U.S. of A. I’ve gotten used to being left out of conversations said right in front of me. Half of what I hear is said in Croatian, but I’ve gotten to the point where that’s no longer intimidating. I pick up what I can, and hope that someone in the area speaks English or German. If there’s German, I can translate.

The wife of the pastor our team and I had a lot of German conversations when we were staying in their house. The other day she came up to me in one of the schools we teach in, looked me straight in the eye, and asked me a long, earnest-sounding question in Croatian. I looked at her blankly for a few seconds before I said, “Auf Deutsch…”

In German, ma’am. Pretty please.

She looked at me, smiled, and said “Ah.” Right. This one doesn’t speak Croatian.

But my students are bound and determined that I learn. They volunteer Croatian words for the vocab I teach them. They laugh at my botched attempts at pronunciation. I’m cool with that. Every word is about 99% consonants, with the occasional vowel thrown in as an afterthought. If I can ever manage to say a word, I’ll count it as a huge accomplishment.

I’ve learned the essentials. “Hvala” (I’m sure that’s misspelled) is “thank you.” “Dobro” (also misspelled) is “good.” “Dobro Don” (really misspelled and probably miscapitalized) is “Good Day.” And “kava” means “coffee.” And I know that’s spelled right, because I saw it on a menu.

My students have beautiful names, but I mispronounce them 90% of the time. I have vowed to at least be able to say all of their names correctly by the end of next week. It’s the least I can do.

One week down. One more to go.

Now We Are Six

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I was up late last night prepping for today’s lesson. I thought up games and wild and crazy activities for the kids to do. I remembered how blank their faces were during the lesson that day and how they kept looking out the window. I came to the awful realization that freshly mown grass was way more interesting than I was.

I told myself, “Hey, they’re kids. Kids need excitement to stay interested and engaged.” So I planned Simon Says. The Hokey Pokey. Charades. Things that kept them moving kept them speaking. Little kid games.

But when I walked into class this morning, the room was empty. I waited a few moments, spreading out my materials, mentally going over what we were going to do that day. Then the precocious eleven year old showed up, all smiles. But the first thing out of her mouth was that two of my students were on vacation in another town, and that the oldest girl was sick.

Just when my brain started revising the lesson to accommodate having only one student, the door opened and two more girls walked in. One was taller than I am, with short bottle-burgundy hair and cropped jeans and a smile bigger than Texas. Her friend had her honey-brown hair pulled up in a wispy ponytail and wide eyes that examined me cautiously. She was a slight girl wearing a ruffley feminine blouse and bright orange sandals. They took the desk right in front of mine, and looked up at me expectantly.

So I handed them registration forms to fill out—name, address, phone number, the usual litany of questions. I watched them fill out the forms, conferring with each other in rippling Croatian dotted with giggles. They were older students—I found out later they were 16 and 15—and I realized that nothing I had planned could possibly keep them entertained. I knew that most of my contemporaries at age sixteen would roll their eyes at any teacher’s attempt to get them to do the Hokey Pokey.

“But,” I told myself, “at least you have three students instead of just one.”

I had no choice. I continued with my lesson as planned, and watched to see how they would react.

They did everything I told them without a single eye-roll or even a puzzled expression. Granted, they didn’t exactly throw themselves into it, but they did everything without questioning. In fact, they seemed to like it. Especially the Hokey Pokey.

We covered weather words, body part words, and occupation words. I had them write down everything they knew in each category. We talked about the words. I added a few to their list. They took notes without my prompting them. They wanted to remember the new and unfamiliar words (“ankle” and “wrist” were completely new concepts for them). It became clear after thirty minutes of teaching that my two new students were way beyond the level I was teaching. If I kept them in Level Two, I would be holding them back.

It got to the point where I almost completely abandoned the lesson plan and just say down at a student desk and talked to the three girls. I asked them about Croatian culture. I asked each of them why they wanted to take English. I just got them to talk. Their English was broken, but very understandable. And even though the age gap between my new students and my precocious eleven year old was so wide, they got along fabulously.

Part of the curriculum involves reading portions of Scripture while students follow along. They have a place in their workbooks to write down any words that aren’t familiar. As a result, I got to explain the concepts of “baptism” and “heaven,” and share my beliefs about both. They listened to me closely, and I saw a flicker of curiosity ignite in each of their eyes.

After that I started giving them busy work. Write something, fill in this, list these. While they worked diligently, racking their brains for vocabulary, I stared at my lesson plan, not reading the words. I started praying silently: “God, what do I do with these girls? I would love to keep them in my class to build a relationship with them. But Lord, they belong in a higher level. They need to learn more than what I’ve been trained to teach them. But they also need You. I feel like You’ve given me an open door with these girls, but they don’t belong in this class. What will happen tomorrow, when the younger students come back and class will move at a much slower pace? What do I do?”

The youngest had to leave for a piano test and hour before class let out. After reviewing proper nouns and the use of capitalization with the two teens, I sat in front of them and looked them both in the eyes.

“I’ll be up front with you,” I told them. “You two are ready to go to the advanced class. Your English is brilliant, and I don’t want to hold you back. You seem to already know most of what I’ll be teaching you in the next two weeks. So it’s up to you to decide: you can stay if you really want to, or you can go to the next level. It’s up to you.”

They looked at me and nodded. I could tell they were both seriously considering it.

“We’ll keep going over the material I had planned for today,” I told them. “Just let me know at any time what you want to do, and we’ll go from there.”

They nodded again. I grabbed vocab flash cards and started going through them with the girls, who had an answer for everything.

I had heard stories from the other teachers of students deserving of much higher English instruction who chose to stay in lower levels. But our rule of thumb is to let the students decide for themselves what they want to do and what they think they are capable of.

Fifteen minutes before the end of the hour, I gave them journals like I had given my students the day before. They oohed and ahhed over the covers while I explained that the purpose of the journals was not for me to correct what they wrote or try to fix their spelling and grammar, but for them to write and for me to respond. It’s my way of getting to know them. I wouldn’t share what they wrote in the journals with anyone.

As I wrote the journal question on the board, I heard a few seconds of murmured Croatian behind my back. Then in English, “We have something to say.”

Thinking they had a question about one of the words in the journal question, I had them wait until I was done. I heard giggles.

I turned around. “You had a question?”

“No,” said one. She and her friend giggled again. “We’re staying.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” she said. “We want to learn to speak better before we go to other class…and we can help with the little kids.”

I looked at them, and my heart soared. “Alright,” I said. I smiled the biggest smile I’m sure I’ve smiled in days. “I’m glad.” They grinned back.

So now I have two more students in addition to my four. Now we are six. And I can only guess how much fun this is going to be.

Thank You, God.

Day One

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I’ve got to say—I am so glad God put me over here. In Croatia. Teaching English. Every time I look out my hotel room window at the river and the rolling hills of the country beyond, I think how blessed I am to be serving here, now, surrounded by strange sights and smells but learning so much and doing so much and seeing how it is truly God and God alone who works in people’s lives, while I am only a willing instrument. This is truly marvelous.

I didn’t say that things aren’t challenging.

Life at the hotel, for instance. It feels a bit like camping indoors. I keep a shoe by the window to kill the occasional bee that flits in the window (which happens even when the window is shut, apparently). I have a fan running, which makes things much cooler. But I’m kind of living in the attic on the sunny side of the hotel, which means it’s warm in there all day. At night, the air is cool enough outside to open the windows, but then the moths and mosquitoes are attracted to my bedroom light. So I sleep with a swarm of bugs in the room. However, I have two friendly spiders that share the room with me–one inside, one in the window frame–that catch a lot of the bugs. I’ve never been more grateful for spiders in my life.  But the room is small and cozy, and I slept great last night, so I really have no room to complain.

The wireless is much better than I expected. I can access the important stuff–Yahoo email and WordPress–without any trouble. (I would add Google to the list of important things, but Google comes up in Croatian, so I can’t read a blessed thing.) The wall plug adapter works great, and I haven’t destroyed any electronics yet.

I met my students today. I have four so far (they say there might be more tomorrow–we have reason to believe that today is a holiday). Three girls and a boy, ages 10, 11, 13, and 14. Some of them have been to the class before, some have not. The first half of the day went well–but the second half, I felt like I was having trouble keeping them engaged. Go figure—interesting writer, but a boring teacher. My mission for the night will be to learn some language games that I can do with my students so that learning stays fun–especially for the boy. Even though they’re all in the same level, they have varying degrees of understanding and speaking abilities. Thankfully, they all understand English fairly well, so giving directions is not a problem. It’s just getting them to speak the language and not lapsing into Croatian that is a challenge. Two of my students made professions of faith last year–the 10 year old boy and the 14 year old girl. I don’t know about the others.

I am still eating way too much, but I’m sweating and teaching most of the extra calories off. Add that to the fact that we don’t eat dinner, and maybe I won’t have to be rolled off the airplane after the ride home.

Life is good. God is awesome. I have nothing to complain about.